Brilliant Veitokani wins 2018 NRC Rising Star award

NRC
by Iain Payten

On many occasions this season, rivals of the Fijian Drua side have had no other option but to shake their heads and quietly mutter: “Too good”.

And so it has unfolded in the inaugural 2018 NRC Rising Star of the award, with the man responsible for much of that Drua magic - fly-half Alivereti Veitokani - romping home to claim the  title.

In the first year of the NRC Rising Star award, which was created to recognise emerging players with fewer than three games in Super Rugby or for the Flying Fijians, Veitokani was nominated  in round two.

In total seven players were nominated from the seven regular season rounds; with Andrew Deegan, Jock Campbell Archie King, Darcy Swain, Jack McGregor and Len Ikitau also selected alongside  Veitokani.

A seven-man judging panel drawn from broadcaster FoxSports, RUGBY.com.au, Rugby Australia and fan site Green and Gold Rugby was asked to vote on a 3-2-1 basis and let’s just say Veitokani’s rivals could  only shake their heads.


The 25-year-old was awarded the maximum amount of 21 points - three points from each judge. 

Queensland Country fullback Jock Campbell came second in the voting.

The stats say it all about Veitokani’s insanely good NRC season. Indeed, he would be hard-done-by if "Freddy" wasn’t on the dais for best player in the NRC full-stop.

Veitokani topped the most clean breaks (26), most offloads (19), most try assists (9) and most run metres (921m). To put the last into context, he was almost 200m more than second place and almost 400m more than the top Aussie player Rod Davies.

But those are the cold numbers on a page. On a field, Veitokani often showed moments of brilliance that defied belief and made him a human highlight reel.

Informed of his NRC Rising Star award in Fiji on Thursday, the humble Veitokani pointed the credit towards "all my teammates".

Expect to see much more of Veitokani and his pink boots.

After Saturday’s final, Veitokani will join the Flying Fijians tour of Europe and is tipped to be a member of the Fiji World Cup squad next year.

IWe asked some of the judges to explain why they voted in Veitokani as the 2018 NRC Rising Star. 

Sean Maloney (FoxSports commentator)

"Reminds me of a young Bernie Larkham does this bloke. Just kind of glides around defenders, he’s so beautifully balanced with ball in hand. Love the way he can set tries up or score them himself, can also play 10 and 15 like Bernie. I think he’s the long term flyhalf for Fiji, I’d have the ONE ZERO on his back at the World Cup."

Brett McKay (ABC journalist, NRC expert for RUGBY.com.au)

“There have been plenty of players impact some games for their side, or parts of most games for their side, but none have consistently swung the momentum in every game for their side the  way Veitokani has. 

"His stats sheet is an incredible read and His ability to turn nothing into something, and something into points is literally unrivalled. If the Drua are crowned the NRC Champions in 2018, it’s almost certain it will have been  off the back of their champion fly-half.”


Stephen Hoiles (former Wallaby, FoxSports analyst)

“His ability to create a play out of nothing was so refreshing to watch. Often the smallest player on the field but his control over the oppositions defence & his ability to produce an offload through contact was at times magic. He may well be the long term number 10 option for Fiji at international level. A scary thought for all wallabies fans.“ 

Reg Roberts (Green and Gold Rugby writer)

“Naturally he brings that Fijian flair through a great eye for the gap, magic footwork and superb support play, but his passing game has been a standout as well. Veitokani’s vision and deft  pass has created many a try or linebreak for the Drua.

“At times it seems like he’s playing in slow motion, such has been his control of his game. Not only is Veitokani the obvious choice as this year’s Rising Star he’d be my choice as the overall  player of the tournament as well.”

Andrew Swain (FoxSports commentator)

“Opposition defenders will have nightmares about Alifereti Veitokani’s trademark pink boots. There was no better player at spotting the tiniest of spaces, and turning it into an acre than this human highlight reel. 

“The Fijian Drua rarely disappointed in the highlight department, and Veitokani was always in the thick of it.”