Sonny Bill Williams was tonight named Rugby League International Federation Player of the Year for 2013.
The New Zealand and Sydney Roosters forward received the sport’s most prestigious individual honour at the RLIF’s gala dinner at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester, where he was joined by many of the stars of Rugby League World Cup 2013.
The award crowns a remarkable first season back in Rugby League for Williams, who returned to the sport at the turn of the year after a five-year absence in rugby union and professional boxing.
Williams was a key figure in the Sydney Roosters team that won the club’s first NRL Grand Final for over a decade and has been an integral part of the New Zealand side that is looking to complete a successful defence of the World Cup trophy against Australia in the final of RLWC2013 at Old Trafford on Saturday (2.30pm).
The 28-year-old is the first Kiwi to win the International Player of the Year award, which has been won by Australian players since its inception in 2008 – Billy Slater (2008 and 2011), Jarryd Hayne (2009), Todd Carney (2010) and Cameron Smith (2012).
He held off stiff competition from the two other shortlisted players, Super League Man of Steel and Scotland half-back Danny Brough of Huddersfield Giants, and Greg Inglis, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Australia full-back, to win the coveted international award.
All three players were also named in their respective positions in the 2013 International Team of the Year, a side selected on performances at club and representative level between October 2012 and November 2013.
The Team of the Year also features England and South Sydney front rower Sam Burgess, the 2013 Prop of the Year who is joined by a third Rabbitoh in Issac Luke, the Hooker of the Year.
The Burgess family had double cause for celebration with George Burgess being named International Rookie of the Year, an award open to players aged 21 or under who made their Test debut during the voting period.
Sydney Roosters have a second representative in the Team of the Year with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck joining his fellow countryman Sonny Bill Williams as Winger of the Year.
The NRL champions also received further recognition of their momentous year with Trent Robinson being named International Coach of the Year following his hugely successful debut season at the club since joining them from Catalan Dragons.
Robinson won the award ahead of a current Super League coach, Shaun Wane of Wigan Warriors, and another former Super League coach, Wane’s predecessor, Michael Maguire, the coach of South Sydney.
Australian official Ben Cummins was named International Referee of the Year for a second successive year.
The awards are determined by an international judging panel comprising journalists, broadcasters and former international players drawn from both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Former BARLA Chief Executive Maurice Oldroyd was presented with the RLIF Spirit of Rugby League Award in recognition of his commitment to international development over more than four decades.
The winners of the 2013 RLIF International Player of the Year awards are:
International Player of the Year: Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters and New Zealand)
International Coach of the Year: Trent Robinson (Sydney Roosters and Australia)
International Rookie of the Year: George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs and England)
International Referee of the Year: Ben Cummins (Australia)
Spirit of Rugby League Award: Maurice Oldroyd
INTERNATIONAL TEAM OF THE YEAR
Full-back: Greg Inglis (South Sydney and Australia)
Winger: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters and New Zealand)
Centre: Jamie Lyon (Manly)
Stand-off: Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants and Scotland)
Scrum-half: Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly and Australia)
Prop: Sam Burgess (South Sydney and England)
Hooker: Issac Luke (South Sydney and New Zealand)
Second row: Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters and New Zealand)
Loose forward: Corey Parker (Brisbane Broncos and Australia)