Taking out the coveted Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Rugby League for the fourth time this year was Cowboys’ halfback Johnathan
Thurston . Despite suffering a nasty looking leg injury in Game III of the State of Origin series, Johnathan bounced back to lead the Cowboys into the finals. “It’s great to win this award as there are now so many great Aboriginal players in the NRL,” said Johnathan, speaking in a pre-recorded acceptance speech at the Deadlys.
It’s a mighty tough task to select a best try among the many standouts this season, but in terms of sheer freakishness, it’s hard to go past iBen Barba’s gravity-defying effort against the Knights. With the ball just about to run dead in the in-goal area, Ben got there first, leapt to gather the footy and somehow managed to somersault to keep the ball in the field of play, allowing him to ground it a whisker short of the dead-ball line as he landed for an unbelievable four-pointer. Now if you don’t think that’s possible – just type ‘Ben Barba miracle try’ into YouTube and check it out for yourself!
Chris Sandow’s game-winning field-goal efforts were another major talking point of the 2011 season. Chris booted the Rabbits to golden point victories on three occasions this year, his 50-metre game-winning field goal against the Roosters being a major highlight. Then there was his sideline conversion after fulltime against the Cowboys in Round 22, on the back of a near length-of-the-field intercept to set up what became the game-equalising try. With his icy nerves and game-winning killer instinct in pressure situations, it’s little wonder Parramatta were prepared to pay big bucks for Chris’s services – and he now ranks among the highest-paid players in rugby league.
While 2011 saw some established big-name Indigenous stars scale new heights, it was also pleasing to see a number of emerging players establish themselves as regular first graders.
Among that group was North Queensland Cowboys’ five-eighth Ray Thompson, 22, who after playing a handful of games in 2010, emerged as the perfect foil for Johnathan Thurston at the Cowboys’ scrum base this year, playing all 24 rounds of the regular season and helping his club surge into the finals.
Winger Jonathan Wright found a new home at the Bulldogs in 2011, playing 11 games, the most of his three seasons in the NRL so far, and continuing his development as a skilful, well-rounded back. He also finished the year in style, scoring the game-winning try for the Bulldogs in the NSW Cup.
Over at South Sydney, hooker Nathan Peats was a revelation, providing enormous impact off the bench for the Rabbits. He played 20 games in his debut year, and has earmarked himself as a solid, hard-working first grader with a very bright future.
By the Numbers
265 – The total number of first grade rugby league games played in the NRL and old ARL by Preston Campbell, who hung up his boots at the end of the 2011 season after a brilliant 14-season career.
195 – The number of points scored by Chris Sandow in the 2011 season, the most of any player in the competition. Chris also finished the season as leading goal kicker on 82, and leading field-goal kicker with
7 one-pointers by season’s end.
2,792 – Metres gained by Bulldogs’ try-scoring machine Ben Barba in 2011 – the most of any Indigenous player.
5 – The number of tries scored by Rabbitohs’ winger Nathan Merritt against the Parramatta Eels – and the most tries scored in a single game all season. Nathan also finished the year as joint-leading try scorer on 23, alongside Ben Barba.
2,190 – Total metres gained by Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday over the course of the 2011 season. Sam gained more metres in 2011 than any other Indigenous forward. 2011 also saw Sam pick up his second consecutive Dally M Second Rower of the Year award and win the Ken Stephen Medal for his community work.
9 – The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander footballers who played State of Origin football in 2011.