Group Seven rugby league will announce its major award winners including its player of the year during the South Coast Group 7 Michael Cronin Medal Night at Kiama Leagues Club this Saturday night.
As the league looks to celebrate its players and clubs at its end of season awards night, the Mercury has taken the opportunity to pick its own team of the year, with a little help from some of the first-grade coaches.
It must be noted that this reporter didn't get to see some teams play that often, notably Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs and Berry-Shoalhaven Heads Magpies, but got some scouting tips from those who did watch them play on a more regular basis.
There's a fair chance that the winner of the Michael Cronin Medal for player-of-the-year will feature on this team-of-the-year list.
Shellharbour sharks skipper James Ralphs (11 points) led the Michael Cronin Medal voting at the end of round 10, with Jamberoo Superoos lock Jayden Morgan and Gerringong Lions pair Toby Gumley-Quine and Taj Ford just a point behind.
The Mercury asked the coaches of the 10 teams to pick their team of the year. These coaches responded.
Jason Hooper (Albion Park Oak Flats Eagles):
Scott Stewart (Gerringong Lions):
Adam Quinlan (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets):
Abed Atalla (Shellharbour Sharks):
Tom Warner (Stingrays):
Troy Grant (Warilla Lake South Gorillas):
1 Braxton Wallace (Shellharbour Sharks): Choosing the fullback of the year was especially tough considering the amount of quality players in the position. Wesley Pring and Adam Quinlan enjoyed stellar seasons for their respective clubs Gerringong and Nowra. While Warilla struggled this season Justin Jones nevertheless impressed at the back, finishing the season equal top tryscorer with Nowra winger Beau Luland, But it was Sharks young gun Wallace who shone the brightest. Wallace was always a threat in attack, especially on kick returns.
2 Beau Luland (Nowra): It's hard to go past the Nowra flyer for one of the wing spots. Luland was on the end of many of the Jets attacking raids and it's no surprise he finished joint top tryscorer, crossing for 16 four-pointers.
3 Hamish Holland (Gerringong Lions): The silky centre just pipped his equally talented team-mate Toby Gumley-Quine. Holland was good throughout the season but especially toward the back end of the season as the Lions roared to a premiership victory. Holland was named player-of-the-match in the Lions 12-10 grand final win over the Sharks.
4 Mitch Simmington (Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs): The experienced Simmington was one of his team's best, leading the Bulldogs to the finals.
5 Ben Weatherall (Stingrays): A lot of the Stingrays play was built around their powerful forward pack and the clever dummy-half work of Colby Smith, but Weatherall was crucial in terms of finishing off many of their attacking back-line moves, often combining well with Zaan Weatherall.
6 Taj Ford (Gerringong Lions): This was another tough call, with Emanuel Sultana having a breakout year for the Sharks, guiding them to a grand final. Last year's Michael Cronin Medal winner Mark Asquith also had a very good year for Jamberoo. But it's hard to go past Ford who formed a lethal halves combination with the experienced Rixon Russell, especially in the latter part of the season, guiding the Lions to another title.
7 Clyde Parsons (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets): Parsons capped his brilliant 2023 campaign by finishing the regular season as the leading pointscorer in the Group Seven rugby league first-grade competition. He scored 171 points in the 18-round regular season after crossing for 14 tries, kicking 57 goals and one field goal.
8 Matt Nicholson (Shellharbour Sharks): Nicholson and Josh Starling formed perhaps the best front-row combination in the league. Nicholson's value to the Sharks was highlighted late in the season, stepping up big-time when Starling was injured.
9 Nathan Ford (Gerringong Lions): Again, there were a host of quality hookers running around the league this season but Ford showed why he has been one of the best players in the competition for many years now. Colby Smith from the Stingrays and Sharks rake Brody Rigg also enjoyed very good seasons.
10 Alexander Weir (Gerringong Lions): It was fitting that Weir crossed for the Lions' match-winning try in the grand final. Weir has been amongst one of the best props in the game for a number of years now and really proved that in season 2023.
11 Tom Warner (Stingrays): The inspirational Stingrays skipper was constantly one of his team's best in attack and defence. Warner also showed throughout the season a knack for scoring crucial tries.
12 James Ralphs (Shellharbour Sharks): Like Warner, Ralphs was an inspiration for the Sharks, especially in attack, crossing for 13 tries. Ralphs combination with five-eighth Emanuel Sultana led to many tries to the talented second-rower as well as his outside backs. Ralphs brilliant 2023 saw him lead the race for the Michael Cronin Medal at the end of round 10.
13 Jayden Morgan (Jamberoo Superoos): There's a reason all six coaches above picked Morgan as their lock of the year. At their end of season awards the Superoos named Morgan their first-grade player-of-the-year and player's player.
14 Adam Quinlan (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets): The experienced Quinlan guided the Jets to an impressive fourth-place finish in the regular season. Playing fullback, Quinlan can also do a good job in the halves or hooker if required.
15 Zaan Weatherall (Stingrays): The hard-running second-rower enjoyed a great season on the left edge, scoring or setting up tries for his outside men.
16 Liam Scott (Stingrays): Scott was a true workhorse for the Stingrays, getting through a mountain of work with a ball in hand and in defence.
17 Jack Walsh (Gerringong Lions): There's not much the talented Taylor can't do. The Gerringong second-rower scores tries, defends like a beast and kicks goals from all parts of the field.
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