Vodafone Warriors captain Simon Mannering has become the first three-time winner of the club’s supreme Lion Red Player of the Year Award but had a very good reason for not being there to receive it at the club’s annual awards dinner at the SKYCITY Convention Centre tonight.
While the 27-year-old, 188-game veteran was due to join almost 700 guests for the event he had to excuse himself for a more pressing engagement when his partner Anna went into labour with the couple’s first child this afternoon.
Fellow long-time Vodafone Warrior Sam Rapira, who captained the side against Canberra earlier in the season, accepted the award in his team-mate’s absence.
Mannering, who had previously won the award in 2008 and 2011, was one of four finalists along with other long-term NRL performers Nathan Friend, Thomas Leuluai and Manu Vatuvei.
As he has done throughout his nine seasons in the NRL, the big second rower set the highest standards with the quality and consistency of his performances. He missed only one match through injury and averaged 79 minutes a game - easily the most by any of the team’s forwards - in a season in which he averaged just on 10 runs and 80 metres a game complemented by an average 33 tackles a game (759 in total, the third highest for the team).
"The quality of Simon’s work and his sheer capacity for work is exceptional," said Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott.
"I’ve long admired what a fantastic player he is from a distance but that respect has gone to another level after having the privilege of working with him for the first time.
"Of our finalists for the award, Nathan, Thomas and Manu all did a lot of terrific things for us through their performances and their attitudes but in the end Simon stood out."
Mannering now ranks third on the club’s list of all-time appearances behind only Stacey Jones (261) and Logan Swann (195). He finished the year sitting on 88 appearances as captain since taking on the role at the start of the 2010 season to leave him just three games short of drawing level with legend Steve Price for the club record of most games in charge (91).
The finalists for the Vodafone NYC Rookie of the Year were prop Charlie Gubb, wing Ngani Laumape and prop Suaia Matagi. Taking out the title was Laumape, who was still eligible to play in the NYC this year. He made his debut as a 19-year-old against Cronulla in March and went on to appear in 14 matches, scoring six tries and averaging 115 metres a game.
It was a big night for Vatuvei, who marked his 10th season in the NRL this year. Again the club’s top try scorer with 16 in 19 games, he was named the Canterbury of New Zealand Clubman of the Year as well as being a finalist in the Lion Red Player of the Year. A regular sight doing work in the community including many hospital visits, Vatuvei also made a critical contribution on the Tonga leg of the Vodafone Warriors’ successful Pacific community tour early this year.
Earlier in the evening a special presentation was made by club ambassador Sir Peter Leitch to acknowledge Vatuvei’s 10th season in the NRL; ‘The Beast’ is only the fifth player to achieve the feat for the Vodafone Warriors.
The fourth major award announced was the Vodafone People’s Player of the Year title. Decided by public vote, it went to halfback Shaun Johnson.
Long-serving prop Jacob Lillyman was presented with his 100-game ring by former team-mate Steve Price. Lillyman made his 100th NRL appearance for the club in the final match of the season against St George Illawarra, making him the 22nd member of the Vodafone Warriors’ 100-game club.
Also acknowledged for exceptional service to the Vodafone Warriors tonight was centre Jerome Ropati, the longest-serving player in the club’s 2013 squad. He received the SKYCITY Legacy Award from SKYCITY chief executive Nigel Morrison while Ropati’s former team-mate, 170-game Vodafone Warrior Awen Guttenbeil, also paid tribute to him.
Departing players Elijah Taylor, Steve Rapira and Alehana Mara as well as the already-departed Bill Tupou were also formally farewelled.
A feature of the entertainment programme was a performance by New Zealand X Factor winner Jackie Thomas.
Vodafone Warriors Player of the Year Award winners:
1995 Tea Ropati
1996 Stephen 1997 Stacey Jones
1998 Joe Vagana
1999 Jason Death
2000 Robert Mears
2001 2002 Ali Lauitiiti
2003 Francis Meli
2004 Wairangi Koopu
2005 Ruben Wiki
2006 Steve Price
2007 Steve Price
2008 Simon Mannering
2009 Micheal Luck
2010 Manu Vatuvei
2011 Simon Mannering
2012 Ben Matulino
2013 Simon Mannering
Join Voxy on Google+.