New Zealand dominated in 2023 and have been rewarded with the two biggest individual honours in international rugby league, with Kiwis captain James Fisher-Harris and Kiwi Ferns star Georgia Hale named as International Rugby League Golden Boot winners.
Jérémy Bourson was the third award recipient, picking up the Wheelchair Golden Boot for his part in France’s win over England.
Fisher-Harris was the obvious choice after his superb performances for the Kiwis, beating out teammate Joseph Tapine, Australia’s Payne Haas and halfback Harry Smith, who starred in England’s series win over Tonga.
He becomes the first frontrower to win the award, and the first Kiwi forward since Hugh McGahan in 1987, who shared that year’s prize with Peter Sterling.
“I’m just honoured,” he said. “Looking at all those guys up there (the previous winners), those are the goats, you know what I mean?
“And to be the first front row to get this award is pretty special for me and my family and also Penrith and Kiwis.
“Growing up I wasn’t used to too many awards. I might have got some here and there but I’ve got nothing like this.
“We don’t get the luxury of Origin and stuff like that, so this is our pinnacle and our country has actually been through a lot with the flooding and all that, so it meant a lot for a lot of us, we weren’t just playing for us as a team. We were playing for the whole country.
“We want it to be like sort of similar to Origin. Because we don’t really get that stuff so we’re ready for it and we want more, we want ANZAC Tests and stuff like that – we’re ready for it.”
Hale was equally inspirational in her side’s spectacular defeat of the Jillaroos and Tonga, earning her the award above Mele Hufanga and Tamika Upton.
“I play rugby league to win premierships or championships or World Cups, so to receive such an accolade like this is a very proud moment and I think of how proud I am to be a Kiwi Fern and to represent the Ferns before and the Ferns to come,” said the Titans and Leeds star.
“It’s been a special year. I started my journey in 2023 here at Leeds Rhinos, which I was so fortunate to be a part of, and then was really excited to be able to return home to the Gold Coast and have such a proud season with our Titans girls.
“Then to finish off my season representing the Kiwi Ferns, breaking a seven-year drought back with the girls from back at home, just really put the icing on the cake but I don’t think you can ever be satisfied with what you have done.
“I am just really excited to see what the next steps are for me personally in my career and also with all the teams that I am so fortunate to take the field with.”
The winners were picked from a shortlist drawn up by journalists and commentators around the world, then whittled down to a shortlist, before being picked by former players and coaches.
In the Men’s game, the panel is exclusively holders of the presitigous Golden Cap for 50 international appearances, with James Graham, Adrian Morley Ruben Wiki, Darren Lockyer and Adam Blair deciding.
“You only need to hear from their coaches and team-mates to know that James, Georgia and Jérémy are deserved winners of the Golden Boot and worthy of having their names alongside some of the greats of our game,” said IRL chair Troy Grant.
“Each played a significant role in the achievements of their team at international level this season, in which all three of last year’s World Cup winners were beaten, and they have now created personal history.
“On behalf of the IRL Board, I would like to congratulate the winners, all of the players who were nominated and the members of the judging panels whose status and achievements in the game ensure the Golden Boot remains one of the most prestigious awards in Rugby League.”
“It’s a great honour for me,” Bourson said. “There have only been three winners and I am the first Frenchman. It’s important to remember. A lot of people will really like seeing that and I’ll never forget this achievement.
“The next step for the French team is the World Cup, which we have already started preparing for. My singular aim is, very simply, to win the World Cup and the Golden Boot in 2026.”
Mike Meehall Wood is a rugby league writer, Celtic supporter and cricket tragic. He has written extensively about rugby league for publications in the UK and Australia, and about sports more widely for Forbes, VICE, LADbible and more.