Valetini reflects on joining elite backrow group after John Eales Medal win

Wed, Feb 7, 2024, 10:12 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Rob Valetini reflects on claiming the John Eales Medal. Photo: Getty Images
Rob Valetini reflects on claiming the John Eales Medal. Photo: Getty Images

Rob Valetini was still soaking in it all after the Brumbies backrower joined a legendary group to claim the John Eales Medal on Wednesday.

Valetini's consistency across 2023 was the deciding factor in the 25-year-old claiming the award over prop Angus Bell and winger Marika Koroibete, starting in all nine games.

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His brutal style of play and constant ability to bump off a tackler saw Valetini establish himself as one of the best number eights in World Rugby after claiming Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2022.

It makes him the 13th player to win the award and the sixth backrower alongside Michael Hooper, David Pocock, George Smith, Phil Waugh and David Lyons.

"It's crazy because I used to watch all those players when I was growing up," he told reporters.

"To play alongside the likes of 'Poey' (David Pocock) and 'Hoops' (Hooper), it's surreal.

"I am truly honoured to join them. It is a bit strange, but I am proud of the boys for considering me for this award. I am truly grateful."

The award comes off the back of a disappointing year results-wise, winning just two games with the Wallabies. However, Valetini is already harnessing the disappointment of last year to get better, focused on improving his work-rate.

“After the hard season last year there will be a fire in a lot of players’ bellies, the boys that didn’t get selected or boys that were selected and were not successful at the Rugby World Cup,” he said.

“It will be a clean slate for everyone and everyone will have to perform in Super Rugby to be picked.

“Over the off-season I have been trying to work hard and use it as motivation to try and do better, not only for myself but for my teammates as well and for Australian rugby as well, to try and put it in a better place.”

It was a big night for the Wallabies backrowers as Fraser McReight took out Super Rugby Player of the Year, turning a strong year for the Reds into a consistent starting spot with the national side.

"It was a big year with the new Wallabies coach and the World Cup, I just wanted to go out there and show and cement my ability on the field for the Reds first and foremost," McReight said.

"I was lucky enough to represent Australia in that seven jersey and do whatever I could there. It set up me knowing if I could target that front-end of the year, the back was going to look after itself.

"I'll be looking to do it this year as well."

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