Australian Rugby’s finest performers from the 2023 season have been celebrated at the Rugby Australia Awards in Sydney.
The night culminated with the announcement of forward Rob Valetini as the 13th John Eales Medallist.
The ACT Brumbies enforcer was an ironman for the Wallabies in 2023, playing all nine Test matches, and making a significant impact in attack and defence on each occasion.
The 25 year-old was born-and-bred in Melbourne, and signed for the Brumbies while still at school in Victoria. He made his Super Rugby debut in 2018 but tore his MCL after just 20 minutes. He returned with a vengeance in 2019, and his form saw him picked for the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship squad and he made his debut against Samoa that same year.
Over the past two years, Valetini has been one of Australia’s finest, winning the 2022 Super Rugby Player of the Year, and being one of the Wallabies’ most consistently strong performers.
Eva Karpani was named Wallaroos Player of the Year following a breakout year in 2023, starting all eight Wallaroos Tests at tight-head prop, and delivering continual barnstorming performances throughout the year.
Born in Queensland, raised in Adelaide, and playing for New South Wales, Karpani was instrumental in the strong finish to the season that saw the Wallaroos finish third in World Rugby’s inaugural WXV tournament.
She scored a hat-trick in Australia’s boilover win against France, before scoring a ‘try of the year’ candidate to get the Wallaroos back in their final game against Wales, which they would go on to win despite being a player down.
Winner of the Shawn Mackay Award for Women’s Sevens Player of the Year, Maddison 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.
The incredible year followed on from her crowning as World Rugby Rookie of the Year 12 months earlier, saw her named to the World Rugby Dream Team for the second straight year, and she was instrumental in Australia’s automatic qualification for the Paris Olympics.
Henry Paterson was chosen as the Men’s Sevens winner after establishing himself as one of the leaders of the side that also qualified automatically for the Olympics.
Paterson was the only Australian selected in World Rugby’s 2022-23 Men’s Sevens Dream Team after a year punctuated by scintillating long range tries, and an ability to step up for the Australians when it was needed.
Other awards presented on the night included Fraser McReight and Cecilia Smith from the QLD Reds, who won the Super Rugby Pacific and Super W Player of the Year awards respectively. Reds clubmate Carys Dallinger also picked up the Rookie of the Year prize for her first season with the Buildcorp Wallaroos.
The Junior Players of the Year (under-20s) were Junior Wallabies star Teddy Wilson from the NSW Waratahs, and Wallaroos rookie Faitala Moleka from the ACT Brumbies.
Angus Gardner was recognised as the Fedex Referee of the Year following his appointment to the Rugby World Cup Semi-Final between New Zealand and Argentina, while Cadbury Try of the Year went to Jake Upfield, who scored the Queensland Reds’ length-of-the-field effort against the Highlanders in Super Rugby Pacific.
Rob Valetini, 2023 John Eales Medallist:
"It means a lot. It's crazy because I used to watch all those players when I was growing up. To play alongside the likes of 'Poey' and 'Hoops', it's surreal. [I am] truly honoured to join them. It is a bit strange, but I am proud of the boys [for] considering me for this award. I am truly grateful.”
Eva Karpani, 2023 Buildcorp Wallaroos Player of the Year:
“I don't think an award shows how much we've done over the past 12 months… I'm genuinely humbled and grateful. I’d love to change the image of the tight-head prop – I want to show we can be agile and versatile, not just a powerful ball-runner. I have so much confidence in this team – it's going to be hard work, but I have all the confidence in the world for us to build in a pre-World Cup year.”
Maddison Levi, 2023 Shawn Mackay Award – Women’s Sevens Player of the Year:
"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 these accolades... shows how hard I am working off the field.”
Henry Paterson, 2023 Shawn Mackay Award – Men’s Sevens Player of the Year:
"To be able to win this award and win in such a competitive team, it means a lot. 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 in us boys getting a lot more minutes and luckily we landed on our feet and we're heading in the right direction."
John Eales Medal – Final Points:
- Rob Valetini – 141 pts
- Angus Bell – 132
- Marika Koroibete - 116
Buildcorp Wallaroos Player of the Year – Final Points:
- Eva Karpani – 146 pts
- Ashley Marsters – 140
- Georgina Friedrichs – 118
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