Sydney Ray's sensation Irae Simone punctuated a breakout Buildcorp NRC season on Thursday night, crowned the competition’s Player of the Series at the John Eales Medal.
Returning to rugby this year after a stint with NRL side South Sydney, Simone had already claimed the Shute Shield’s Rookie of the Year, before this latest honour.
Despite being the standout in the competition, and already earning himself a place on the Waratahs’ extended squad for 2017, Simone said he was taken aback by the gong.
“It’s a huge blessing,” he said. "There’s a lot of good players I was going up against, and I’m truly lucky to get the award - I wasn’t expecting to get it.”
While the 21-year-old might have been surprised, few others were - the centre has been on fire all year, starring for the Rays and winning Shute Shield side Northern Suburbs, both coached by Simon Cron.
Earlier this season Cron, said Simone’s talent and work ethic meant a Super Rugby call up was inevitable.
"Iran is very professional and he's one of the best in terms of feedback after games,” Cron said.
"But also he's big, strong, explosive and fast. All the things you want [in a centre] really and he's got great ball skills, so he can open up your outsides.
“He has to be in the eyes of Super Rugby teams now, he's that good. To be honest, I believe he's the future of Australian Rugby, that kid.”
Things haven’t been all smooth sailing for Simone, who struggled with injury during his rugby league stint, a rollercoaster that made the award even more significant.
Tough times aside though, Simone says that he’s rediscovered his love for rugby, an enjoyment that has made 2016 a season to relish.
“A lot of work was put into it,” he said. “I had to talk to a lot of people to get where I am.
“At the moment, I’m just enjoying my footy, which helped me get through this whole year,” he said.
NSW Country Eagles halfback Jake Gordon was another in contention for the award after a stellar season with the NRC runner-up side, leading the competition with nine tries through the competition.
Gordon will join Simone in the extended playing squad for the Waratahs in 2017, both hoping to make their Super Rugby debut.