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Wallabies reveal their best player after dismal year

NEWS: Barnstorming Brumbies loose forward Rob Valetini has won the John Eales medal, crowned as Australian rugby’s men’s Player of the Year.

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The 25-year-old was one of the Wallabies’ most consistent performers in an otherwise disappointing 12 months that culminated in Australia’s first-ever pool-stage elimination at a World Cup.

The Melbourne-born-and-raised bruiser played in all nine Tests in 2023, including four through the France-hosted World Cup, and was integral in getting the Wallabies on the front foot.

Valetini has played 39 Test matches since making his debut in 2019 and last year made the No.8 jersey his own.

In the poll from Australia’s players after each Test, Valetini drew 141 votes to finish ahead of Waratahs prop Angus Bell (132) and wing sensation and dual John Eales Medallist Marika Koroibete (116).

Koroibete, who won the award in 2019 and 2022, was attempting to join Wallabies greats Israel Folau (2014, 2015, 2017) and four-time recipient Michael Hooper (2013, 2015, 2020, 2021) as only the third man to win the award at least three times.

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The other two finalists were NRL-bound wing Mark Nawaqanitawase and 2023 World Cup captain, lock Will Skelton.

Tighthead prop Eva Karpani was named Wallaroos Player of the Year following a breakout year in 2023, starting all eight Tests.

Born in Queensland, raised in Adelaide, and playing for NSW, Karpani was instrumental in the strong finish to the season that saw the Wallaroos finish third in World Rugby’s inaugural WXV tournament.

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The 27-year-old scored a hat-trick in Australia’s boilover win against France and a crucial try in their victory over Wales to poll 146 points to pip Melbourne flank Ashley Marsters (140) and 2022 winner, NSW centre Georgina Friedrichs (118).

Maddison Levy was runaway winner of the Shawn Mackay Award for the women’s Sevens Player of the Year while Henry Paterson picked up the men’s trophy.

Other awards presented at the Sydney function on Wednesday included Queensland’s Fraser McReight and Cecilia Smith, who won the player-of-the-year gongs in Super Rugby Pacific and Super W respectively.

The junior players of the year for Under-20s were Teddy Wilson from the NSW Waratahs, and Wallaroos rookie Faitala Moleka from the Brumbies.

Angus Gardner was recognised as Australia’s best referee following his appointment to the World Cup semifinal between New Zealand and Argentina.

Try of the Year went to Jake Upfield, who scored Queensland’s length-of-the-field effort against the Highlanders in Super Rugby Pacific.

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