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[ISP finals] Three in team of the year

nswrl.com.au | Image: www.photosport.nz

Bureta Faraimo. NZ Warriors v Wests Tigers, 2017 ISP Intrust Super Premiership Rugby League season at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand. 27 August 2017. Copyright photo: Renee McKay / www.photosport.nz
Bureta Faraimo. NZ Warriors v Wests Tigers, 2017 ISP Intrust Super Premiership Rugby League season at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand. 27 August 2017. Copyright photo: Renee McKay / www.photosport.nz

Three Vodafone Warriors made the Intrust Super Premiership NSW team of the year named by nswrl.com.au after the regular season.

Bureta Faraimo, who joined the club midway through the season, is on one wing while halfback Mason Lino and prop Toafofoa Sipley are both on the bench.

Selected by the nswrl.com.au staff writers in consultation with experts from broadcast partners Fox League, Steele Sports, Hawkesbury Radio and Triple H FM, the side highlights the most consistent performers who played the majority of the season.

Selections were also influenced by the number of times players featured in the tea of the week published on nswrl.comau after each round.

While NRL experience was littered throughout the side – headlined by 137-game veteran Mitch Rein – players selected have worked hard to push their case for debuts or regular game time in the NRL. Previous teams of the year have included numerous players who have since established successful careers at the highest level.

The team named was:

1 – Luke Sharpe

Club: Wyong Roos; 2017 TOTW selections: 5.

13 line-breaks, 84 tackle-breaks, 12 tries, 123 metres per game.

Luke Sharpe was nothing short of electric in season 2017, playing a highly instrumental part in the Wyong Roos’ minor premiership success. Time after time this year Sharpe would break a game wide open when nothing seems to be on thanks to his awareness and acceleration, and he certainly brings a high energy to the Roos’. He does not have the biggest frame, yet he still managed to break more than five tackles a game this season while running for over 2000 metres.

2 – Tom Hughes

Club: Newcastle Knights; 2017 TOTW selections: 2.

17 tries, 18 line-breaks, 120 metres per game, 49 tackle-breaks.

Tom Hughes was the top try-scorer in the 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW regul season by a long way, three tries clear Chris Centrone, Bureta Faraimo and George Jennings who all sit on 14. Hughes has taken his game to a whole new level since moving from North Sydney as a 2016 mid-season transfer, and it turned out to be the right move after a wonderful year. His form has him knocking on the door for an NRL debut.

3 – Matt Ikuvalu

Club: Wyong Roos; 2017 TOTW selections: 4.

Six tries, 10 line-breaks, 133 metres per game, 55 tackle-breaks.

While Luke Sharpe got the best out of a classy Wyong backline throughout the season, Ikuvalu has also formed an important part as the Roos have put teams away in 2017. The minor premiers were the second-best attackers of the regular season – with just three fewer points than the Panthers – and while the load was shared, Ikuvalu was among the side’s most consistent performers.

4 – Ed Murphy

Club: North Sydney Bears; 2017 TOTW selections: 3.

Five tries, seven line-breaks, 47 tackle-breaks.

While Ed Murphy had a fantastic year at centre for North Sydney, his standing as a senior leader of the side gave him extra points. He’s only 24 years old, and his captaincy and performances this year were a huge why North Sydney made the finals this year. A highlight of the year was a ridiculous try against the Wentworthville Magpies where he athletically leaped into the corner and planted the ball down. His two first grade games will not be his last if he takes his form into future seasons.

5 – Bureta Faraimo

Club: Vodafone Warriors (formerly Wentworthville Magpies); 2017 TOTW selections: 6.

13 tries

It’s been an interesting year for Bureta Faraimo, who started the season playing for the Wentworthville Magpies, and has finished lining up for the Vodafone Warriors in the finals. He’s been performing at this level for a long time, having made the Residents side for the past two years and made the team of the year equivalent back in 2014. Faraimo played a handful of NRL games for Parramatta between 2014 and 2016 while his move to the Vodafone Warriors was a stepping stone to him continuing his career in the English Super League.

6 – Josh Cleeland

Club: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs; 2017 TOTW selections: 8.

12 tries, 10 try assists, 13 line-breaks, 57 tackle-breaks.

Josh Cleeland was a shining light for the on-fire Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in season 2017; whenever he had the ball in hand, he was a massive threat to any opposition defensive unit. He formed a wonderful halves combination with Lachlan Lewis that saw the Bulldogs cement a top four position after a slow start to the year. Success seems to follow Cleeland, who steered Ipswich to a premiership two years ago, and took the Newtown Jets to a preliminary final last year where he was also named as five-eighth of the year. No doubt Josh Cleeland is incredibly close to an NRL debut.

7 – Cameron Cullen

Club: Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles; 2017 TOTW selections: 7.

Eight tries, 12 try assists, 11 line-breaks, 13 line-break assists, 58 tackle-breaks.

Despite being a part of a team that missed the Intrust Super Premiership NSW finals, Cameron Cullen stood out as one of the competition's best players in season 2017. A massive threat with the ball in hand, Cullen always had opposition defenders on notice, which most of the time was not enough as he frequently broke the line with his acceleration and awareness. He scored eight tries for the year, and managed to form a nice combination with Jackson Hastings as both players look to play consistent first grade after getting a handful of games this year.

8 – Eloni Vunakece

Club: Wyong Roos; 2017 TOTW selections: 4.

Three tries, 102 metres per game, 27 tackles per game, 44 tackle-breaks.

Vunakece, along with Cleeland, enjoyed a sustained period of success in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, also making the team of the year for the second consecutive time. His reasons for selection are exactly the same as they were in 2016: a consistent effort in defence and when carrying the football is something to expect of the Fijian forward. While Vunakece was unable to add to his tally of nine NRL games this year, he is critical to the Roos’ bid for premiership glory.

9 – Mitch Rein

Club: Penrith Panthers; 2017 TOTW selections: 7.

Seven tries, eight line-breaks, five try-assists, 40 tackles per game.

Rein’s inclusion in the season’s best 17 will not surprise many, given the former Dragon’s obvious class at both NRL and Intrust Super Premiership NSW level. Few would have expected Rein to play the majority of the season in Garth Brennan’s side, but he was a welcome addition as the Panthers pushed towards their top-four finish. The hooker’s motivation, of course, is to return to regular NRL football and there is little doubt that he has plenty to offer to any first grade outfit.

10 – Kurt Dillon

Club: Newtown Jets; 2017 TOTW selections: 8.

Three tries, 145 metres per game, 32 tackles per game.

At 22 years of age, Dillon has improved to career-best form in 2017, now taking significant responsibility in the Newtown pack. The only Jet to feature in the team of the year also played a major role in getting the side to the 2016 semi-finals and, while the side fell short this season, Dillon was a consistent performer. His average metres and tackles tell the story of a very solid year at Henson Park.

11 – Jamil Hopoate

Club: Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles; 2017 TOTW selections: 9.

Four tries, 134 metres per game, three try-assists, 33 tackles per game.

While Hopoate is unable to make his NRL debut due to off-field reasons, the second rower was a certain highlight in his team’s first season as the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles. Playing at lock and edge second row, Hopoate was hard to handle at the best of times and performed strongly for a long time; alongside Rhyse Martin, he also had the most team of the week selections to his name this year.

12 – Rhyse Martin

Club: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs; 2017 TOTW selections: 9.

Seven tries, 53 goals, 122 metres per game, 30 tackles per game.

The move to Belmore proved extremely successful for Martin, who has been one of the Bulldogs’ finest additions in 2017. After two strong seasons at the Townsville Blackhawks, Martin adapted to life under Des Hasler and Steve Georgallis with a regular defensive output, exceptional try-scoring ability and solid form with the boot, featuring in the team of the week more than any other player alongside Hopoate. Working hard alongside fellow PNG International Rod Griffin, Martin was key to Canterbury-Bankstown’s success.

13 – Cheyne Whitelaw

Club: North Sydney Bears; 2017 TOTW selections: 8.

37 tackles per game, 104.1 metres per game, two tries.

Cheyne Whitelaw was arguably Ben Gardiner’s most important player for North Sydney. He did a mountain of work on a weekly basis for the Bears, making almost 740 tackles in season 2017, running more than 2000 metres with the ball in hand, and also has a lightning-quick play the ball that got his team on the front foot. He was rightfully picked for the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Residents side earlier in the year, and for what he adds to the team, an NRL contract does not seem far away for the young powerhouse forward. 

INTERCHANGE

14 – Mason Lino

Club: Vodafone Warriors; 2017 TOTW selections: 3.

142 points, 15 try assists, seven line-break-assists.

Mason Lino is among a group of halves who had an outstanding 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW season, and he has done extremely well to beat the in-form Darren Nicholls to the post for the utility spot. Lino is such a complete player with an incredibly large skill set, and has arguably the best kicking game in the competition. He steered the Vodafone Warriors to the top four this year and was rewarded for his amazing form with six NRL games this year. There is no doubt he will have more in the future, but as is the case with a handful of players in this team, his focus now is on the Intrust Super Premiership NSW finals. 

15 – Toafofoa Sipley

Club: Vodafone Warriors; 2017 TOTW selections: 3.

1771 total metres, eight tries, 307 tackles

The Vodafone Warriors' forwards were one of their strengths throughout the regular season and Toafofoa Sipley was a leader of the pack who relished scoring a barge-over try. He stands out when he plays due to his massive frame, and loves getting into the thick of the action whether that is with the ball in hand, or working hard in defence. Sipley was picked in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW residents side, and his great form at this level has seen him earn an NRL contract with Manly for next season.

16 – Scott Sorensen

Club: Mounties; 2017 TOTW selections: 7.

1951 total metres, 408 tackles, four tries, nine line-break assists, six line-breaks.

Scott Sorensen was massive for Mounties once again in 2017; he does all of the hard yards but also provides his fair share of x-factor to break a game wide open. The 24-year-old is an imposing figure and it puts opposition sides on notice when someone of his stature is making 26 tackles per game and is also running for 122 metres per match, not to mention putting no less than nine team-mates away for line-breaks at different stages of the year. 

17 – Rod Griffin

Club: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs; 2017 TOTW selections: 8.

132 metres per game, 30.9 tackles per game, 45 tackle-breaks.

The most experienced player in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW team of the year, Rod Griffin had an outstanding maiden season for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. He got through a mountain of work on a weekly basis and added plenty of experience to a young Bulldogs side thanks to his 10 international appearances for Papua New Guinea. The Bulldogs' improvement this season was no coincidence - all three of the club's representatives in the team of the year joined in 2017.

COACH – Rip Taylor

Club: Wyong Roos.

For the second time in three years, Wyong Roos coach Rip Taylor has been named as the Intrust Super Premiership NSW coach of the year. His Wyong side cruised to the minor premiership after dropping only one game up until round 18 but had shaky form to finish the season proper. Nevertheless, he had most of his team back for the finals and his Wyong side is still the team to beat.