With Andrew Webster winning the coaching award and three players receiving team accolades, the One New Zealand Warriors signed off their outstanding 2023 season with an exceptional night at the Dally M Awards.
All that was missing – cruelly in so many eyes – was the ultimate gong for Shaun Johnson.
Hopes were high that he would emulate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s feat in 2018 by becoming the second Warriors player to win the Dally M Medal.
As the previously unknown votes were declared on a progressive basis, Johnson surged up the leaderboard to assume a strong lead.
Then, just when the medal was seemingly all but in his hands, he was denied the success many felt he richly deserved as Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga sneaked through to win by one point when the very last points of the night were declared.
It was a heavy blow for the legion of peers, former players, experts and fans who had Johnson marked down to prevail after he had earlier this month collected all three player crowns (including the coveted Simon Mannering Medal) at the One New Zealand Warriors’ annual awards.
Yet, while he was pipped for the big one, the One New Zealand Warriors were still able to celebrate the best Dally M night in the club’s history.
That had previously been 2018 when Tuivasa-Sheck won the Dally M Medal and was named the Fullback of the Year and Jazz Tevaga won the short-lived Interchange Player of the Year award.
There was special joy in 2002 when Daniel Anderson was named the Dally M Coach of the Year and Ali Lauitiiti the Second Rower of the Year while in 2007 Steve Price won the prop and captain awards.
On Wednesday night the One New Zealand Warriors came away with Webster as Dally M Coach of the Year and an unprecedented three players in the Dally M Team of the Year – Johnson at halfback, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak one of the wingers and Addin Fonua-Blake at prop.
Tohu Harris (lock) and Wayde Egan (hooker) were shortlisted for their positions while Harris was also nominated for Dally M Captain of the Year. While they missed out they had strong claims through the weight and quality of their performances throughout the season; that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad missed being a finalist in the fullback category was a reflection on the vagaries of the Dally M points system rather than his performances.
But, whatever the points of contention, the 2023 Dally Ms provided a special footnote to a season which has delivered in ways no other campaign has matched in the club’s 29-season existence.
There was no grand final appearance but the way in which the club’s on-field deeds blended with the fan-driven fervour off it made for an intoxicating mix not previously experienced on the New Zealand sporting scene.