First published in League Express, Monday 30th Sept 2013
Mitchell Stringer and Jono Smith claimed the two main awards, as the leading lights in the Championships were rewarded for their 2013 efforts last week.
They were handed the accolades after topping their respective cumulative tables in the weekly Premier Sports awards that have run all year.
It’s hard to argue with either choice, especially if you talk to the players and coaching staff at both Sheffield and North Wales.
Prop Stringer has developed significantly as a player since the early season retirement of club captain Jack Howieson.
By his own admission, Stringer could make mistakes and concede penalties at times in the past. But he has thrived on the captaincy this season, often playing 70-80 minutes for Mark Aston’s side and leading from the front.
Smith was a popular winner of the Championship One award, having become a cult hero with the Crusaders since switching from Leigh East at the beginning of last season.
He consistently makes an impact when it matters most for Clive Griffiths’ team, and will be one to keep an eye on in the Championship next season.
While those two awards were decided in a new manner this year – each coach was consulted every week to compile the Premier Sports table – the other main individual awards retained the same format as in past campaigns.
There, each coach nominates a top three at the end of the league season, and the votes are compiled to decide the winners and nominees.
Coach of the Year in the Championship was Doncaster’s Tony Miller – another popular decision in the room at Leeds.
Miller, who has now ended a 23-year association with the club, steered the Dons to sixth in their first season back in the Championship, with virtually the same squad that earned promotion
Crusaders’ Griffiths took the Championship One prize, having guided his side to the title in just their second season after relaunching.
How they now fare at the higher level will be fascinating to watch.
The Championship Young Player of the Year was Leigh’s prolific halfback Ryan Brierley, who has troubled defences all season with his pace and smart support play.
At the lower level, Gloucestershire All Golds’ dual-registration forward Tyla Hepi took the equivalent award, and provided the best acceptance speech of the night, labelling dad and coach Brad “a bit of a stress head”.
The RFL-determined Club of the Year awards went to Halifax and North Wales Crusaders, acknowledging the work they do off the field as well as on it.
Fax were praised for their innovative Big Apple promotion, which gave supporters the chance to win a trip to New York, while the Crusaders’ impressive crowds were noted.
Featherstone Rovers took the Foundation of Year accolade, Batley’s Andy Jordan the Northern Star award for community work, and Mike Woodhead the Neil Whitaker Trophy as match official achiever.
Chris Leatherbarrow’s development was recognised with his award of Referee of the Year, for a season in which he broke into Super League officiating.
It was another positive night for the sport at this level, providing recognition for coaches and players who richly entertain us on a weekly basis despite being, in the vast majority of cases, part time.
Kingstone Press Championships Awards
Championship Coach of the Year – Tony Miller (Doncaster)
Player of the Year – Mitch Stringer (Sheffield Eagles)
Young Player of the Year – Ryan Brierley (Leigh Centurions)
Club of the Year – Halifax.
Championship One Coach of the Year – Clive Griffiths (North Wales Crusaders)
Player of the Year – Jono Smith (North Wales Crusaders)
Young Player of the Year – Tyla Hepi (Gloucestershire All Golds)
Club of the Year - North Wales Crusaders
Northern Star winner – Andy Jordan (Batley Bulldogs)
Referee of the Year – Chris Leatherbarrow
Match Officials Achiever – Mike Woodhead