Rugby League’s Betfred Championship and Division 1 clubs celebrated a successful season for both competitions at their annual awards ceremony.
Presentations at Manchester’s Hilton Hotel culminated with the player of the year awards for both divisions – a category dominated by the respective champions for each division: Toronto Wolfpack and Whitehaven.
Three Toronto Wolfpack team-mates – Andy Ackers, Gareth O’Brien and Jon Wilkin – were in the running to be crowned Betfred Championship Player of the Year, an accolade bestowed upon outstanding full-back O’Brien. The 27-year old has featured in 26 of Toronto’s 27 fixtures this season, scoring 22 tries and a quarter of the Wolfpack’s entire points in 2019.
Whitehaven’s Dion Aiye held off strong competition from teammate Marc Shackley, Oldham’s Danny Langtree and Nick Newman of Newcastle Thunder to be named Betfred League 1 Player of the Year. The Papua New Guinean playmaker has become something of a cult hero in west Cumbria, inspiring his side to the league title and promotion to the Betfred Championship in 2020.
And Whitehaven’s outstanding season earned the popular Gary Charlton the Betfred League 1 Coach of the Year accolade. Few people gave his side any chance of promotion, yet Whitehaven went on to win 15 of their 20 games to pip Oldham to the title with a win at Coventry Bears on the final day of the regular season. Oldham remain in contention to join Whitehaven in next year’s Betfred Championship and coach Scott Naylor was also nominated, alongside North Wales Crusaders’ Anthony Murray.
A Whitehaven treble was completed by Andrew Bulman, who earned the Betfred League 1 Young Player of the Year accolade. The teenage winger, scorer of 17 tries in 2019, was one of five nominees alongside Caine Barnes (Workington), Callum Hazzard (North Wales Crusaders), Jacob Jones (Coventry Bears) and Alex Clegg (Newcastle Thunder).
James Ford was named Betfred Championship Coach of the Year, just 12 months after being named coach of the year for League 1. Ford steered York City Knights to an impressive top three finish and a place in the play-offs that few would have predicted at the start of the season. Testimony to Ford’s achievement is that the other nominees were Brian McDermott of grand finalists Toronto Wolfpack and Mark Aston, whose Sheffield Eagles lifted the inaugural AB Sundecks 1895 Cup at Wembley Stadium.
Swinton Lions’ and former Rochdale Mayfield amateur Matty Ashton capped an extraordinary season with the Betfred Championship Young Player of the Year award. The Warrington Wolves-bound winger grabbed five tries in his final appearance for the Lions, with nominations for Keanan Brand of Widnes and Leigh Centurions’ Joe Cator underlining the quality of the competition.
Betfred Championship Club of the Year is York City Knights, who continue to impress both on and off the pitch following promotion from League 1, while Betfred League 1 Club of the Year is the creative and energetic Keighley Cougars.
Foundation of the Year, a category which spans both competitions, is once again Newcastle Thunder – also winners in 2017. Leigh, Halifax and York were also nominated.
Liz Hindley was named FSA Community Champion of the Year, while there were special presentations made to two stalwarts who have announced their retirement: Micky Higham and Oliver Wilkes.
Awards in full
- FSA Community Champion of the Year: Liz Hindley
- Foundation of the Year: Newcastle Thunder
- League 1 Club of the Year: Keighley Cougars
- Championship Club of the Year: York City Knights
- League 1 Coach of the Year: Gary Charlton
- Championship Coach of the Year: James Ford
- League 1 Young Player of the Year: Andrew Bulman
- Championship Young Player of the Year: Matty Ashton
- League 1 Player of the Year: Deon Aiye
- Championship Player of the Year: Gareth O’Brien