Above, clockwise from top left: Billy Wallace (circa 1905) and some of the players in this year’s Men’s Best & Fairest team, Loius Northcott, Brandyn Laursen, Sione Halalilo, Nick Robertson, Toby Crosby, Jack O’Brien and Mark Sutton.
- By Scott MacLean
After a year’s hiatus our Teams of the Year return for 2023. Based on the standings for the Men’s Billy Wallace – a trophy that dates back to 1966 – and the Women’s Erin Rush Best & Fairest competitions, they represent the outstanding and consistent performers from across the season.
Our selection criteria remains the same as for previous teams. Players are selected on the basis of the points they accumulated and then placed into the position they primarily played during the year. Any ties are then broken by the number of times a player got three points, then by where their sides finished up. For the Women we had to be a little more flexible, but no player there is placed in a position they are unfamiliar with.
With the Men, we also exclude those Hurricanes squad players who play provincially elsewhere, such as Paremata-Plimmerton’s Pasilio Tosi and Upper Hutt’s Salesi Rayasi.
So, to the teams, and as with our last edition back in 2021 there’s plenty of new faces. Billy Wallace winner (and Rush’s son) Stanley Solomon heads a massive group of 12 first-time players in our starting XV, including the entire starting pack. Jubilee Cup winners Oriental Rongotai provide both flankers in Jim Brown Medal winner Dominic Ropeti on the blindside and Lions teammate Sione Halalilo on the open. The loose trio is completed by the Upper Hutt Rams’ robust Toby Crosby, who’s rookie teammate Senio Sanele takes the #1 jersey in the front row.
The rest of that group comprises Poneke’s Andrew Jones doing enough between injury stints to earn the hooker spot, with Pare-Plim’s Werdna Maligi-Leota claiming the tighthead jersey. The locking spots are claimed by two players who have several seasons under their belts and both have appeared for the Lions this year in Tawa skipper Hugo Plummer and Johnsonville’s Anthony Pettett.
Alongside Solomon, who takes the right wing spot, the other first-timers are fellow winger Louis Northcott from Pare-Plim and rookie MSP centre Jack O’Brien. The fourth has a bit of an asterisk to it as OBU’s Callum Harkin was last year’s Billy Wallace winner but we didn’t get all the information to compile this team.
The backline is filled out by Johnsonville halfback Mark Sutton, Poneke fullback Nick Robertson, and HOBM second five Brandyn Laursen. Sutton makes the starting side for the first time after being our reserve in 2021, Robertson was on the left wing in 2019, and Laursen joins clubmate James O’Reilly as a five-time selection.
Our bench continues the first-timers theme. Norths duo Jerome Vaai and Boston Hunt might be at opposing ends of their careers but are first-timers here, as are Johnsonville’s Ha’amea Ahio and Pare-Plim’s Tane McMillan-Parata. Rams sharpshooter Tynan Barrett is our final first-timer with Pare-Plim’s Esi Komaisavai and Johnsonville flyer Jacob Walmsley rounding out the side.
Swindale winners Paremata-Plimmerton and Johnsonville lead the way with four players each with Upper Hutt providing three.
There’s also 12 new faces in our Women’s team, headed by teenager Justine McGregor who joins Thamsyn Newton and Kaia Pollock as winners of the Erin Rush trophy. McGregor is one of four players from Petone, who also provide both props in Chloe Te Moananui – returning from 2021 when she played for the currently dormant OBU Impalas – and the irrepressible Lavinia Lea, and halfback Milly Mackey. Champions Marist St Pat’s provide a trio of Aupiki players Monica Tagoai and Georgia Daals, and hooker and captain Valini Vaka, as do Norths in first-five Arene Landon-Lane, winger Ofa Tuangalu, and Manusina’s Nina Foaese – the only concession to include her on the blindside.
Pare-Plim is the only other team with multiple players in openside Pollock – like Harkin last year’s winner (jointly with 2021 outright winner Newton) – and lock Aria Ngarimu. The team is filled out by veteran Kiri Gronbeck from the Izzy Ford Cup-winning combined HOBM-Wainuiomata side, and a pair of returning selections: Avalon No. 8 Hosanna Aumua and winger Ayesha Leti-l’iga who is currently rehabbing an ACL tear and is remarkably the only player from Ories to make this team this year.
The Billy Wallace Trophy was first presented in 1966 with the inaugural winner being flanker Tom Lister from the Athletic club, with this year being the third presentation of the Erin Rush Trophy.
The 2023 Billy Wallace Best & Fairest Wellington club rugby Team of the Year:
- Sanio Sanele (Upper Hutt Rams)
- Andrew Jones (Poneke)
- Werdna Maligi-Leota (Paremata-Plimmerton)
- Anthony Pettett (Johnsonville)
- Hugo Plummer (Tawa)
- Dominic Ropeti (Oriental Rongotai)
- Sione Halalilo (Oriental Rongotai)
- Toby Crosby (Upper Hutt Rams)
- Mark Sutton (Johnsonville)
- Callum Harkin (Old Boys-University)
- Louis Northcott (Paremata-Plimmerton)
- Brandyn Laursen (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
- Jack O’Brien (Marist St Pats)
- Stanley Solomon (Petone)
- Nick Robertson (Poneke)
- Jerome Vaai (Norths)
- Ha’amea Ahio (Johnsonville)
- Boston Hunt (Norths)
- Tane McMillan-Parata (Paremata-Plimmerton)
- Esi Komaisavai (Paremata-Plimmerton)
- Tynan Barrett (Upper Hutt Rams)
- Jacob Walmsley (Johnsonville)
The 2023 Erin Rush Best & Fairest Wellington club rugby Team of the Year:
- Chloe Te Moananui (Petone)
- Valini Vaka (Marist St Pats)
- Lavinia Lea (Petone)
- Aria Ngarimu (Paremata-Plimmerton)
- Kiri Gronbeck (HOBM/Wainui)
- Nina Foaese (Norths)
- Kaia Pollock (Paremata-Plimmerton)
- Hosanna Aumua (Avalon)
- Milly Mackey (Petone)
- Arene Landon-Lane (Norths)
- Ayesha Leti-l’iga (Oriental Rongotai)
- Monica Tagoai (Marist St Pats)
- Justine McGregor (Petone)
- Ofa Tuangalu (Norths)
- Georgia Daals (Marist St Pats)