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Pint-sized Panther Brian To’o won the prestigious Brad Fittler Medal on Monday night, while fellow Penrith forward Liam Martin clinched the True Blue Award, but immediately regretted not thanking his mother Maxine on stage.
To’o ran for more than an average 200m during the Origin series, and bagged a try in Sydney to help the Blues avoid a Queensland series whitewash.
The 25-year-old To’o, who looked sharp in a smokey blue suit without socks, said his first awards night was made extra special by being accompanied to The Star by his pregnant wife Moesha.
“I’m truly honoured and blessed but also pretty shocked, I thought ‘Marto’ [Martin] deserved the award and was the best player for the Blues,” To’o told this masthead.
“I don’t know [if I’m in career-best form]. I’m still working on my game. It will always be me versus me. I just want to keep getting better each week.”
One of the shortest wingers in the game also happens to be one of the most fearless – and one of the strongest kick returners. He was one of just seven Blues to feature in all three games.
Blues brothers: Liam Martin and Brian To’o.Credit: NSWRL
To’o’s good friend and fellow Panther and Blues representative Stephen Crichton said: “Seeing ‘Bizza’ [To’o] behind the scenes, to see where he started to where he is at now, it’s all hard work and dedication, and he deserves this.
“You can just tell how much he is loving it and having fun – he’s definitely in the best form [of his career]. It’s great to see.”
Martin, who was sporting nine stitches above the right eye after an ugly tackle on Cowboys backrower Luciano Leilua, hoped his mother did not leave him with nine stitches above the left eye after he forgot to thank her while accepting the prize that acknowledges the player who best embodies the values and spirit of NSW.
He is now widely regarded as the best backrower in the game who has won a second premiership, a World Cup final with Australia, and a contract extension during a memorable 12 months.
Cody Walker won the People’s Choice Award, Emma Tonegato was named the NSW women’s Player of the Year, and Kezie Apps the Sky Blues Award.
“Brian epitomises the attributes of a NSW Blues player as he always gives his all whenever he pulls on the jersey,” Fittler said.
“He is a hard worker at training and on the field, and brings a great energy to camp that other players enjoy being around.
“And Liam brings plenty of natural aggression to the team and I can always count on him to do a job for me, while Cody showed just how dangerous he can be after being recalled for game three.”
Fittler has made it known he wants to coach on for a seventh year next year with his coaching record at nine wins and nine losses, and three series wins.
Off-contract South Sydney playmaker Dean Hawkins won NSW Cup Player of the Year.
BRAD FITTLER MEDAL FULL LIST OF AWARD WINNERS
Brad Fittler Medal: Brian To’o (Penrith Panthers)
True Blue Award: Liam Martin (Penrith Partners)
People’s Choice Award: Cody Walker (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
NSW Women’s State of Origin Player of the Year: Emma Tonegato (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
Sky Blues Award: Kezie Apps (Wests Tigers)
NSW Under 19s State of Origin Player of the Match: Ethan Strange (Canberra Raiders)
NSW Under 19s Women’s State of Origin Player of the Match: Chelsea Makira (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup Player of the Year: Dan Hawkins (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
NSW Women’s Premiership Player of the Year: Holli Wheeler (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Jersey Flegg Cup Player of the Year: Max McCathie (Sydney Roosters)
Leagues Clubs Australia Ron Massey Cup Player of the Year: Jake Butfield (St Marys Saints)
Sydney Shield Player of the Year: Ryan Joynes (Ryde-Eastwood Hawks)
Men’s Country Championship Player of the Year: Chad O’Donnell (Newcastle Maitland Region Knights)
Women’s Country Championship Player of the Year: Krystal Blackwell (Monaro Colts)
Tom Nelson Medal for SLE Laurie Daley Cup Player of the Year: Xavier Cacciotti (Monaro Colts)
Ron Lanesbury Medal for SLE Andrew Johns Cup Player of the Year: Jack Talbott (South Coast Illawarra Dragons)
Grade Referee of the Year: Damian Brady
Junior Representative Referee of the Year: Brayden Hunt
Ray Stellar Club Person of the Year: Ian Boardman (Hills Bulls)
Gordon Lowrie Memorial Community Volunteer of the Year Award: Christopher Hollis (Taree Red Rovers JRLC)
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