Justin Toomey-White showered praise on his wife and spoke of the importance of family when accepting the Whitney’s Jewellers Group 11 Player of the Year for a third time on Friday night.
The win puts the Wellington Cowboys back-rower in rarefied air, with five-time winner Darren Jackson the only one ahead of Toomey-White and Parkes legend Dennis Moran, who each have three wins.
While finding the experience “surreal”, Toomey-White said none of what he has achieved would have been possible without the support of his family, and particularly his wife Kate.
Having won the player award in 2013 and 2015 while captain-coach of the Cowboys, Toomey-White and his partner made the move to Sydney after that as he attempted to make his mark at a higher level.
The hard-running back-rower helped the Wyong Roos to the NSW Intrust Super Premiership grand final last year, but the chance to come back and be with immediate family and also the rebuilding Cowboys family saw him return to Group 11 for the 2018 season.
Kate, just weeks away from giving birth to the pair’s first child, was there on Friday night at the RSL as her husband collected the Whitney’s Jewellers major prize and also the Referee’s Player of the Year.
“Without my family I wouldn’t be the man I am,” Toomey-White said.
“Especially my beautiful wife, her support each week is massive.
“We started our journey a couple of years ago when I went to try my luck in Sydney and she had my back then from day one. Then we decided to move back home and we’ve got a bub on the way and she’s been there for me the whole time.
“In the lead-up to a game, it’s what she and family do that shows on the field.”
Toomey-White is now far and away the most successful Wellington Cowboy when it comes to individual accolade, with club legend Mick Peachey having won the player of the year award twice in the early 1990s.
Geoff Lousick (1974), Brian Lawson (1979), Luke Shaw (1983), Caleb Shaw (1990), Darren Ah See (1994), Blaine Stanley (2005), and Corey Stanley (2011) are the other Cowboys to have won the competition’s major prize, which started in 1973.
“I look at those names whenever I can and to see so many Wello names on there is a great feeling,” Toomey-White said.
“And to have my name alongside Darren (Jackson) and Dennis (Moran), they were legends of Group 11 when I was coming through so to be with them and the Wello boys is something I’ll really treasure once I’ve stopped playing.”
Toomey-White described the presentation ceremony as a “special night to be a Cowboy” and it was easy to see why.
Wellington was one of the most well-represented clubs on the night and earned another major award when Brock Naden was named the under 18s player of the year.
It’s been a massive season for the versatile Naden, having impressed with the Western Rams 18s and also the Cowboys juniors, while he also backed up nearly every week and has become a key figure in the first grade team.
“He just listens at training and he wants to learn,” Toomey-White said after Naden was awarded the Jim Lang Shield.
“He’s such a great talent and he does his own job and more. To play 18s and play a starring role and then come back and play with us, us senior guys look to these juniors because we know they can do a job.
“We’ve got total faith in them.”