The shortlist for the International Rugby League (IRL) Golden Boot Award has been announced, with a host of hard-runners listed for the top prizes.
In the Men’s competition, James Fisher-Harris is the frontrunner to succeed last year’s Golden Boot winner Joey Manu after captaining the Kiwis to victory in the Pacific Championships.
He is in competition with his New Zealand teammate Joseph Tapine, Kangaroos prop Payne Haas and England halfback Harry Smith, who impressed in their 3-0 whitewash of Tonga.
In the Women’s, it is again Kiwis who dominate after their spectacular defeat of the Jillaroos: Georgia Hale, Mele Hufanga and Apii Nicholls are all shortlisted, along with Australia fullback Tamika Upton.
The third category is Wheelchair, with Jeremy Bourson and Lewis King nominated on the back of their performances in the thrilling clash between England and France.
The Men’s shortlist represents the tough nature of international footy in 2023, with three of the four in the Men’s nominees playing in the front row.
No prop has ever won the award, with the closest being 2004 winner Andrew Farrell, who later played in the front row but was a lock forward when he was named the best player in the world. Similarly, Kiwi international Hugh McGahan, who was retroactively named winner for 1987, was a second rower.
Just four forwards to have won, with Cameron Smith twice awarded in the hooking role and Kevin Sinfield named in 2012, though he played in the halves that year having more regularly been a 13.
In the Women’s, New Zealand can square the ledger at two apiece should Hale, Hufanga or Nicholls win. The incumbent is Raecene McGregor, who named the standout at last year’s World Cup despite the Kiwi Ferns’ defeat in the final to Australia, succeeded two previous Australians, Isabelle Kelly and Jess Sergis.
Jack Brown and Seb Bechara, both of England, are the only previous winners in the Wheelchair, though that might well change as Bourson’s France defeated the World Champions in Leeds on November 19.
Only performances in international games are counted for the Golden Boot. A longlist is determined first by the media, with a large international panel drawn from journalists, commentators and pundits across the world, and then whittled down to a shortlist by panels of ex-players, coaches and administrators before three winners are chosen.
The panel for the Men’s features a host of legends, all of whom have been awarded the Golden Cap for 50 Test apperances, with this year’s panel made up of Adam Blair, James Graham, Darren Lockyer, Adrian Morley and Ruben Wiki.
Karyn Murphy (Australia), Honey Hireme (New Zealand) and Danika Prim (England) will choose the Women’s Award, while two of the founders of Wheelchair Rugby League, Malcolm Kielty (England) and Robert Fassolette (France) plus former England coach Martin Coyd and long-standing administrator Niel Wood will comprise the panel in Wheelchair section.
“The IRL Golden Boot is one of the game’s most prestigious awards and any of the nominated players would be a worthy winner,” said IRL Chair Troy Grant.
“In recent weeks we have seen all three of last year’s World Cup winners – the Kangaroos, Jillaroos and England Wheelchair team – beaten, and this shows how closely contested the international game is.
“That is reflected in the nominations for the 2023 Golden Boot and there is no clear-cut candidate for any of the awards.
“On behalf of the IRL, I would like to thank the panels of former greats of our game, and those who have made a significant contribution to the development of Wheelchair Rugby League, for their involvement in helping to choose the 2023 international player of the year.”