Israel Folau has received the ultimate endorsement from his NSW teammates, winning the Matt Burke Cup after a tumultuous year on and off the field.
Five months after causing a storm with homophobic comments on social media, Folau easily claimed the the players' player award, polling 99 points, well ahead of runner-up and captain Michael Hooper on 77 and Michael Wells on 71.
The dual international broke his captain's extraordinary four-year unbeaten run at the Waratahs' top award, also beating Kurtley Beale in fourth spot on 65 points and Taqele Naiyarovoro in fifth spot on 64 points.
Israel Folau produced his best rugby in a season interrupted by injury and controversy.
Beale claimed the Best Back award, Wells was voted Best Forward, and Sydney University prop Harry Johnson-Holmes was awarded the Chris Whitaker Aspiring Waratah Medal.
Former Wallaroos captain and women's rugby veteran Ash Hewson was voted NSW Women's Player of the Year, at the Waratahs' end of year function in Walsh Bay on Thursday night.
The Matt Burke Cup is named after the NSW fullback who played 115 games for NSW between 1992 and 2004.
It will be a huge boost for Folau, who endured fierce criticism for his outspoken comments and later became a target on the field when he was banned for one match for his conduct under the high ball during the June Test series. He also missed a large chunk of the season with a hamstring injury.
Ash Hewson was voted NSW Women’s players’ player
He was not sanctioned by Rugby Australia or the Waratahs over the social media comments but the controversy stalled contract negotiations and put the heat on the NSW team just as they navigated crucial games in the 2018 season.
The Waratahs navigated a tortuous route to the knockout rounds before falling to the Lions in the semi-finals in Johannesburg.
It shows how highly his team mates value his contribution to the playing group, even when they fielded endless questions on his behalf at the height of both controversies.
Folau is yet to re-sign with the Waratahs and Australian rugby, although it is expected he will do so in coming weeks.
Best forward: Michael Wells enjoyed a breakout season in the blue jersey.
In other contract news, it was announced at the awards night that NSW forwards Hugh Roach, Brad Wilkin and Matt Sandell would be leaving the side.
They join the departing Paddy Ryan, Naiyarovoro, Andrew Kellaway, Irae Simone and attack coach Chris Malone, who was replaced by Chris Whitaker.
Ken Catchpole Medal for the NSW Premiership Player of the Year
Adrian Musico, Parramatta
Club of the Year
Chris Whitaker Aspiring Waratah Medal
NSW Waratahs Best Back
NSW Waratahs Best Forward
NSW Women’s Player of the Year
Matthew Burke Cup winner
Matthew Burke final standings
1. Israel Folau (99 points)
2. Michael Hooper (77)
3. Michael Wells (71)
4. Kurtley Beale (65)
5. Taqele Naiyaravoro (64)
NSW Women’s final standings
1. Ash Hewson (61 points)
2. Ariana Kaiwai (29)
3. Cobie-Jane Morgan (22)
4. Grace Hamilton (20)
5. Chloe Leaupepe (15)
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