Isi Naisarani wins RUPA’s best & fairest in first professional season

He’s still fifteen months away from being eligible to represent the Wallabies, however his contemporaries certainly like what they see and based on this year’s performances you’d be brave to bet against him representing Australia at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Isi Naisarani’s outstanding season for the Western Force has seen the powerful backrower voted the best of any Super Rugby player in the country, as he won the 2017 RUPA Medal For Excellence at today’s Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch in Sydney.

“On behalf of Australia’s players, I want to congratulate Isi for an exceptional achievement,” RUPA President Dean Mumm said.

“The challenges associated with playing for the Western Force in 2017 have been well-documented, yet Isi’s performances have been consistently outstanding despite the unsettling landscape.

“That, coupled with his youth and inexperience heading into the season, only make his performances all the more remarkable. The prospect of Isi competing for a Wallaby place in early 2019 is incredibly exciting, and I look forward to watching him continue to develop at the Brumbies in 2018.”

Naisarani is the first ever player to win the RUPA Medal for Excellence in his first season of professional Rugby, and is the third backrower to ever win the award as he follows in the footsteps of David Pocock (2010 & 2015) and George Smith (2007 & 2008).

The Fijian-born backrower is also the fourth player born outside of Australia to win the Award, after George Gregan (Zambia), Christian Leali’ifano (New Zealand) and Pocock (Zimbabwe).

Naisarani finished with 87 votes, ahead of Melbourne Rebels’ Japanese international Amanaki Mafi (78), Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa (69) and his teammate Henry Speight (64).

It represents an extraordinary maiden Super Rugby campaign for Naisarani, who only 18 months ago earned his first National Rugby Championship (NRC) opportunity with Brisbane City after starring for Souths in Queensland Premier Rugby.

The 22-year-old was in hot demand and moved to Perth to link up with the Force, playing all 15 matches this season, scoring 2 tries to win the Western Force Players’ Player Award (Nathan Sharpe Medal).

He also played 8 matches for the Perth Spirit in the 2017 NRC, scoring 3 tries and being named as a finalist in the 2017 NRC Players’ Player of the Year award, before signing with the Brumbies ahead of 2018 where he will link up with the likes of Pocock, Tom Cusack, Rob Valetini, Lolo Fakaosilea, Ben Hyne and Lachlan McCaffrey in an impressive-looking backrow.

Of Australian forwards, only Michael Hooper made more runs than Naisarani in the 2017 Super Rugby season. Naisarani made more run metres, tackle busts, line breaks and possessions than any other Western Force forward, as well as proving a reliable lineout option and ranking second amongst Force forwards for tackling efficiency.

The RUPA Medal for Excellence is the most prestigious player-voted honour in Australian Rugby, with the top two players in each Super Rugby team’s annual Players’ Player award automatically earning nomination as the ten finalists.

All 2017 contracted Super Rugby players were invited to vote in a 3-2-1 format for the RUPA Medal for Excellence, which was first awarded in 2001.

There have been nine previous winners of the RUPA Medal for Excellence; Berrick Barnes (2009), Brendan Cannon (2003), Nick Cummins (2013), George Gregan (2001, 2004 & 2006), Christian Leali’ifano (2016), David Pocock (2010 & 2015), Nathan Sharpe (2002, 2005, 2011 & 2012), James Slipper (2014) and George Smith (2007 & 2008).