OPINION: Wallabies star Marika Koroibete just joined an elite group, winning the John Eales Medal for a second time…so why on earth was it merely announced over Zoom five months after their last Test?
The rampaging winger has been a revelation since switching over from the NRL in 2017, and provided one of the highlights of the year against South Africa last September with his astonishing match-saving tackle against Makazole Mapimpi.
The 30-year-old finished on 202 votes to finish well ahead of forwards Rob Valentini (170) and Allan Alaalatoa (168), despite not playing in the Spring Tour across the UK and Europe.
He becomes just the sixth player to win the peer-voted medal more than once after first nabbing the gong in 2019.
He might even be the best winner in the world – but that doesn’t mean Rugby Australia thought to honour him as such.
Marika Koroibete joined an elite group when he won his second John Eales Medal…but was left to receive the prestigious honour via Zoom, instead of being lauded in front of fellow greats, fans and corporate backers at an awards ceremony
Koroibete’s journey began on a remote farm in Fiji – now he is a two-time John Eales Medal winner (pictured with wife Emma in Fiji)
The game’s governing body in Australia issued a press release at 6pm on Sunday night, revealing they would be announcing the winner of the prestigious John Eales Medal at 10.30am the next day via Zoom.
Yep – on a Monday when many people were choosing to enjoy a long weekend ahead of ANZAC Day the following day. It’s almost like they were a politician trying to bury a bad story.
But let’s get back to that later, because Koroibete deserves his plaudits. It’s been a brilliant journey for the Wallabies star, who grew up on a remote farm in the mountains of Fiji.
Now playing in Japan with the Panasonic Wild Knights, the married father-of-four was a bull in attack and ball-busting in defence during 2022, and as such made World Rugby’s team of the year.
He was named Player of the Series during the Wallabies 2-1 series loss to England in July before pulling out that iconic try-saving tackle on Mapimpi in what was one of the greatest of all-time.
His work rate sets him apart from other wingers, and his powerful 96kg frame made him a nightmare for defenders all throughout 2022, before missing the Spring Tour due to injury.
So good was he in 2022, he didn’t even need to play in the final five Tests of the year to win the prestigious medal.
Koroibete with wife Emma and their three sons (another one has recently arrived) after a Wallabies game in July last year
Koroibete celebrates with the John Eales Medal on Monday, but he prefers to let his teammates take the glory
Not that the softly-spoken, modest winger wanted any plaudits.
‘It’s an honour to be awarded the 2022 John Eales Medal, especially in a season where so many players played well in the Wallabies jersey,’ Koroibete said in a Rugby Australia statement to announce the winner.
‘Rugby is a team sport first and foremost, so I’d like to thank my teammates and to know they were the ones who voted for me to win this award means a lot.
‘It’s been a dream come true to represent the Wallabies and I hope I can continue to contribute to the team in what’s a massive year ahead.’
Eales, one of Australia’s greatest-ever forwards, lauded Koroibete’s uncompromising style of play.
‘Marika’s consistency in attack and defence has become a feature of the Wallabies since his debut,’ he said.
‘He combines passion and skill in the perfect measure.’
Koroibete has become known for his uncompromising running style and ferocious defence
Ex-Wallabies coach Dave Rennie celebrates with Koroibete after his stunning try-saver against the Springboks in August last year
Unfortunately, Rugby Australia don’t appear to match his passion when it comes to acknowledging the feats of their players.
In 2020 and 2021, Covid wrought havoc on sporting award nights, and Rugby Australia took it virtual – although it must be said the AFL and NRL still managed to hold glitzy ceremonies.
Yet inexplicably, the game’s governing body Down Under decided they didn’t need an awards ceremony to honour the game’s best players across 2022.
They didn’t even announce that they wouldn’t be doing so, and it was left to journalists to prod the organisation about when on earth they would be holding the awards ceremony.
Ironically, Koroibete was the winner at the last awards held in-person, when they took place at Sydney’s Seymour Centre in 2019.
Koroibete was the John Eales Medallist the last time Rugby Australia held an awards night in person
The AFL’s night of nights, the Brownlow Medal, is one of the hottest events of the year, while the NRL’s Dally M Medal similarly brings with it attention to the best of the best in NRL and NRLW.
With competition between the code’s fierce, holding an awards night for the Wallabies, Wallaroos and best Super Rugby Pacific player is a chance for the 15-man code to assert their prominence in the Aussie sporting landscape.
In February, Rugby Australia insisted this was a very deliberate decision, and not related to cost-cutting.
‘We wanted to try this method this year where we are able to give every single award winner and recipient their time in the sun,’ Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos said.
‘It’s not [about cutting costs]. We will more than likely look to go back to an awards evening after the World Cup and get everyone in again.’
Why they need to wait until after the World Cup remains a mystery. As does waiting for a Monday in late April to award a best player from the year prior.
Marika Koroibete accepts the 2022 John Eales Medal from Wallabies general manager Chris Webb in Japan on Monday morning
Top rugby pundit Christy Doran labelled the decision not to hold a presentation night ‘bone-headed’ in an article for Roar Sports, and rubbished Rugby Australia’s argument that drip-feeding fans on social media gave the players more attention and plaudits.
‘Instead (of an awards night), players, from both the men’s and women’s game, have been handed out awards witnessed by nothing more than a handful of reporters since February. It’s not good enough,’ Doran wrote.
‘When NSW star back Georgie Fredricks was awarded the Wallaroos player of the year only two reporters turned up.
‘It was an awkward moment.
‘Fredricks handled it superbly, but she should have been recognised by a room full of teammates and guests.’
Koroibete and his Wallabies teammates will next be in action for the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup in July.
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Past John Eales Medal winners
2022: Marika Koroibete
2021: Michael Hooper
2020: Michael Hooper
2019: Marika Koroibete
2018: David Pocock
2017: Israel Folau
2016: Michael Hooper
2015: Israel Folau
2014: Israel Folau
2013: Michael Hooper
2012: Nathan Sharpe
2011: Kurtley Beale
2010: David Pocock
2009: Matt Giteau
2008: George Smith
2007: Nathan Sharpe
2006: Chris Latham
2005: Jeremy Paul
2004: David Lyons
2003: Phil Waugh
2002: George Smith
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