The players have voted behind closed doors, and we're pleased to announce the five finalists to win the 2018 RUPA Newcomer of the Year.
The Newcomer of the Year award was first presented in 2006. To be eligible, finalists must have played no more than 6 Super Rugby games or 2 World Rugby Sevens series events in the year prior to when they are nominated.
It has been won by Melbourne Rebels players the last four years running; the full list of previous winners is:
Berrick Barnes (2006), Israel Folau (2013), Reece Hodge (2016), Marika Koroibete (2017), Ben Lucas (2008), Pat McCabe (2010), Sean McMahon (2014), Sefanaia Naivalu (2015), David Pocock (2007), Ben Tapuai (2011), Joe Tomane (2012) and Laurie Weeks (2009).
This year's winners include two 2018 Wallaby debutants in Folau Fainga'a and Jack Maddocks, World Rugby Sevens series debutant Ben O'Donnell, teenage Queensland Reds star (and NRC Players' Player award finalist) Jordan Petaia and NSW Waratahs flanker Will Miller.
Brought into Wallaby camp late last year on the back of an impressive NRC campaign, hooker Folau Fainga'a embarked upon his maiden Super Rugby campaign with the Brumbies this season and instantly looked at home.
Required to step up with veteran Josh Mann-Rea missing most of the campaign with injury, Folau played 13 Super Rugby matches and then broke through to play 7 Tests for the Wallabies, starting 4 times; he's a firm part of the Rugby World Cup planning.
In just his second season of professional Rugby, Melbourne Rebels wing/fullback Jack Maddocks earned selection to play 7 Tests for the Wallabies, scoring his first International try after just 13 minutes on the field against New Zealand on debut.
The 21-year-old also lit up the Super Rugby competition, playing all bar 20 minutes of the Rebels' season and scoring 9 tries as he cemented a starting spot in the Melbourne side's star-studded backline.
After making 5 appearances for the Melbourne Rebels on an injury-cover contract in 2017, Will Miller signed a permanent contract with the NSW Waratahs and played all 17 of their matches in 2018, scoring three tries in the process.
The 25-year-old is an extremely mobile backrower who has been a regular feature of the NRC over a number of seasons, and if he continues to develop at this rate there's no reason why he won't be firmly in the conversation for higher honours.
23-year-old Ben O'Donnell had to be patient, spending an entire season with the squad without getting a chance to make his debut in 2016-17, but was like a dog off a leash this year as he starred on the World Series for Australia.
Named in the Tournament Dream Team in both Sydney and Singapore, as well as the overall World Series Tournament Dream Team, 'BOD' scored a whopping 190 points in 2017-18.
In his first year out of high school, Queensland Reds back Jordan Petaia made the transition into senior Rugby look easy as he made 11 appearances for the Queensland Reds, scoring 2 tries in the process, before a starring role in the NRC as he scored 11 tries in 9 matches for Queensland Country.
He was rewarded with selection in the Wallabies' Spring Tour squad, and was all set to make his debut for Australia against Italy before a hamstring injury ruled him out; the 18-year-old will surely not have to wait too much longer to get that chance.
The RUPA Newcomer of the Year award is one of eight major awards presented at the Volvo-RUPA Awards Luncheon on Wednesday December 12. Stay tuned for announcements regarding the finalists in other award categories over the coming days and weeks.