Vodafone Junior Warriors utility forward Chris Sio emulated his older brother Michael’s success three years ago when he was named the Vodafone NYC Player of the Year at the club’s 2016 NYC awards dinner at Mount Smart Stadium tonight.
Another product from the St Paul’s College nursery, the Marist Saints junior was one of five finalists in contention for the award and the Sonny Fai Medal.
The others were back rower Ofahiki Ogden, captain Sheldon Pitama, rookie front rower Isaiah Papalii and centre Junior Pauga.
Sio started his NYC career as a 17-year-old schoolboy last year when he appeared in 10 games.
Still eligible for the grade next year – he isn’t 19 until next month – he played all 24 matches this season alternating between hooker, loose forward and even prop.
Standing out for his resilience and selflessness, Sio scored four tries in a campaign in which he averaged 111 metres, 12 runs and 33 tackles a game.
Chris Sio is the sixth St Paul’s College product to win the top award in the nine years it has been running. The first was Elijah Taylor in 2009 followed by Nafe Seluini in 2010, John Palavi in 2011, Michael Sio in 2013 and Bunty Afoa last year.
While Sio won the main award, this NYC season – the first time the Vodafone Junior Warriors have failed to reach the finals – was notable for the high number of debutants.
More than 20 appeared for the Vodafone Junior Warriors for the first time with 13 of those new players being either 16 or 17 at the start of the year.
The high percentage of rookies ensured there was plenty of competition for the TNT NYC Rookie of the Year award with the finalists being standoff Chanel Harris-Tavita, props Kenese Kenese and Isaiah Papalii, back rower Joseph Vuna and wing Lewis Soosemea.
Pakuranga College pupil Tavita-Harris, a Howick Hornets junior, took out the award.
Making his debut the day of his 17th birthday on April 3, he went on the play 18 times this year. He boasts rugby league pedigree on both sides of his family; one of his grand fathers is Ray Harris, a skilful long-time standoff for Mount Wellington in the 1970s and 1980s who played for New Zealand Maori and Auckland.
Pitama, who had his last NYC season, collected two awards – the NYC Clubman of the Year and the NYC Education Ambassador Award. Pitama, who’s doing a drain laying apprenticeship, was one of three nominees for the education award, the others being Eiden Ackland, who’s doing his first year in law at the University of Auckland, and Levi McBirney, who’s doing a Bachelor of Business at AUT.
Earlier five academy players were acknowledged for representing the club’s values – Keanu Laumatia-Paki (grounded), Mark Graham (courageous), Michael Lemafa (selfless), Dillon Vale (passionate) and Tyler Slade (uncompromising).
Three players made their NRL debuts this year while still NYC-eligible – Nathaniel Roache, Bunty Afoa and Ata Hingano. It means more than 50 Vodafone Warriors NYC products have now gone on to play in the NRL.
Squad members graduating who were farewelled tonight were: Arthur Crichton, Keanu Dawson, Mose Esera, Mattais Heimuli, Jarel HemeHema, Zion Ioka, Levi McBirney, James Mafi, Tyler Mohi, Marata Niukore, Koli Oneone, Joseph Price, Cyrus Timo-Latu and Tualima Tualima.
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
2016 Chris Sio
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
2016 Chanel Harris-Tavita
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
2016 Sheldon Pitama