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By Reds Media Unit
Talented St.George Queensland Reds front-rower James Slipper has become just the second prop in Queensland Rugby history to win the prestigious Pilecki Medal after polling a record 272 votes at the 2012 Reds Gala Ball and Auction on Friday night.
The Pilecki Medal is voted on a 3-2-1 basis by the players following each game of the season and in 2012 it was the Reds forwards who dominated the leaders’ board with Slipper’s record-setting 272 votes ahead of Scott Higginbotham (226), Liam Gill (202) and Jake Schatz (168).
Slipper’s total votes breaks the previous high mark of 263 set in 2011 by winner Will Genia, who also claimed top honours in 2010.
The presentation of the Reds annual Players’ Player of the Year Award was made in front of an audience of over 750 guests at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre where attendees were first to see the 2013 Reds squad unveiled and also hear a major announcement as part of Queensland Rugby’s Legacy 130 project.
In 2013, a permanent presence for Rugby will be built at Suncorp Stadium to mark 130 years since the formation of the Queensland Rugby Union. An architectural structure consisting of 13 pillars will be constructed, representing the each of the 13 decades of Rugby in Queensland.
In the voting for the Pilecki Medal, Genia again topped the backs with 153 votes although it was Slipper who claimed ultimate bragging rights to become just the second prop to win the Award after Rodney Blake was victorious in 2006.
Slipper’s consistency was his biggest asset in his Pilecki Medal-winning campaign with the 23-year-old polling in the top three for votes in eight matches throughout the season, including four of their final five regular season games.
The highest individual round scores in Pilecki Medal voting went to fullback Luke Morahan (52 votes) for his impressive effort against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra during round 14; while young flanker and recent Wallaby debutant Liam Gill recorded scores of 50 votes (Round 12 v Chiefs at Suncorp Stadium) and 49 votes (Round 11 v Crusaders in Christchurch).
“Recognition from your peers it the ultimate accolade any footballer can receive and it’s this which makes the Pilecki Medal such an important award within our group,” Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said.
“James was outstanding for the Reds in 2012 and this honour acknowledges the consistency and quality of his efforts throughout the entire season, where he polled votes in almost half of our games.
“To win the award as a prop is a massive accomplishment as the nature of the position and the value of their contribution is sometimes underrated by the general public who are naturally inclined to recognise the flashier involvements made by other players in games.
“However, James’ set-piece work was a real highlight of his year, along with the physicality in which he approaches the defensive side of the game. He is also an extremely mobile and skilful player for a man of his size, and it’s this unique combination which allows the team to be able to offer such variety in attack.
“It’s also important to recognise that the top four vote-getters were all forwards. This is a rare feat but strong acknowledgement of the role the engine room is playing in the team’s success. We are generating young leaders within our forwards and the experiences of the past 12 months will pay dividends during what will be an exciting 2013 campaign.”
While Genia was unable to become the first Queensland player in history to secure three straight Pilecki Medals, he was crowned the 2012 People’s Choice Award winner, as voted by Queensland Reds fans online.
Thousands of votes were polled at the Reds website with the award being presented by James Fenton of Tarragindi, who won the privilege to present the People’s Choice award on stage to Genia after taking part in the voting process.
In other award presentations Nick Frisby was named Rookie of the Year; Anthony Faingaa collected the Spirit of the Reds award; Dom Shipperley won Most Improved Player of the Year; and Damien Barker was announced as Volunteer of the Year in recognition of the instrumental role he played in the success and growth of the code in 2012.
Frisby faced stiff competition to win the esteemed Rookie of the Year honour after impressing in the nine appearances he made throughout a season where he was required to play in a number of positions, including scrumhalf, wing and fullback.
The 19-year-old made an immediate impact on debut in round four against the Sharks in Durban with a try in his first Super Rugby game before finishing the season with a strong performance against the same opponent in the Reds’ Qualifying Final, where he was injected from the bench into scrumhalf early in the match after injuries forced Genia into the number 10 role.
“Nick quickly became a regular within our matchday 22 and the coaching staff had full confidence in his ability to perform in a variety of different positions and in difficult circumstances,” McKenzie said.
“He has all the physical tools and the mental toughness to be a success at this level. This past season was a positive introduction for him and will form a valuable platform for which can now build on.”
The Spirit of the Reds is decided annually by McKenzie and is awarded to the player he believes has demonstrated the behaviour and attributes that are hallmarks of the Reds’ team culture both on and off the field.
In 2012, Anthony Faingaa was named as the player who has shown the characteristics which embody the culture at the Reds.
“There were a bunch of really good candidates but Anthony’s input to the fabric of the team in its totality cannot be understated and his efforts within the Reds training and playing environment, combined with his contribution to promoting the game off the field, makes him a deserving winner of this award in 2012,” McKenzie said.
“Off the field Anthony is held in high esteem by his peers and he is one of our major contributors in terms of the number of community visits he makes each year, while he spends a large portion of his own time away from Rugby, along with brother Saia, completing independent charity work, specifically in regards to breast cancer.
“On the field, Anthony sets a high standard for himself and demands those around him compete at the same level. He puts his body on the line each week and his leadership is invaluable in terms of the team dynamic and culture.”
The Most Improved Award is voted on by the entire coaching staff and was introduced in 2011 as a way to identify the person who made significant strides both on and off the field, taking into account physical, attitudinal and skill improvements.
Winger Dom Shipperley ticked all the boxes for the coaching group after excelling in a season where he scored eight Super Rugby tries, equal with Ben Tune in the Reds’ Super Rugby season try-scorers list and behind only Chris Latham’s effort of 10 tries in 2002.
“At the beginning of the season not many people would have predicted that Dom would play in every minute of all 17 games,” McKenzie said.
“But he did, and was consistently one of our best performances each week. Even when the chips were down and the team was performing below its normal standard, Dom continued to play at a high level and make improvements in his game. He got an opportunity and he ran with it.
“On a personal level, it was also pleasing so see that the hard work Dom put in during the past few years, and especially this past offseason, pay off on the field. His efforts epitomise what we are searching for in our younger players.”
The Pilecki Medal is named after legendary Reds prop Stan Pilecki, who played 122 times in the Queensland front-row and was on hand to present the award to Slipper, who is the 15th Queensland player to be given the honour since it was introduced in 1992.
Fullback Chris Latham has won the award four times, while Genia, John Eales, Jason Little and David Croft have all won twice.