Prop Bunty Afoa beat five other nominees to be named the Vodafone NYC Player of the Year and winner of the prestigious Sonny Fai Medal at the Vodafone Warriors’ 2015 NYC awards dinner at Mount Smart Stadium on Wednesday night.
The former St Paul’s College pupil headed off wing Tomas Aoake, standoff Ata Hingano, utility Marata Niukore, hooker Nathaniel Roache and loose forward Jazz Tevaga for the accolade.
Just turned 19, Afoa is still eligible for the NYC next year after two impressive seasons in the competition.
He appeared in 26 matches in his rookie campaign peaking with grand final success when the Vodafone Junior Warriors beat Brisbane 34-32 at ANZ Stadium last October.
A knee injury has sidelined Afoa for the last two games leaving him one game short of joining 13 other players who have appeared in 50 NYC matches for the club. He has also been ruled out of this Friday night’s elimination final against the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium.
A Point Chevalier Pirates junior, Afoa has been exceptional throughout the season reeling off a series of consistent performances.
In 23 games he has gained a total of 2551 metres, averaging 111 metres game while he has made 677 tackles, an average of 29 a game.
He had the distinction of playing for the New South Wales Cup and NYC sides on the same day last month. First he had a 29-minute stint from the bench in his NSW Cup debut against the Penrith Panthers and then backed up with 53 minutes for the Vodafone Junior Warriors against North Queensland later in the afternoon.
Afoa also received the players’ player of the day award, decided on votes accrued on a weekly basis throughout the season.
He’s the second front rower to win the Vodafone NYC Player of the Year crown after 2015 NRL rookie Sam Lisone received the title last year.
Three players vied for the TNT NYC Rookie of the Year – Hingano, wing Lewis Soosemea and halfback-hooker Erin Clark. Hingano won the award after a season in which he hasn’t missed a game so far, amassing 15 appearances for the Vodafone Junior Warriors as well as nine for the club’s NSW Cup side after being promoted to make his debut against the Mounties in late June.
Injured captain Toafofoa Sipley received two awards acknowledging his all-round contribution. He had been in outstanding form when he was promoted to make his NSW Cup debut against Newcastle in late May only to have his season ended by a serious knee injury. Studying a Bachelor of Education at the University of Auckland, received the NYC Education Ambassador Award and was also named the NYC Clubman of the Year.
Sipley, signed to join the club’s NRL squad next year, was one of 12 NYC graduates recognised as their time in the competition ends this season. The others were Aoake, Kauri Aupouri, Mikaere Beattie, Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano, Matiu Love-Henry, Wesley Tauti, Tevaga, Roman Tuhimata, Paul Tuli, Semisi Tyrell and Paul Ulberg.
During the season a total of 11 NYC players were promoted to make their debuts for the club’s NSW Cup side. Six NYC graduates debuted for the Vodafone Warriors at NRL level, four of them after playing in the club’s winning NYC grand final side last year (Solomone Kata, Sam Lisone, Ken Maumalo and Mason Lino) while Tuimoala Lolohea, still NYC-eligible, established himself at NRL level. When Lino made his debut as Vodafone Warrior No 202, he became the 48th graduate from the club’s NYC system to make the step up to first-grade level.
Three of the club’s academy players were acknowledged tonight. Keanu Laumatia-Paki and Mark Graham received academy merit awards while Jerome Mamea was recognised with an academy excellence award.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS – ROLL OF HONOUR
Vodafone NYC Player of the Year & Sonny Fai Medal winner
2008 Kevin Locke
2009 Elijah Taylor
2010 Nafe Seluini
2011 John Palavi
2012 Peta Hiku
2013 Michael Sio
2014 Sam Lisone
2015 Bunty Afoa
TNT NYC Rookie of the Year
2008 Elijah Taylor
2009 Ben Henry
2010 Carlos Tuimavave
2011 Siliva Havili
2012 David Bhana
2013 Tuimoala Lolohea
2014 Brad Abbey
2015 Ata Hingano
NYC Clubman of the Year
2008 Kurt Tehira
2009 Kurt Kara
2010 Charlie Gubb
2011 Donald Tony
2012 Toka Likiliki
2013 Viliami Kaveinga
2014 Kurt Robinson
2015 Toafofoa Sipley