Ben Matulino capped his eighth NRL season by being named the supreme Vodafone Player of the Year Award for the second time in four years at the Vodafone Warriors’ 21st Annual Awards at the SKYCITY Convention Centre last night.
The 27-year-old Wellingtonian joins Steve Price (2006 and 2007) and Simon Mannering (2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014) as the only other players who have won the award multiple times.
The other finalists for the award were Mannering and halfback Shaun Johnson, who missed the last six games of the season.
Matulino, first named player of the year in 2012, again imposed himself as one of the NRL’s top front rowers in a season when he appeared in 21 matches – the only games he missed were through a three-match suspension – lifting his career tally to 173.
Despite missing those three games, he topped the Vodafone Warriors’ lists for most runs (349 for an average of 16.6 a game) and for most metres gained (3245 for an average of 154.5 a game). In the last outing of the season against the Bulldogs he carried the ball 194 metres from 17 runs while he topped 150 metres 12 times with a best of 222 metres against the Titans in round 15.
He was also the club’s most prolific off loader with 53, ranking him second among all players in the NRL, while he made 566 tackles averaging 27 a game.
“It was a really tough decision choosing between Ben, Simon and Shaun for the award,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“In a season that provided its challenges they all made huge efforts for the team but in the end Ben won through. He impressed with the consistent quality of his performances and his durability.
“He’s certainly up there with the best few props in the game today and just gets better and better every year.”
Of a possible 149 games in the last six seasons Matulino has missed just four through injury – two in 2012 and two in 2014 – and five through suspension. He was the first NYC graduate to appear in both 100 and 150 NRL games.
Vying for the Vodafone NRL Rookie of the Year were centre Solomone Kata, utility Tuimoala Lolohea and props Sam Lisone and Albert Vete with Lolohea taking out the award.
Still NYC eligible this year, the 20-year-old Lolohea had a stellar season finishing with 11 tries including a double in the final match of the campaign against the Bulldogs.
He underlined his versatility by starting 11 games at fullback, five at halfback, four in the centres and three on the wing. He was also singled out as a finalist for the NRL rookie of the year category at the Rugby League Players’ Association annual awards.
Also announced were the two premier awards for the club’s New South Wales Cup side which was eliminated from the finals on Sunday.
Finalists for the Vodafone NSW Cup Player of the Year were David Bhana, Charlie Gubb, Viliami Kaveinga and John Palavi with the ultra-consistent Palavi receiving the accolade.
The Vodafone NSW Cup Rookie of the Year award was won by halfback Mason Lino, who made his NRL debut late in the season. He headed off the other finalists James Bell, Ata Hingano and Nathaniel Roache.
While the Vodafone Junior Warriors had their awards evening last Wednesday the winners of the two principal accolades were acknowledged. Vodafone NYC Player of the Year and Sonny Fai Medal winner Bunty Afoa was presented with his award as was TNT NYC Rookie of the Year Ata Hingano.
The awards presentation began with the club’s departing players being acknowledged. Those finishing with the Vodafone Warriors are Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Chad Townsend, Sam Tomkins, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Suaia Matagi (departed mid-season), Ngani Laumape, Glen Fisiiahi, Dominique Peyroux, Siliva Havili, Nathaniel Peteru (departed mid-season), David Bhana and Brad Abbey. For the first time plaques were presented to departing players who had represented the Vodafone Warriors at NRL level, gold for 100 games or more, silver for 50-99 games and bronze for 1-49. Rapira, the last player presented with his plaque, received a standing ovation from the 600 guests in attendance.
A number of milestones were acknowledged including Johnson receiving his 100-game ring for becoming the 23rd player to reach 100 appearances for the Vodafone Warriors while a special presentation was made to wing Manu Vatuvei who this season became the first player in the competition’s history to score 10 tries or more in 10 consecutive seasons.
Rapira was honoured with the SKYCITY Legacy Award acknowledging his immense contribution to the Vodafone Warriors since his NRL debut in 2006. He finished his 10th and final season with a tally of 173 appearances before continuing his career with Huddersfield in England. After his heartfelt speech a group of team-mates rose to acknowledge Rapira with a rousing haka.
During the year the Vodafone Warriors ran a poll to pick the People’s Choice 20th Anniversary Team. The line-up voted by fans was: Brent Webb (#97); Francis Meli (#65), Brent Tate (#137), Clinton Toopi (#66), Manu Vatuvei (#115); Shaun Johnson (#168), Stacey Jones (#24); Steve Price (#121), PJ Marsh (#96), Ben Matulino (#142); Ali Lauitiiti (#55), Simon Mannering (#125); Micheal Luck (#126). Interchange: Lance Hohaia (#99), Ruben Wiki (#123), Jacob Lillyman (#146), Kevin Campion (#86).
Sir Peter Leitch presented special trophies to nine of the team who were able to make tonight’s function – Meli, Vatuvei, Johnson, Jones, Matulino, Price, Mannering, Wiki and Lillyman.
For the first time the club created the Sir Peter Leitch Member of the Year award. This was presented to Tauranga’s Graeme Lee.
Rookie NRL prop Albert Vete was awarded with the Canterbury of New Zealand Clubman of the Year. Besides making 21 appearances in his rookie NRL season, the 22-year-old impressed in his off-field contribution, personifying the club’s values.
2015 VODAFONE WARRIORS AWARDS
Vodafone Warriors 100-game Award | Shaun Johnson
NRL Record 10 tries in 10 Seasons | Manu Vatuvei
SKYCITY Legacy Award | Sam Rapira
Sir Peter Leitch Member of the Year | Graeme Lee
Vodafone People’s Choice Award | Shaun Johnson
Canterbury of NZ Club Person of the Year | Albert Vete
TNT NYC Rookie of the Year | Ata Hingano
Vodafone NSW Cup Rookie of the Year Award | Mason Lino
Vodafone NRL Rookie of the Year | Tuimoala Lolohea
Vodafone NYC Player of the Year | Bunty Afoa
Vodafone NSW Cup Player of the Year | John Palavi
Vodafone NRL Player of the Year | Ben Matulino
Vodafone Warriors Player of the Year Award winners:
1995 Tea Ropati
1996 Stephen Kearney
1997 Stacey Jones
1998 Joe Vagana
1999 Jason Death
2000 Robert Mears
2001 Jerry Seuseu
2002 Ali Lauitiiti
2003 Francis Meli
2004 Wairangi Koopu
2005 Ruben Wiki
2006 Steve Price
2007 Steve Price
2008 Simon Mannering
2009 Micheal Luck
2010 Manu Vatuvei
2011 Simon Mannering
2012 Ben Matulino
2013 Simon Mannering
2014 Simon Mannering
2015 Ben Matulino