Wallabies and Brumbies playmaker Christian Lealiifano has won Australia’s 2016 Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) Medal for Excellence.
Lealiifano, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in August of this year and has been undergoing treatment in Melbourne, was voted by his peers as the individual who has shown the best performance, leadership, consistency and discipline, both on and off the field, across the international and domestic rugby season.
The RUPA Medal for Excellence is the pinnacle of player Awards in Australian Rugby with the ten finalists comprising of the winner and runner-up in each Super Rugby team’s Players’ Player Awards, and the winner was announced at The Ivy at the annual Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch.
Leali’ifano was voted the Brett Robinson Brumbies’ Players Player of the Year at the Brumbies Awards night in September, after co-captaining his side to victory in the Australian Super Rugby conference in 2016. The 29-year-old, who has amassed 117 Super Rugby caps and over 800 points since joining the Brumbies in 2007, missed just five minutes of the Brumbies’ entire Super Rugby campaign as they topped the Australian conference.
The sixth highest overall point scorer in the 2016 Super Rugby season with 163 (3 tries, 41 conversions & 22 penalty goals), Christian also completed a Certificate IV in New Small Business and was instrumental in the leadership of the Brumbies’ Pasifika players’ development program. He is a ‘champion’ for the Canberra Domestic Violence Crisis Service, and this year he won an ACT Government Violence Prevention Award.
Speaking via video from Melbourne, Leali’ifano thanked his peers and paid tribute to all of Australia’s professional Rugby players.
“I’m truly, truly humbled and honoured to receive such an Award,” he said.
“Congratulations to all of the other nominees; I feel like this is probably an award for all of us, and the great work we do in the community to grow the game around the country.”
Lealiifano thanked the Rugby community for their support since his illness was diagnosed.
“I want to thank everybody for all of their support through this journey this little man and I are on at the moment,” he said. “It definitely means a lot and we’re all so grateful for your thoughts and prayers.”
The RUPA Medal for Excellence was officially accepted on Christian’s behalf by his manager, former Queensland Reds star Clinton Schifcofske.
ACT junior and former Queanbeyan White Lewis Holland was crowned the Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens Players’ Player of the Year, ahead of Allan Fa’alava’au.
In 2016 Holland played in 5 world series events and at the Rio Olympics, with an injury-interrupted season not limiting his output when he was available. Selected in the Tournament Dream Team in Sydney, Holland also won the Players’ Player Award there, in Dubai and in Vancouver. Holland twice scored 5 tries in a tournament, ending with a season tally of 82 points.
Completing a great day for the Australian Rugby Sevens program, Wagga Wagga local Alicia Quirk became the first non-Super Rugby player to win the Academic Achievement Award since its’ inception in 2011.
In 2016, Quirk managed to balance her studies and Rugby with aplomb as she completed her Bachelor of Physiotherapy with Charles Sturt University, including the completion of nearly a month’s practical work at Westmead Hospital.
Alicia also learnt Portuguese in preparation for the Olympic Games, where she played a key role in Australia’s Gold Medal win, and put her physiotherapy skills to the test just last week as she looked after injured teammate Brooke Anderson at the Dubai Rugby Sevens while the team physio was occupied with another player.
The RUPA Awards Lunch, one of the highlights of the Australian Rugby calendar, allows RUPA’s members to acknowledge the significant achievements of their peers on and off the field.
With a who’s who of Australian Rugby in attendance among a room of over 400 people including players, coaches, sponsors, media and other stakeholders of the game, it is seen as the ideal way to celebrate and reflect upon the Rugby season as the calendar year comes to a close.
Over 20 players from Australia’s five Super Rugby franchises and the Australian Men’s and Women’s Rugby Sevens program who had been in attendance at #RUPACamp in Coogee since Monday were also in attendance, symbolising a crucial stage in welcoming them to the Australian Rugby family as professional players.
2016 RUPA-ASRU Scholarship winner Yirrbi Jaffer-Williams performed the traditional acknowledgment to country, with the lunch hosted by Fairfax Media’s Georgina Robinson, RUPA President Benn Robinson and Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens star Tiana Penitani.
The Rugby Union Players’ Association was incorporated in October 1995 in direct response to the professionalism of Rugby and was established to promote and safeguard the interests of its members, namely the professional Rugby players of Australia. Currently 100% of Australia’s full time professional players are members of RUPA.
Full List of winners, 2016 RUPA Awards:
RUPA Medal For Excellence: Christian Leali’ifano (Brumbies)
Newcomer of the Year: Reece Hodge (Melbourne Rebels)
People’s Choice Wallaby of the Year: Michael Hooper (Waratahs)
Men’s Rugby Sevens Players’ Player of the Year: Lewis Holland
Women’s Rugby Sevens Players’ Player of the Year: Charlotte Caslick
Academic Achievement Award: Alicia Quirk (Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens)
Community Service Award: Matt Hodgson (Western Force)
National Rugby Championship Players’ Player of the Year: Jake Gordon (NSW Country Eagles)