Several Wallabies in contention for 2014 John Eales Medal

By Pete Fairbairn, 21.10.14

It is the highest accolade for a player in Australian Rugby.

To be considered the best across the season by the very men that share your status as the country’s top rugby players, the very men that battle alongside you in each Test.

There is no greater honour than to be voted by one’s peers to join the game’s greats as a recipient of an award named after one of the game’s greatest.

The John Eales Medal has been recognising the Wallabies’ players’ player each year since 2002.

The winner of the inaugural medal back in 2002 was rugby stalwart George Smith. It came just a year after he had won the Wallabies’ Rookie of the Year.

The top five in the first John Eales Medal count in 2002 included Nathan Sharpe, Stirling Mortlock, Toutai Kefu and Steve Larkham.

The list of John Eales medallists over the years provides a true snapshot of Australian rugby talent with the likes of Phil Waugh, Chris Latham, Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock, Matt Giteau, Kurtley Beale and last year’s winner, Michael Hooper.

This year, there are a number of Wallabies who could have received many votes from teammates after standout performances in matches across last year’s Spring Tour, the June Test series against the French and the 2014 Rugby Championship.

So let us look at some of the potential contenders.

James Slipper

Slips has been an unwavering force for the Wallabies this season. After making his international debut in 2010, he has made the Gold number one jersey his own this season, starting in all 15 Tests from the 2013 Spring Tour through until the final match of this year’s Rugby Championship series. Earlier this year he was announced as one of the Wallabies Vice-Captains, and became one of the top ball carriers in the 2014 Rugby Championship, equal with Tevita Kuridrani on 52.

The 25 year old prop from the Gold Coast also had a stellar season for his Queensland Reds side in 2014. His form on and off the field won the votes of players and fans alike as he was presented with three impressive awards at the side’s annual Gala Ball including the Pilecki Medal for player’s player, People’s Choice Award and the Spirit of Reds Award.

Tevita Kuridrani

Tevita Kuridrani has made a big impression in the Wallaby Gold jersey ever since he burst into the international rugby scene just over a year ago when he made his debut off the bench during the opening 2013 Bledisloe Cup Test.

Born in Suva, Fiji, the Brumbies’ sturdy centre has played in 12 out of the 15 Tests this season. He features high on many of the player rankings in the recent Rugby Championships, having beat 17 defenders, run for 300 metres, made five clean breaks and scored two tries.

With his recent remarkable form that provides an exciting outlook for Wallaby players and fans alike, there’s no doubt Tevita could have clocked up enough points from teammates to receive this year’s top gong after just one full season in Wallaby Gold.

Israel Folau

Speaking of bursting onto the international rugby scene, another sure-fire JEM contender this year is none other than Israel Folau. Izzy’s head-turning technique and form has continued past his historic opening debut season in international rugby as he continues to dominate the overall figures.

He started in all 15 Wallabies Tests across the last season. Within that time he has once again become the top try scorer amongst the Men in Gold, with eight tries to his name.

In this year’s Rugby Championship he is second behind South Africa’s Willie Le Roux in ball carries and equal first with Kieran Read for amount of offloads. He tops the leaderboard in number of defenders beaten on 27, ahead of second-placed Kiwi, Julian Savea, on 23, and is second to Savea in total metres on 498. The stats speak for themselves. Amongst the players, he is sure to have accumulated high tallies too.

Michael Hooper

Last year’s John Eales Medallist, Michael Hooper added to an already rich line-up of accolades including Super Rugby Player of the Year and Castrol EDGE Strongest Performer Award in 2013, Qantas Wallabies Rookie of the Year in 2012, and Under 20s Player of the Year in 2011.

Hooper received 297 votes from his peers to win the award, more than 100 votes ahead of the next players.

Hooper’s continuing awe-inspiring form this season could see him become the first ever Wallaby to win back-to-back John Eales Medals and join George Smith and Nathan Sharpe as the only players to have won the medal twice.

The Tahs’ flanker from Manly has scored the second most amount of tries for the Wallabies behind Izzy, on seven. He too has started in all 15 Tests this season and in the 2014 Rugby Championship was third highest tackler, on 73, behind the Springboks’ Marcell Coetzee and All Black Captain, Richie McCaw.

Hoops’ status was elevated this year when he was named to lead the Wallabies as Captain. His ongoing ability as a reliable and efficient force for the team has provided a continuing motive for player votes again this year.

Adam Ashley-Cooper

Recently celebrating his 100th Wallabies Test cap, Adam Ashley-Cooper is due a John Eales Medal after years of notable performances in the Gold jersey.

As only the sixth Wallaby to ever rack up the century milestone in the Gold jersey, Adam is consider the Mr Fix it or Mr Reliable of Australian Rugby. He is the third placed try-scorer for the Wallabies, with four tries to his name this season.

His latest try against the All Blacks in the third and final Bledisloe at the weekend also saw him become equal highest Australian try-scorer, tied with David Campese, against New Zealand. After a season capped off with his 100th Test, there’s no denying teammates would have jotted Swoop’s name down several times for 3, 2 or 1 points across the last 12 months.

How the John Eales Medal player votes are tallied

Following each Wallabies Test match throughout the year, players are handed a sheet of paper to nominate who they think was the best player on the field during the game on a 3-2-1 basis.

The points are accumulated from the beginning of the Spring Tour until the final game of The Rugby Championship the following year.

The top points receivers are revealed during rugby’s night of nights, which culminates with the announcement of the Wallabies player who has received the highest amount of points that season, the John Eales Medallist.

The annual John Eales Medal Awards night also recognises players throughout the season for their outstanding achievements on and off the field. Other player awards include Under 20s Player of the Year, The Shawn Mackay Award Qantas Sevens Player of the Year, Buildcorp NRC Player of the Series, Australia’s Choice Qantas Wallaby of the Year, Qantas Men’s Sevens Player of the Year. Women’s Player of the Year, Qantas Wallabies Try of the Year and Qantas Wallabies Rookie of the Year.

The national Super Rugby Awards will also be presented at this year’s awards night, recognising the top players, Coach, team and try of the Year.

Pete Fairbairn
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