WELCOME to the seventh annual Maul and All awards. It has been another cracking year in the NHRU, including the Hawks stretching their dynasty to five years, an edge-of-your-seat final series, the re-emergence of Wanderers and a bevvy of fresh faces.
The Mauls may not rival the Anderson Medal for prestige just yet, but at least they should get people talking. The team of the year is not necessarily made up of the best in the competition. Longevity, importance to the side, value off the pitch and balance were considered in equal measures.
PLAYER OF YEAR
Travis Brooke (Maitland): You only had to watch Maitland when Brooke didn't play to realise his worth. Unparalleled at the lineout. He gave everyone - thrower, lifters, runners - confidence and was equally dominant on the opposition ball. Set piece aside, the long-striding Kiwi No.8 combined sweet stepping with a powerful fend to bend the defensive line with every charge. It was little wonder NSW Country did everything to get him in the Cockatoos side.
COACH OF YEAR
Scott Coleman (Hamilton), Dan Beckett (Wanderers): Impossible to split. Coleman's record is incredible. Major and minor premiers for the fifth straight year and back-to-back Hawthorne Cups to boot. Each year he finds a different way to raise the bar. The Hawks could blow teams away or suffocate them, depending on the situation. Few gave Wanderers much hope in March, but Beckett has the ability to bring players together from different backgrounds and starting points. He told stories, used props and conjured up themes to hone their focus. Most of all, he got the Two Blues playing a fast-paced entertaining brand of rugby.
Zac Crowley (Hamilton): A product of the Hawks academy, the electrifying fullback got a start after the ever-reliable Sam McNeil suffered a sternum injury against Merewether in round nine. He starred, scoring a try and playing a hand in two others. McNeil, a three-time premiership winner, didn't get another look in. Honourable mention: Nick Benn, Jack Johnson-Holmes, Liam Dalibozek.
Lachy Milton (Merewether): Has the looks of a 1980s porn star with a manicured mullet and Magnum PI moustache. However, there's nothing retro about his game. Combines dazzling footwork with pace and a passing game crafted in the backs as a junior. The Greens' go-to man at the lineout ... and presumably the bar. He did just about everything else. HM: Angus Brown, Josh Manwell, Ignacio Battilana.
Hayden Pedersen (Lake Macquarie): The Roos managed to get the former New Zealand Maori representative out of the gym to play seven games. Scored a jaw-dropping 14 tries. His match-turning effort in the elimination semi-final was a snapshot of his career.
Pete Maxwell (Hamilton): The retiring prop has never done anything by halves. He lobbed at Hamilton's 'Silly Sunday' dressed as Steve Irwin with a live python around his neck and carrying a baby crocodile (and with a very nervous keeper from the reptile park in toe).
Jason Hill (Hamilton): No surprises that the bald-headed No.8 is headed back to a professional contract in Scotland. A man mountain, he continually got the Hawks on the front foot, gave them a target at the back of the lineout and stiffened up their defence. HM: Piers Morrell.
Sam Berry (University): Tried to retire for a fifth time. A tackle-busting fullback or centre in his halcyon days in the 60s, made the shift to the pack and showed the Students the benefits of running straight. Splashed out on a new pair of boots, which guarantees another three seasons for Sea Horses.
TEAM OF YEAR
1 Pete Maxwell (Hamilton): Was the first Hamilton front-rower picked, which says a lot. A powerful scrummager, he worked over any tight-head who was feeling lucky. Has a back-rower's mindset if no longer the pace and will be sorely missed next season. Honourable mention: Alex Reid, Harrison Chapman.
2 Chris Ale (Hamilton): A race in two until Phil Bradford left Maitland for Spain. Ale scatters defenders like ten pins, has the grunt of a V8 engine at scrum time and is the best ineout thrower in the competition by a street. HM: Dane Le Rougetel, Bill Dunn.
3 Dave Whiting (Merewether): Blonde-hared Pommy who had the build and the thirst of professional darts player. Quickly became a fan favourite in the Green Room. Scrummaging improved with every week, but it was his skill level and offloads which stood him out. HM: Geraint Weaver, Kemble Frost.
4 Jarome Wilson (Merewether): Made the transition from back-row to second-row. Climbs out of tackles, always goes forward and always takes three defenders to wrestle him to the ground. HM: Mika Iopa, Ignacio Battilana.
5 Joe Akkersdyk (Hamilton): More chance of rain in Dubbo than the ever consistent lock playing a bad game. Gets through a power of work and rarely misses players' player votes. HM: Josh Manwell.
6 Piers Morrell (Wanderers): Regularly lifted the team with a solo effort. Runs great lines, always sticks his nose through the defensive line and can ball play. Apparently he is English? HM: Steve Lamont, Lachy Milton.
7 Nick Davidson (Maitland): Puts the old into old-school back-rower. Would run through a brick wall if you told him there was a Blacks jumper on the other side. Never stops, always on the ball and always dents the line. HM: Tiueti Asi, Sam Dart, Nathan Oliver.
8 Travis Brooke (Maitland): Limbs like a gum tree, he is growing with every season. Could run for mayor and win such is his popularity at Marcellin Park. HM: Ben Ham, Marlon Solofuti, Jason Hill.
9 Sinclair George (Wanderers): A big part of Wanderers' resurgence. Provided slick service, has great vision and asked enough questions to keep the defence interested and free up the outside men. HM: Eli McCulloch, Max Stafford.
10 Dane Sherratt (Hamilton): Won't remember much of the grand final but played a major role in getting the Hawks there. An astute kicker, but most dangerous when running the ball. HM: Chad Northcott, Jarod Nyssen.
11 Tim Marsh (Wanderers): You can't coach pure speed. He has it in spades. The best finisher in the competition. Only needs half a yard and he is gone. HM: Sireli Bainivalu, Kosta Sykiotis.
12 Nimi Qio (Wanderers): What a beast. Lost count of the defenders he ran over. Crossed for 21 tries and provided momentum for the Two Blues to feed off. Was busted for the grand final but still managed a couple of big plays. HM: Angus Brown, Michael Hotene.
13 Carl Manu (Maitland): Couldn't make it three Anderson Medals in a row thanks to Travis Brooke. Still the Blacks' most influential player and a constant threat with the ball. Made a habit of producing the right play at the right time.
14 Hamish McKie (Hamish): Has a bit of Wallaby winger Dane Haylett-Petty about him. Big, strong, fast and knows how to find the try-line. Made a couple of big defensive plays in the grand final and will only grow in confidence after a break-out season. HM: Armand Pienaar, Dale Clacherty.
15 Zac Crowley (Hamilton): What a prospect. Has blistering pace, knows how to hit a hole and can break tackles. Most dangerous when returning the ball in broken field. HM: Chris Logan, Sam Rouse.