LION RED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ben Matulino
Wednesday 3 October 2012 9:59 PM
Vodafone Warriors prop Ben Matulino tonight joined club greats Joe Vagana, Jerry Seuseu, Ruben Wiki and Steve Price when he became the fifth prop in the club’s history to win the premier Lion Red NRL Player of the Year award.
The club’s annual gala dinner was held at the SKYCITY Convention Centre in front of almost 700 guests, among them co-owner Owen Glenn.
A multiple winner of the players’ player of the day accolade, Matulino (23) was clearly the team’s most outstanding player during the season, finishing well clear of the other nominees, hooker Nathan Friend, rookie centre-back rower Ben Henry, captain Simon Mannering and back rower Feleti Mateo.
The Wellingtonian, who was one the highest scoring props in the 2012 Dally M Awards, created NRL history this year when he became the first NYC graduate from the 16 clubs to make 100 first-grade appearances.
With his mix of brutal front-on defence and a high work-rate, Matulino impressed peers and experts as one of the game’s best front rowers.
“It’s a great honour to receive this award,” he said tonight.
“So many great players have won it before me. It’s humbling knowing I’ve joined them in being named the player of the year.
“I just want to thank all my team-mates and the coaching staff for the support and help they’ve given me throughout the season.
“It’s a great club to be a part of and I can’t see myself playing anywhere else.”
Matulino made his 100th appearance against Cronulla at Toyota Stadium, having also made his NRL debut against the same opponent at the same venue in 2008 after starting the year as a foundation player in the Vodafone Junior Warriors.
Remarkably durable, he came close to playing three seasons without missing a game only to be side-lined for the round 23 and 24 matches against North Queensland and Penrith. It ended a sequence of 73 consecutive appearances since the start of the 2010 NRL season.
He finished the season with most average runs per game (13.8) ahead of Mateo (13) and Vatuvei (12); most metres (2784) ahead of Mateo (2418), Bill Tupou (2290) and Vatuvei (2278); most average metres per game (126.5) ahead of Vatuvei (113.9), Konrad Hurrell (111.2) and Mateo (100.8); and he was just edged for most runs by Mateo (311) to his 303, Mateo having played all 24 matches.
Soon after making his 100th appearance, the 20th player to do so for the club, Matulino had his contract extended to at least the end of the 2015 season, his eighth as an NRL player. Yesterday he was again named in the Kiwi side for the October 13 Test against the Kangaroos in Townsville for what will be his 13th international.
Taking out the Vodafone NRL Young Player of the Year tonight was centre-second Ben Henry (20) who, in his debut season straight out of the NYC, played in all 24 matches. The other nominees were Elijah Taylor and Hurrell.
Taylor was singled out for the Canterbury of New Zealand NRL Clubman of the Year. Recalled to the Kiwis yesterday, Taylor excelled in all areas of club life on and off the field, playing in 23 of the 24 matches and finding time during the season to give back to his family communities in Taranaki and Northland. The 22-year, recalled to the Kiwis for this month’s one-off Test against Australia, also had to cope with the death of his father late in the season.
Hurrell, who exploded onto the NRL stage at the start of the season, was chosen by fans as the Vodafone People’s Choice.
Earlier in the night, Matulino and Russell Packer were presented with their 100-game rings by former Vodafone Warrior Logan Swann and current captain Simon Mannering while Vatuvei was honoured for becoming the first player to score 100 NRL tries for the Vodafone Warriors, his Otara soul-mate Ruben Wiki making the presentation.
Jerome Ropati was acknowledged with a special 10-season presentation made by club ambassador Sir Peter Leitch and fellow 10-season Vodafone Warrior Awen Guttenbiel; apart from Ropati and Guttenbeil only Stacey Jones and Lance Hohaia have achieved the milestone of playing in 10 NRL seasons for the club.
In the final presentation of the night, an at-times emotional Micheal Luck was given two standing ovations as he was honoured with the SKYCITY Tribute on his retirement from football. Luck played 150 times for the Vodafone Warriors in seven season, finishing his career with a total of 226 appearances.
Winners of the Vodafone Warriors’ Player of the Year Award:
1995 Tea Ropati
1996 Stephen Kearney
1997 Stacey Jones
1998 Joe Vagana
1999 Jason Death
2000 Robert Mears
2001 Jerry Seuseu
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