Kurtley Beale’s growing importance to the Wallabies was emphasised on Thursday, with the mercurial fullback winning the John Eales Medal voted on by his teammates.
Initially a five-eighth when he entered the Super Rugby ranks with the Waratahs in 2007, Beale has flourished since moving to fullback last year.
He polled 127 votes, five more than hooker Stephen Moore, with openside flanker and last year’s winner David Pocock a further 22 back in third place.
Lock and newly appointed Wallabies captain James Horwill finished fourth on 96, despite missing last year’s spring tour through injury, with halfback Will Genia fifth on 78.
Votes were cast on a 3-2-1 basis by all 22 members of each Australian match day squad over the past 12 months.
Beale 22, polled votes in all but two of the Tests over that period.
His elusive running set up numerous tries and scoring opportunities, while his goalkicking contribution was highlighted by a long range last gasp match winning penalty against South Africa in Bloemfontein in 2010.
The medal win capped of a spectacular 12 months for Beale.
He won the Wallabies Rookie and Try of the Year awards in 2010, and was also one of the five nominees for the International Rugby Board Player of the Year award.
Genia, who had already won the Queensland and Australian Super Player of the Year awards, was named the Australia’s Choice Wallabies Player of the Year.
Brumbies utility back Pat McCabe, who has started at inside centre in all five of Australia’s Tests this year, collected the Rookie of the Year award, after making his debut off the bench against Italy late last year.
New Wallabies cult hero Radike Samo added further lustre to his status by winning the Try of the Year for his stunning 60-metre solo effort against New Zealand last weekend.
Other winners included Bernard Foley (Sevens Player of the Year), Shannon Parry (Women’s Player of the Year) and Michael Hooper (Under 20 Player of the Year).
New Zealander Steve Walsh, who will shortly officiate at his fourth World Cup, was named Referee of the Year.
Former Wallabies captain Mark Loane was presented with the Joe French award in recognition of his long term service and contribution to Australian rugby.
“It’s still a bit surprising but I guess I’m very very honoured to receive the award,” Beale said.
“I couldn’t have done it without all the boys in the squad, obviously it’s a team sport.”
Beale attributed his continued improvement over the past year to hard work.
“Just a bit of hard work, sacrificing a bit of time to go out of my way and put in the hard yards,” Beale said.
“I think if you’re going to approach something and strive to reach your goals, at the end of the day to make it as simple as possible, hard work gets you where you want to be.”
Beale said he had struggled in his first couple of years of professional rugby following a much lauded time at school level.
“Over the last couple of years I feel that I have been playing consistent rugby and I think that all goes down to the environment I’m in, being around positive people really helps.”