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Rob Valetini named recipient of the John Eales medal and Eva Karpani chosen as 2023 Wallaroos player of the year in Rugby Australia awards.
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Rob Valetini named recipient of the John Eales medal and Eva Karpani chosen as 2023 Wallaroos player of the year in Rugby Australia awards.

Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones didn’t score an invite when Australian Rugby decorated its best and brightest in Sydney last night, with Melbourne backrower Rob Valetini named the 13th

The recipient of the John Eales Medal for the top Wallabies player is Eva Karpani, a powerful prop who was also named the 2023 Wallaroos player of the year.

During a difficult year for the Wallabies, they only managed to win two out of nine matches under Jones (who resigned in October and is currently coaching Japan). Additionally, they did not qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time ever. However, Valetini remained a constant source of optimism.

The Brumbies’ 25-year-old player was one of two Wallabies to participate in all nine Test matches, showcasing strong offensive and defensive skills throughout the year.

The Wallaby, speaking softly, expressed gratitude for being considered for the award, saying it meant a great deal to him. He also acknowledged that it was a bit unusual, but he was proud of his teammates for nominating him.

Valetini received the top honor with 141 points, narrowly beating out prop Angus Bell with 132 points and long-time winger Marika Koroibete with 116 points. NRL-bound winger Mark Nawaqanitawase was also among the five finalists.

Originally from Melbourne, Valetini was first introduced to rugby while attending ACT Brumbies High School in 2018. Unfortunately, his debut in Super Rugby was cut short by a season-ending injury after only 20 minutes. Despite this setback, he has made a strong comeback and has become one of the top players for the Wallabies since his Test debut in 2019. However, he expressed mixed emotions about receiving such recognition in a challenging year.

Valetini explained that he uses this as encouragement to improve, not just for his personal growth, but also for his fellow teammates and the state of Australian rugby.

“Following a challenging season last year, many players are eager to prove themselves with renewed determination. With the arrival of a new coach, Joe Schmidt from New Zealand, it will be a fresh start for all and each individual will need to excel in Super Rugby in order to secure their spot on the team.”

Eva Karpani’s breakout year made her a popular winner of Wallaroos player of the year. Born in Queensland, raised in Adelaide, but playing for New South Wales, the tight-head prop led Australia’s women’s side to third in World Rugby’s inaugural WXV tournament and was a starter and star performer in all eight Tests.

Karpani achieved a memorable hat-trick during the Wallaroos’ unexpected victory over France in October. Their incredible try also earned them a nomination for try of the year, as it helped Australia defeat Wales 25-19 even while playing with one less player for 38 minutes.

Eva Karpani scores a try while being tackledView image in fullscreen

Beating back-rower Ash Marsters and Georgie Friedrichs for the prize, Karpani said she was “genuinely humbled and grateful” to be named by teammates as the best in 2023.

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“She expressed a desire to alter the perception of tight-head props, emphasizing their agility and versatility rather than just their strength as ball-carriers,” she stated. “I have great faith in this team and believe that we can make significant progress in the year leading up to the World Cup.”

Maddison Levi has been recognized with the Shawn Mackay award for being the top player in women’s sevens for the year. This is just one of many accomplishments for the 21-year-old, as she is also a contender for the World Rugby player of the year, thanks to her 57 tries this season. She had previously won the rookie of the year award in 2022.

Australian Sevens player of the year Madison Levi (left) with her sister and Sevens teammate Teagan Levi at the Rugby Australia Awards.

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Henry Paterson emerged as the victor in the men’s sevens competition, thanks to his strong leadership which also secured qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics for his team in July.

Fraser McReight and Cecilia Smith, members of the Queensland Reds, were named the recipients of the Super Rugby Pacific and Super W player of the year awards. Carys Dallinger, also from the Reds, was recognized as rookie of the year for her impressive debut season with the Wallaroos.

Source: theguardian.com