With the regular season done and dusted The Roar’s experts turned selection panel to decide our Australian Super Rugby Team of the Year for 2023.
The five panelists found accord in key positions: Carter Gordon, Len Ikitau, Tom Wright, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini and Fraser McReight made everyone’s list. Also, with Namibia’s own Richard Hardwick sneaking into some lists, it’s important to point out that this was a team selected from the Australian franchises.
Here’s what the Roar’s rugby experts decided
Team (1-15): James Slipper, Lachie Lonergan, Sam Talakai, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Langi Gleeson, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Carter Gordon, Corey Toole, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Tom Wright.
By no means the Wallabies’ likely team, far from it in fact, but this is a team chosen on Super Rugby form. That’s the name of the game, isn’t it? Carter Gordon was the first picked and is my Australian Super Rugby player of the tournament.
Rob Valetini and James Slipper weren’t far behind. Gleeson’s explosiveness and sheer impact meant he snuck past Richard Hardwick.
Talakai is rewarded for consistency and sneaks ahead of Allan Alaalatoa, who missed several matches. Issak Fines-Leleiwasa was at the heart of everything the Force did well. He’s a goer. Can play. If he had a better pack, Aussie rugby would be much more enamoured with him.
Team (1-15): Matt Gibbon, Matt Faessler, Sam Talakai, Jed Holloway, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Richard Hardwick, Nic White, Carter Gordon, Corey Toole, Hamish Stewart, Len Ikitau, Lachie Anderson, Tom Wright.
A really interesting exercise this, with consistent quality a central theme and with some positions a lot harder than others. No.3 and No.14 were the hardest to pick by some margin. Gibbon and Talakai edge James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa for consistency up front, and have only gotten better over the season.
Faessler and Lachie Lonergan is a coin flip, with the Queenslander a little more reliable with his lineout throwing. Frost picks himself, but Holloway beats a pretty hot field including Jeremy Williams in the west and young Rebel Josh Canham.
Valetini and McReight similarly pick themselves, but you need to wade through the highlights and headlines to find the truly most consistent No.8: Hardwick made all the more valuable by how much he was missed when not there.
White and Gordon were the standout halves, Toole the standout left winger, ditto Ikitau at 13 and Wright at fullback. But Stewart was the glue in an ever-changing Force backline and edges James O’Connor and Tamati Tua at 12, and after much consideration, Anderson was just consistently good more often on the right edge than Andy Muirhead, Manasa Mataele, and Mark Nawaqanitawase.
Team (1-15): James Slipper, Lachlan Lonergan, Sam Talakai, Cadeyrn Neville, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Jake Gordon, Carter Gordon, Corey Toole, Izzy Perese, Len Ikitau, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Tom Wright.
I did not select the players who would fit best in a Test in a semi-final against a top-four team. These were the men who stood out at the club level in this year’s competition, in both quality and quantity of play.
The most difficult picks were in the front row and at No.8. Harry ‘Workhorse’ Wilson is once again the heavy carrier of the tournament, and even if he still lacks a bit of stopping power on defence and elusion on attack, he built a body of work in 2023 impossible to overlook. Still, Langi Gleeson may have leapfrogged him in the higher arena.
In the front row, Dave Porecki and Matt Gibbon are unlucky. The Perese-Ikitau midfield may raise questions, but both were dangerous at all times. Nic White is only done by the platoon system of the Brumbies; giving us a double Gordon halfback duo.
Team (1-15): Matt Gibbon, Matt Faessler, Sam Talakai, Jed Holloway, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight
Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Carter Gordon, Corey Toole, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Tom Wright, Reece Hodge.
This was tough. In some cases ‘good tough’, where there was intense competition between some high-class options, and in some cases ‘bad tough’, where it was difficult to find a real stand-out.
I struggled mostly in the backline, starting at halfback, where Tate McDermott, Jake Gordon, Nic White, Ryan Lonergan and Issak Fines-Leleiwasa all had strong claims. Gordon played long minutes, and Super Rugby is the level where he excels, thus he gets the nod, by a whisker.
Of the inside centres, I liked Stacey Ili’s form this year, but in the spirit of leaning towards Wallabies-eligible players, the spot goes to Lalakai Foketi. It’s a similar story on the wing, where the Force’s Zach Kibirige misses out. For different reasons, Lachie Anderson is also unlucky to miss; nosed out by my squeezing both Reece Hodge and Tom Wright into the XV.
Hodge enjoyed an excellent season, the best line-kicker in the competition, his goal-kicking much improved, and because I have reservations about Wright in the last line of defence, but none about his attack, this feels like a combination selection that works.
Team (1-15): James Slipper, Lachie Lonergan, Allan Alaalatoa, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Richard Hardwick, Jake Gordon, Carter Gordon, Corey Toole, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright.
Wing flyer Corey Toole made such huge progress in his rookie year that he edges out Lachie Anderson (Rebels) and Mark Nawaqanitawase (Waratahs) for the most hotly-contested spot in this team.
You could pick a bunch of wingers in Australia’s Form XV from Super Rugby but barely enough props for a front-row.
Rebels prop Matt Gibbon is a lineball omission, as is flanker teammate Brad Wilkin, who had his best season in Super Rugby.
Tate McDermott, Nic White and Ryan Lonergan will probably be Australia’s three No.9s for the World Cup but for consistency and essential value to his side no halfback outperformed Jake Gordon for the Waratahs.
Brumbies fullback Tom Wright will go close to winning Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year gong so well did he play consistently.
The Roar’s Super Rugby Team of the Year(based on the combined votes from our experts)
(1-15): James Slipper, Lachie Lonergan, Sam Talakai, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Richard Hardwick, Jake Gordon, Carter Gordon, Corey Toole, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Tom Wright.
Ok, over to you for your teams of the year…
First appear at Australia’s Super Rugby Team of the Year: Our experts name their first XVs for 2023