The season is now done and dusted, but not before two of the region’s sports journalists, MATT FINDLAY and NICK McGRATH, have run the rule over this year’s three men’s tiers – the Blowes Clothing, New Holland Agriculture and GrainCorp Cups – and nailed down the best of the best.
As always there’s some surprise inclusions and omissions, but without further adieu here is the team of the year.
1 AARON BOOBY (Bathurst Bulldogs)
A massive reason Bulldogs’ scrum has developed into the most formidable in the Blowes Clothing Cup, but he’s been superb in general.
A Central West Blue Bull, Booby has led Bulldogs’ go-forward and their defensive line with aplomb this season.
2 JARROD HALL (Forbes Platypi)
In our esteemed opinion, should’ve made the initial NSW Country squad based on what he did for Central West.
One of the most consistent players you’ll find, once again he rarely – if ever – had a bad game for the Platypi.
Although he didn’t quite hit the standard he did last season, he was still excellent all through 2018.
3 NAS HAVEALETA (Orange Emus)
He’s the best prop in the competition, nay, the region.
The cornerstone of Emus’ and Central West’s scrums, Havealeta has enjoyed close to his best season since landing in Orange a number of years ago.
He’s been almost impossible to stop at the set-piece and with ball in hand, he’s getting better with age.
4 CHRIS MILLER (Cowra Eagles)
Cowra’s resurgence was marked this season, and Miller had plenty to do with that.
He was the Eagles’ skipper, and consistently their most inspiring figure. Deservedly returned to the NSW Country set-up, probably the premier lock in the region during 2018 and an obvious choice in the second-row here.
5 DAVE JESSIMAN (Mudgee Wombats)
A long-time desk favourite here, ‘Double Dave’ Jessiman had another roaring season for the Wombats and proved, again, how well he reads the game.
He pops up in the right place at the right time constantly, and often reaps the rewards by scoring plenty of tries – too many for a second-rower.
He’s among the most experienced players across the Central West, and that has shown again in the way he led the Wombats this season.
6 HARRY PEACOCK (Bathurst Bulldogs)
He’s had a breakout year, Peacock.
Making the jump from colts to the top grade in 2018, Peacock is admittedly one of the slighter back-rowers in the competition but he’s more than held his own.
Bulldogs’ entire back row has been excellent this season, but Peacock’s arguably been the strongest, consistently producing performances well beyond his years.
One Bulldogs could build around for years to come, this bloke.
7 JACK MARCHINTON (Orange Emus)
One of the top five for the Blowes Clothing Cup MVP, and for good reason.
Finally avoided injury for a season and proved why many at Endeavour have long considered him among the best back-rowers in the region.
Has played above his weight and consistently been the greens’ best.
8 JOSH PEFFER (Molong Magpies)
Before you say it, we know, he’s played a lot of prop.
But he’s a back-rower, simple as that. And a bloody good one too, the fact he’s able to move into the front row with aplomb is a big nod to his versatility and character as a player.
Barnstorming again on the carry all season and was absolutely magnificent in Molong’s GrainCorp Cup Northern Division preliminary final defeat.
There’s a reason he won player of the year in that competition.
9 MAHE FANGUPO (Forbes Platypi)
It’s Mahe Fangupo, let’s move on.
10 GEORGE HANCOCK (Narromine Gorillas)
Has the advantage that he led his side to a title, which someone like top tier MVP Brad Glasson failed to despite the best of Bathurst Bulldogs on grand final day.
He steered the ship at Narromine excellently, perfectly executing the Gorillas’ new, wider frame of mind, and directed traffic in the side’s remarkable grand final resurgence superbly.
11 HARRY WEBBER (Bathurst Bulldogs)
For us, the best player across Central West Rugby Union this winter.
We’ve shifted him to the wing to accommodate a couple of out-and-out centres, but that’s the beauty of Webber, he’s versatile.
Starred for Central West, made the Cockatoos’ train-on squad and has been Bulldogs’ go-to man all year, scoring a bucketload of tries from outside centre.
A no-brainer in this side.
12 FILISIONE PAUTA (Geurie Goats)
The star of Geurie’s landmark GrainCorp Cup Northern Division premiership, Pauta once again proved just how classy he is this season despite not being in the top tier, or the second tier.
He’s as good a centre as you’ll find in NSW Country, his selection needs no more explanation.
13 JACK O’CONNOR (Harden Red Devils)
Harden went from last to first in this year’s GrainCorp Cup Southern Division, and O’Connor’s return from Sydney played a huge role in that.
Not only did he lead the Red Devils’ premiership with consistent, classy performances, he was also superb for Central West at the beginning of the year, coolly nailing a final-minute penalty goal to secure the Blue Bulls’ win over Newcastle-Hunter.
14 TOM GREEN (Orange Emus)
Finally broke into the NSW Country system again, which many tipped he’d do several years ago.
While he’s battled injury a little bit during the year, that’s rarely slowed him down and, if anything, he’s only built on his reputation as one of the most threatening wingers region-wide.
As usual, hasn’t kicked much, but his presence in the carry has made up for that and he’s a huge reason Emus have been so good on the counter.
15 NIGEL STANIFORTH © (Orange Emus)
When a side wins its third straight minor premiership and earns hosting rights for the grand final for the fourth consecutive year, it’s hard to leave that side’s leader out, he’s obviously been doing something right.
Shifted from outside centre to fullback this year, but that move hasn’t stifled his influence, has still been one of the top tier’s best outside men and has continued getting better as the stage has gotten bigger.
16 JOEL HARPER (Bathurst Bulldogs)
17 MATT FULLER (Temora Tuskers)
18 JOE DAKUITOGA (Cowra Eagles)
19 NICK HUGHES-CLAPP (Orange Emus)
20 PETER FITZSIMMONS (Bathurst Bulldogs)
21 JOCK BROWNHILL (Dubbo Kangaroos)
22 REGAN HUGHES (CSU Bathurst)
23 LLOYD ROGERS (Parkes Boars)
COACH: LUKE KELLY (CSU Bathurst)
This might surprise a few, considering the calibre of coaches in the region and the success they’ve had, but Kelly was the first who sprung to mind for us.
Took the top job at CSU at the 11th hour and while the students did struggle at the beginning of the season, it always felt like something was building.
From all reports the buy-in was top-notch down at University Oval, and that feeling proved correct as the Mitchell Men marked a number of milestones on their way to the New Holland Agriculture Cup preliminary final.