An Australian Rugby Sevens star, two players who have made their Wallaby debut in their first season of professional Rugby and two whose Super Rugby form has seen them rewarded with selection in Wallaby training camps are the five finalists for the 2016 RUPA Newcomer of the Year, in possibly the strongest field in the award’s decade-long history.
Henry Hutchison, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Joe Powell and Tom Robertson are on the five-player shortlist, to be voted on by Australia’s professional players and announced at the annual Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch next month.
With last year’s winner Sefanaia Naivalu having also made his Wallaby debut this year, following hot on the heels of Sean McMahon representing his country in 2014 before being crowned that year’s winner, this year’s crop of talent looks primed to each have a profound impact on Australian Rugby in the years to come.
19-year-old Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens superstar Henry Hutchison had an outstanding first season represented his country, which culminated in him being awarded the World Rugby Sevens Rookie of the Year.
Hutchison was Australia’s leading try scorer on the World Rugby Sevens circuit as they finished the season in 4th place, playing in 7 tournaments after making his debut in Cape Town and scoring an impressive 27 tries in 40 matches, including 5 at the Sydney Sevens in front of his home crowd.The former Australian Schoolboys star also represented Australia at the Olympic Games in Rio.
Away from Rugby, Henry is currently studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of New South Wales.
Joining the Melbourne Rebels in 2016 on the back of a stellar 2015 Buildcorp NRC campaign with the Rays, Reece Hodge made an instant impact on his Super Rugby debut as he scored 20 points in the Rebel’s Round One victory in Perth against the Force, including 2 tries.
It was a sign of things to come for the dynamic utility back, who played in almost every possible backline position for the Rebels during the 2016 Super Rugby season, finishing the season as their leading tryscorer with 9 tries (a Club record).
Not content with starring at Super Rugby level, Hodge made his Test debut at Eden Park against the All Blacks, and has played all 7 Tests since, scoring 2 tries for his country including one at Murrayfield on the weekend just gone. Away from Rugby, Reece completed his Diploma of Business in 2016, and he is working towards the completion of his Bachelor of Physiotherapy.
2016 was a breakthrough year for Andrew Kellaway, as he made one of the most-anticipated Super Rugby debuts of any Australian player in recent seasons against the Rebels in Round Six. While he came off the bench in that game, he then went on to start in all ten of the Waratahs’ remaining fixtures, scoring two tries in the process.
Kellaway’s debut was so anticipated as he had been starring for Randwick in the Shute Shield and NSW Country in the Buildcorp NRC in both 2014 and 2015, scoring 25 tries in two years across those competitions, as well as scoring 12 tries in 2 years for Australia U20 and breaking the record for the most tries scored in a tournament at the 2015 World Rugby U20s championship.
Kellaway’s stellar campaign was rewarded by both the Waratahs and Wallabies selectors, re-signing with the Club for a further two years and joining Australia’s Spring Tour as a development player. Away from Rugby, Kellaway is studying economics at the University of New South Wales, he is a RUPA Player Director and a 'Champion' for mental health charity beyondblue.
In 2016, Brumbies scrumhalf Joe Powell continued to go from strength to strength and show that he certainly belongs at the professional level, fighting with the more-experienced Tomas Cubelli and Michael Dowsett for a spot in the Brumbies side and catching the eye of Wallabies Coach Michael Cheika in the process.
Just over six months after attending the RUPA Induction Camp, former carpenters apprentice Powell was a bolter from the blue in the Australian squad for the three-match Test series against England in June after just 7 Super Rugby caps.
While he’s yet to make his Wallabies debut, Powell has signed a new two-year contract in the nation’s capital and his form in the UC Viking’s 2016 Buildcorp NRC campaign suggests the curly-haired 9 will only get better in 2017. Away from Rugby, Joe completed his Diploma of Business & Cert IV in New Small Business in 2016.
Last but certainly not least, Waratahs prop Tom Robertson became Wallaby No. 898 when he made his Test debut against Argentina in Perth, crowning a quiet-phenomenal maiden season as a professional Rugby player.
The Dubbo junior, who is studying medicine at Sydney University, made 13 Super Rugby appearances in 2016, scoring his first try for the Waratahs against the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium.
A former Australian U20s star who played for the Sydney Stars in the 2014 and 2015 Buildcorp NRC seasons, Robertson managed three appearances for 2016 NRC runners-up NSW Country when not on Wallaby duty; as of last weekend’s appearance against Scotland, Robertson has now played for Australia on 5 occasions, and will hope to feature further in the remaining matches on the Spring Tour. Robertson, who is also nominated for the 2016 RUPA Academic Achievement award, is is currently studying medicine at Sydney University.
Previous winners, RUPA Newcomer of the Year award:
- 2006: Berrick Barnes
- 2007: David Pocock
- 2008: Ben Lucas
- 2009: Laurie Weeks
- 2010: Pat McCabe
- 2011: Ben Tapuai
- 2012: Joe Tomane
- 2013: Israel Folau
- 2014: Sean McMahon
- 2015: Sefanaia Naivalu
The Newcomer of the Year award is one of eight major awards presented at the Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch, included the RUPA Medal for Excellence, Academic Achievement Award and Community Service Award. Stay tuned for announcements regarding the finalists in other award categories over the coming days and weeks.