Rugby's night of nights is here as players convene in Sydney for the Rugby Australia Awards.
The awards returned to a physical event for the first time since 2019 with the John Eales Medalist set to be crowned along with the Wallaroo of the Year, Shawn Mackay Sevens Players of the Year and other significant awards.
Rob Valetini took out his first John Eales Medal, going one better than 2022.
Meanwhile, Eva Karpani finished strong to claim the Wallaroos Player of the Year, whilst Maddison Levi and Henry Paterson took out the Shawn Mackay Medals.
FOLLOW BELOW FOR ALL THE ACTION FROM THE 2023 RUGBY AUSTRALIA AWARDS
It was a fast-paced awards night and a plethora of first-time winners as the 2023 Rugby Australia Awards concluded in Sydney.
Here is a full list of award winners:
2023 Rugby Australia Awards – Full list:
John Eales Medal – Rob Valetini
Buildcorp Wallaroos Player of the Year – Eva Karpani
Shawn Mackay Award for Men’s Sevens Player of the Year – Henry Paterson
Shawn Mackay Award for Women’s Sevens Player of the Year – Maddison Levi
Harvey Norman Super Rugby Player of the Year – Fraser McReight, QLD Reds
Buildcorp Super W Player of the Year – Cecilia Smith, QLD Reds
RA Rookie of the Year Award – Carys Dallinger, Wallaroos
RA Junior Men’s Player of the Year (U20) – Teddy Wilson
RA Junior Women’s Player of the Year (U20) – Faitala Moleka
Cadbury Try of the Year – Jake Upfield, QLD Reds vs Highlanders
FEDEX Referee of the Year – Angus Gardner
Nick Farr-Jones Spirit of Rugby Award – Bernard Tuaimau, Sydney Junior Rugby Union, AND Nathan Maiava, Melton Rugby Club
Joe French Award for Outstanding Contribution to Rugby – Tim Gavin, Eastern Suburbs and New South Wales
Geoff ‘Bunter’ Shaw Community Coach of the Year Award – Michael Crank, Mount Maria College
Andrew Cole Community Match Official of the Year – Anthony Furey, Central Coast Rugby Union Referees
Rob Valetini has finally broken through for his first John Eales Medal.
Finishing second last year, the backrower held off a fast-finishing Angus Bell by 11 votes.
Valetini started every game for the Wallabies, including making his World Cup debut against Georgia.
Eva Karpani has been celebrated for her strong with Wallaroos Player of the Year.
Karpani finished fast to finish ahead of Ash Masters and Georgina Friedrichs.
The Queensland-born, Adelaide-bred prop scored a hat-trick in Australia’s boilover win against France.
There is another first-time Shawn Mackay winner with Henry Paterson taking out the award.
Paterson was the lone Australian in the World Series Dream Team for 2022-23, helping Australia automatically qualify for the Olympics.
Despite missing the first three events, Paterson’s performances were strong enough to hold off Nathan Lawson and Dietrich Roache.
"It shows how much respect I've got for our playing squad and how tight we are. To be able to win this award and win in such a competitive team, it means a lot," Paterson said.
"The last 12 months has been a whirlwind, we lost two of our captains early on so a few of our boys had to deal with it, it resulted it us boys getting a lot more minutes and luckily we landed on our feet and we're heading in the right direction."
Maddison Levi’s strong 2022 season has been recognised with her first Shawn Mackay Medal.
Levi was unstoppable in the 2022-23 HSBC World Rugby Series season, being nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year, and scoring a record 57 tries in just one season.
She beat out Charlotte Caslick and Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea despite her red cards in Cape Town and Perth.
"It was a pretty exciting year for me. I've grown as a player and an athlete and I've been able to build on that so to top it off with those accolades, it shows how hard I am working off the field," Levi said.
Cecilia Smith has completed the Reds clean sweep with Super W Player of the Year.
Smith was inspirational for the Reds, helping them back into the Super W Final after missing out in 2022.
The centre has become a reliable member of the Wallaroos midfield since her debut in 2022, holding off Ash Marsters and Siokapesi Palu.
"It was really disappointing falling short in the Final but that season was awesome with the girls as a team. We really built a culture and there's a lot to take out for this year," Smith said.
Fraser McReight has been celebrated for a strong season with Super Rugby Player of the Year.
McReight’s season saw him catapult into Wallabies contention as he guided the Reds to the finals.
McReight bested Tom Wright, Carter Gordon, Rob Valetini and Tate McDermott for the award.
"It's funny getting it when you're preparing for a new season and so much happened but reflecting on the past months, it was a great season personally and for the team," McReight said.
Angus Gardner’s big year has been recognised with yet another FEDEX Referee of the Year award.
Gardner refereed the semi-final between New Zealand and Argentina on October 20.
It’s another accolade for the impressive Gardner, named as the World Rugby Referee of the Year in 2018.
The first batch of awards are in the book as the Rugby Australia Awards rolls on.
There is still the Super Rugby Pacific and W Player of the Year awards to go with Referee of the Year to be announced before the four key honours are handed out to the teams in gold.
Proceedings will pause until around 8:10 pm before the awards go again.
Jake Upfield's try was a deserved Try of the Year, finishing off a great team effort for the Reds against the Highlanders.
It started from their own try-line as Fraser McReight created the break for Harry Wilson, with James O'Connor staying in to keep the ball alive and allow the replacement to score.
Carys Dallinger has continued her incredible year, being named Rookie of the Year.
Dallinger wasn't even on the radar at the start of the year, only emerging on selector's radar when she told Reds officials she had an Australian parent.
Since then, she has become the first-choice playmaker in WXV.
"It's honestly the most insane feeling. It's been a crazy last nine months, my world has gone from one country to another and moved my whole life over here but forever grateful for everyone that took a chance on my last year," Dallinger said.
Faitala Moleka has taken out the Junior Women's Player of the Year.
Moleka made her debut for the Wallaroos in 2023, holding off Heidi Dennis and Caitlin Halse.
"It's the cherry on top. I think all the hard work not only I have done but with all the people behind me, and their support I'm so grateful. I'm just moving with the flow at the moment, everything is moving so fast and trying to soak it all in but it hasn't yet how much I have achieved," Moleka said.
Teddy Wilson's strong year has been rewarded with Junior Men's Player of the Year.
Wilson captained the Junior Wallabies to multiple wins over the Kiwis, finishing fifth at the U20 World Championships.
The scrumhalf played six games for the NSW Waratahs as well.
"I'm super grateful and honoured to win this award...it was a great experience to lead a side (at the U20s World Champs), it was my first time at that level so I learnt a lot from that," Wilson said.
Anthony Furey has won the Community Match Official of the Year Award.
Furey has refereed over 35 years on the Central Coast, nearly close to 700 games.
The community awards continue with Michael Crank recognised as the Community Coach of the Year Award.
Crank has coached Queensland Schoolboys team in the past and currently coaches at Mount Maria College
Rugby legend Tim Gavin has been awarded the Joe French Award for his contribution to Rugby.
Gavin played 76 games for the Wallabies, including 47 Tests, and 83 games for New South Wales, including 30 as captain.
Since then, he has dedicated his life to his beloved Eastern Suburbs Rugby Club
The first award of the night has been announced, with Bernard Tuaimau and Nathan Maiava winning the Nick Farr Jones Spirit of Rugby Award
Tuaimau was recognised for his work with Sydney Junior Rugby Union whilst Maiava has done wonders working with Melton Rugby Club in Victoria.
Welcome to Rugby.com.au's coverage of the 2023 Rugby Australia Awards.
The awards return to its regular format after COVID and other factors saw the awards released throughout the new year
Follow this blog to find out the award winners from the night or Rugby AU socials.
A reminder of the nominees for the major awards of the night: