Vodafone Warriors centre Cole Waaka has been named the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Sports Person of the Year.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force Leading Aircraftman was the Northcote Tigers' leading try scorer in Auckland's Fox Memorial premiership last season.
He was selected for the New Zealand Residents, collected awards and has also been signed by the Vodafone Warriors on an Intrust Super Premiership contract. He has played in eight of the club'c nine ISP games so far this season, scoring three tries.
Waaka said it was humbling to be nominated for the award and a privilege to win, but that he could not do what he did without the support of the NZDF.
"I owe them everything. It's really awesome to be given the opportunity to play sport as part of your job," said Waaka.
Joining Waaka in receiving awards were New Zealand Army Major Brett Grieve, who won the Outstanding Sports Achievement of the Year award for cycling, and Robert "Tiny" Graham, who was named Sports Official of the Year for his contribution to rugby union.
The NZDF rugby union team, the Defence Blacks, won the Sports Team of the Year award, while the NZDF Colour award was presented to Warrant Officer Brendon Johnson, for Services to Touch Rugby.
The awards are the pinnacle of sporting achievement in the NZDF for the 2017 year.
Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating said physical fitness and teamwork were vital components of a successful military force and were part of the military lifestyle which attracted new recruits.
"Sport is an extension of maintaining our basic physical fitness; sport showcases both individual and team excellence and contributes to building teamwork and camaraderie," Lieutenant General Keating said.
"Through sport we build bridges between defence and the local community."
Caption for main photo: New Zealand Defence Award recipients, from left, Leading Aircraftman Cole Waaka (Individual Sports Person of the Year), Robert "Tiny" Graham (Sports Official of the Year), Major Brett Grieve (Outstanding Sports Achievement of the Year) and Lieutenant Commander Simon Vissers (Manager of the Defence Blacks, the Sports Team of the Year).