While Kiwi prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Kiwi Ferns centre Honey Hireme claimed the premier titles, Vodafone Warriors players won five of the 13 categories at the 2018 New Zealand Rugby League Annual Awards announced on SKY Sport's Kiwi League Show tonight.
Wing Ken Maumalo capped a breakthrough season by being named the Kiwi Rookie of the Year, his club-mate Isaiah Papali'i won the Junior Player of the Year accolade for the second year running, back rower Onjeurlina Leiataua collected the Kiwi Fern Rookie of the Year crown, Tyler Slade was recognised as the New Zealand 18s Player of the Year and Sione Moala was named the New Zealand 16s Player of the Year.
Kiwi #810 Maumalo (24), who made 23 NRL appearances for the Vodafone Warriors this year, finished the season established on the left wing for the Kiwis.
Having represented Toa Samoa, he made his New Zealand Test debut in the one-off international against England in Denver in June and featured in each of the four end-of-season Tests against Australia and England. After averaging 154 metres a game in the NRL season, he maintained the rage for the Kiwis averaging almost 160 metres while scoring four tries including a double in the 34-0 third Test win over England at Elland Road.
Papali'i, who turned 20 as recently as September 20, made 20 NRL appearances in 2019, the vast majority starting in the second row. He captained the Junior Kiwis and made the Kiwis' tour to England, earning his debut in the final Test against England to become Kiwi #817.
After impressing for the Warriors in the inaugural NRL women's premiership, Leiataua made her Test debut in the Kiwi Ferns' one-off international against the Jillaroos in Auckland.
Slade captained the Vodafone Junior Warriors in the Jersey Flegg Cup and was in the New Zealand Residents 18s side which beat Toa Samoa in October.
Moala has re-signed with Vodafone Warriors until the end of 2020. Just named deputy head boy at St Paul's College, he was named MVP at the NZRL Secondary Schools Nationals and was also MVP at the Pasifika Youth Cup.
The main award - the Steve Watene Memorial Medal - went to Waerea-Hargreaves (Kiwi #755) after his best season in the black and white jersey. He won the award ahead of new Kiwi captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and second rower Kevin Proctor.
"As a senior player within the Kiwis camp, Jared put a lot of time into discussing the growth of the Kiwi team," said first-year Kiwi coach Michael Maguire.
"He has immense passion towards where he wants to see the black and white jersey and this is a real quality of his.
"Off the back of his brilliant season in club land, he was in a good position to play his best footy for the Kiwis and that's exactly what he did. His experience has been invaluable in mentoring younger players to step up into international rugby league."
After helping the Sydney Roosters to the NRL premiership, Waerea-Hargreaves was a stand out on the end of year tour. Outstanding in the victory against the Kangaroos on Auckland (182 metres from 19 runs) – the first time he'd experienced Test success against Australia – he was also impressive in all three Tests against England. He averaged almost 150 metres in the four Tests.
In one of the biggest years to date for women's rugby league, Hireme was hard to go past when it came to crowning the Kiwi Ferns Player of the Year, an award she won back in 2012.
As co-captain of the Kiwi Ferns alongside veteran team-mate Laura Mariu, she crossed the ditch to play for the St George Illawarra Dragons in the inaugural NRL women's premiership, an experience she says has benefitted her game.
"The addition of this year's NRL competition was great for the women's game," she said.
"The fact that we could all come together in Kiwi Ferns camp following four weeks of competing in the elite space, was hugely beneficial when it came to pulling on the black and white jersey against the Jillaroos.
"The more we can play at the top level, the better our game gets. I'm grateful for receiving this award but would also like to recognise the efforts of the other finalists (Kimiora Nati and Aieshaleigh Smalley) and our Kiwi Ferns team-mates, my family for their undying support, management and coaching staff."
Maumalo's impressive season with the Vodafone Warriors and the Kiwis attracted high praise from coach Maguire.
"Both Ken and Jared are two players who are hungry for the Kiwi jersey to reach new heights and that's pleasing," he said.
"It has been really enjoyable coaching Ken. The more he plays, the more he grows so I look forward to seeing what he does next year."
2018 NEW ZEALAND RUGBY LEAGUE AWARDS
Pirtek Female Volunteer | Karen Gibbons Karen Gibbons (Akarana, Auckland)
Pirtek Male Volunteer | Lawrence Erihe (Mid Central, Manawatu)
Grassroots Club of the Year | South Pacific Raiders (Southern, Otago)
Domestic Coach of the Year | Keith Hanley (Akarana, Auckland)
Match Official of the Year | Paki Parkinson (Upper Central, Bay of Plenty)
NZ 16s Player of the Year| Sione Moala (Counties Manukau, Auckland)
NZ 18s Player of the Year | Tyler Slade (Vodafone Warriors)
Domestic Premier Player of the Year | Francis Leger (Akarana, Auckland)
Junior Player of the Year | Isaiah Papali'i (Vodafone Warriors)
Kiwi Fern Rookie of the Year | Onjeurlina Leiataua (Vodafone Warriors)
Kiwis Rookie of the Year| Ken Maumalo (Vodafone Warriors)
Kiwis Fern Player of the Year | Honey Hireme (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Kiwis Player of the Year | Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters)