Durban: At a glittering event at Sun Park, Sun Sibaya on Friday evening, Sponsors, Sharks fans, players, wives and girlfriends assembled to pay tribute to and honour those players representing The Sharks’ brand who had achieved so much in 2018.
There were wonderful individual efforts throughout the season, with team rewards evident in the Cell C Sharks Under 19 and Currie Cup team successes in their respective competitions last year.
To this end, the coaches and entire voting process had the difficult task of selecting winners from deserving candidates. Indeed narrowing the nominees down was not easy, but in the end there had to be a shortlist of worthy candidates.
In the category Vodacom Super Rugby Player of the Year, Akker van der Merwe, Lukhanyo Am, Robert du Preez, Sbu Nkosi and Tyler Paul were all nominated. For his explosive runs, powerful defence and exciting overall performances, wing Sbu Nkosi received this accolade.
The Currie Cup Player of the Year award was also very hotly-contested. Upfront, Juan Schoeman played a huge role, not only as a player but also stepping up as a leader in a youthful team. Scrumhalf Louis Schreuder led by example and captained the side with distinction in the semi-final and victorious final. Loose-forward Tyler Paul was a colossus and for his monumental efforts week after week was a worthy winner.
Jeremy Ward was named Cell C Sharks XV Player of the Year ahead of nominees Courtney Winnaar and Kwanda Dimaza while Mfundo Ndlovu was voted Cell C Sharks Under 21 Player of the Year ahead of Andrew Evans and Courtney Winnaar.
It was a tough call to identify the most deserving Cell C Sharks Under 19 Player of the Year following such a successful campaign. Powerhouse flank Dylan Richardson, follow-my-lead captain Phepsi Buthelezi and scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba were all nominated in this category, with Nohamba getting the final vote for his all-round outstanding performances including his role as the team’s place-kicker.
The Ambassador Award was given to the player who lived The Sharks brand both on and off the field. Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jeremy Ward, John-Hubert Meyer, Gugu Nelani and Phepsi Buthelezi were all nominated, but in the final vote, Jeremy Ward came out tops.
Young Player/Breakthrough Player of the Year had three nominees. Outside back Aphelele Fassi, scrumhalf Grant Williams and centre Marius Louw had wonderful seasons last year, all three youngsters showing that they have the necessary skills and temperament to become Cell C Sharks stalwarts. For his blistering pace and exciting promise, Aphelele Fassi was named the winner in this category.
The Fan’s Player of the Year Award was a highly popular category, with fans having a say in who they felt was the finest player of the season. Akker van der Merwe, Daniel du Preez, Lukhanyo Am, Robert du Preez, Sbu Nkosi and Tyler Paul were all deserving nominees, but Akker van der Merwe, the likeable hooker with a workrate second to none, took honours.
Player’s Player of the Year is a highly-prized award among the players for this is the tribute and honour his team-mates have bestowed on him. This accolade indeed recognises the esteem a player is held in the eyes of his brothers on the field and there could be no more deserving player than Akker van der Merwe.
The final award was the Player of the Year. This award was given to Lukhanyo Am who gave consistently outstanding performances in every outing, always giving of his best and proving to be an integral member of the team. He was in excellent company though, with his fellow nominees held in similarly high regard: Akker van der Merwe, Robert du Preez, Sbu Nkosi and Tyler Paul.