Super Rugby 2019: Best, worst performers of a weird, wonderful season

  • 20/06/2019

As Super Rugby heads into the business end of the season - the playoffs - it's time to cast an eye over the performers that caught our attention over the past four months.

These are the players - and coaches - that exceeded or fell short of expectations. These are games that thrilled us along the way.

Newshub's rugbyheads seem to agree on the best - they're unanimous on their best game of the year - but they spread their disappointment across a range of underperformers.

Breakout Star

 

John Day: Sevu Reece

Made the step-up from Mitre 10 Cup to Super Rugby with ease. Handed a life-line by the Crusaders, he's paid them back big time with 13 tries, the best in the competition. 

Wasn't on the radar at the start of the year, but is now firmly in the picture to wear the 14 jersey for the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup.

Kristina Eddy: Hands down Super Rugby's 'rookie' of the year, Sevu Reece has been exceptional in an already loaded Crusaders back-line.

The 22-year-old's broken onto the scene with a competition-best 13 tries and he's caught enough attention to be in All Blacks consideration.

Andrew Gourdie: Braydon Ennor

On his way to becoming the next Aucklander to earn a black jersey, via Christchurch.

Ollie Ritchie: Braydon Ennor

A beast with the ball in hand and equally solid on defence, Ennor is certainly a star for the future.

He went from Super Rugby rookie to potential All Black in the space of a season. Expect him to link up with Jack Goodhue in the Crusaders midfield next season.

Exciting times ahead.

Ross Karl: You always want to say something original in these things, but sometimes the answer is the most obvious and repeated one.

Chiefs halfback Brad Weber is my breakout star, MVP and the man with stocks on the rise.

Weber stood up, when every Chiefs star - apart from Anton Lienert-Brown - was struck down. He has played out of his skin.

Weber's honed his core roles of passing and kicking, and perfected his lightning-quick running game and support play. He has the knack of being in the right place at the right time.

 Brad Weber scores a try against the Sharks
Brad Weber scores a try against the Sharks. Photo credit: Photosport

He has also led the team brilliantly. They had no wins after five rounds and Weber was a major reason they fought their way into the playoffs.

When his team needed him, he stood up.

If Weber isn't the third halfback at the World Cup, it would be the first controversial selection of Steve Hansen's reign as head coach. It would be a travesty.

Best NZ Derby

 

OR: It pains me to say it, but the Chiefs v Crusaders in Fiji.

So many aspects made this good. It's not often you see the Crusaders blow a 20-point lead, but they came up against a Chiefs side who knew their season was on the line and were determined to clinch a playoff berth.

A fantastic crowd, great atmosphere and the quality of rugby was the best we'd seen all year.

AG: Chiefs 40-27 Crusaders in Suva

A crazy, crazy game of rugby and a massive upset.

KE: Nothing gripped me more this season than the Chiefs v Crusaders derby in Fiji.

Thrilling, yet bizarre - 10 tries and a come-from-behind upset. Nothing beats it and the result certainly added excitement to the rest of the Super Rugby season.

RK: The Chiefs beating the Crusaders!

At 20-0 down, I turned to my wife and said, "That's enough, I'm pressing pause and going to the supermarket to get some ice cream".

By the time I had got there, I'd heard three tries on the radio and the Chiefs has closed to 20-19 down.

Now, armed with chocolate brownie deliciousness, I slumped into the couch and was enthralled watching the rest of the game.

Epic win for the Chiefs against the defending champs.

JD: Week 16 Chiefs 47 Crusaders 20 in Suva

I wore my Crusaders jersey to the supermarket the day after this game and a random shopper hit me up - we both agreed this was the best game of the season. 

It's not often I want to wear my team's colours the day after a defeat, but there was just so much to like about the way the Chiefs came back to win from 20-nil down.

NZ Most Valuable Player

 

JD: Ardie Savea

A tight contest with Anton Lienert-Brown, but Savea just pips him.  So good with ball in hand, with those legs pumping, does great work at the breakdown, superb tackle efficiency and great versatility too. 

With Kieran Read departing, Savea could be the long-term option at number eight for the All Blacks.

OR: Ardie Savea

Well and truly put Sam Cane on notice for the All Blacks seven jersey.

Savea's work-rate was through the roof, while not losing the attacking flare that's made him so dangerous. He should be fun to watch in the black jersey.

Anton Lienert-Brown a close second.

Ardie Savea in action for the Hurricanes
Ardie Savea in action for the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Getty

AG: Brad Weber

When the Chiefs season looked ready to fall apart, he stood up in a big way. Leadership qualities All Blacks selectors would be silly to ignore.

Has an Andy Ellis aspect to his personality that could well come in handy down the track.

KE: Playing in one of the All Blacks' most congested positions, it's no surprise Anton Lienert-Brown had an exceptional season - because he's had to.

In a team ravaged by injuries, Lienert-Brown has been the Chiefs' consistent stand-out, guiding them side through one of their trickiest seasons.

Plus, he's sitting in second in the competition for offloads and third for tackle busts - he's been outstanding.

NZ Player on the Rise

 

KE: Already a stand-out for Tasman, Will Jordan exploded onto the Super Rugby scene, with eight tries in eight games in his first season.

The 2017 World Junior Player of the Year has continued to impress at professional level with explosive power and pace, making a name for himself in that potent Crusaders back-line.

JD: Braydon Ennor

You can see why he's on Steve Hansen's radar.  Ennor made a mark in round one, when he sprinted around Ma'a Nonu, and his performances haven't slowed down all season. 

His long-term future appears to be at centre, where his combination with Jack Goodhue will be one to watch for years to come.

Will Jordan in action for the Crusaders
Will Jordan in action for the Crusaders. Photo credit: Photosport

OR: Will Jordan

He's only going to get better, a young kid who's wise beyond his years.

A natural ball runner and a big part of the Crusaders future.

AG: Sevu Reece

A weapon on the wing, he and Ennor have been outstanding for the Crusaders.

NZ Player on the Decline

 

AG: Too early to say he's in decline, but George Bridge's progress has stalled.

Injury and off-field distractions haven't helped his case, as Ennor and Reece have made the 11 and 14 jerseys their own in 2019. 

JD: Sonny Bill Williams

Started the year as an absolute certainty to make the World Cup squad, but with only 318 minutes under his belt for the Blues, can the injury-prone midfielder be relied on for a seven week tournament? 

In his last outing of the season, Williams showed he's still got the best offload in the game, but his body is starting to give up on him.

KE: Ben Lam

After a breakout 2018, where he broke the record as the competition's top try-scorer and had his exclusion from the All Blacks squad questioned, Lam's struggled to stand out this year and ultimately he's just been quiet.

Compared to last season, I'd say at this rate, he's on the decline.

OR: Brett Cameron

It's harsh, because he played so little, but when he did, it was often a trainwreck.

Don't think I've seen someone control the game as poorly as Cameron did against the Waratahs in Sydney. Was overawed by the occasion and made poor decisions you wouldn't even see at 1st XV level.

A bolter for the ABs last year, don't think we'll see him there again anytime soon.

RK: Unfortunately for Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber's rise means his understudy's stocks are on the decline.

Tahuriorangi is an All Blacks project that has shown promise, but he's sat side-line and watched Weber run the show.

That lack of game time means he hasn't been as sharp when he comes on.

This was supposed to be the year Tahuriorangi's experience with the All Blacks took his Super Rugby form to the next level. He needed to take that Chiefs nine jersey and make it his own.

It might not be his fault, but it also makes him ...

Most Disappointing NZ Player

 

OR: Jordie Barrett

Now, Barrett was by no means the worst player in this competition, but given what we've seen from him in the past, this was a poor season by his standards.

Jordie Barrett in action for the Hurricanes
Jordie Barrett in action for the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Photosport

He wasn't helped by constantly changing position and he's probably done enough to retain an All Black spot, but that's by no means a guarantee.

KE: Leon Macdonald's already indicated he's looking for another 10 and it’s hardly surprising, given Harry Plummer has struggled to impress this season. His inability to kick for touch and slot the goals needed for the Blues to win makes him my pick for most disappointing player.

AG: Ma'a Nonu

A season that began with such promise suggested he still 'had it', and an All Blacks recall was a strong possibility.

Sadly faded with the Blues season.

JD: Jordan Taufua

The Crusaders blindside broke my heart, when he announced he was going overseas, but I still had high hopes he'd be the All Blacks number six for the World Cup. 

Unfortunately, Taufua wasn't able to take his chances, with several error-strewn performances that have seen him lose his spot at the Crusaders to Whetukamokamo Douglas. 

Still an awesome player, but no longer an All Blacks contender.

 

NZ Coach of the Year

RK: Just to continue the Chiefs theme - Colin Cooper.

At the start of the year, an end-of-season review led the Chiefs to trasnfer the defensive responsibilities from Cooper to assistant coach Neil Barnes.

Combine that with having no wins after five weeks, stars Damian McKenzie, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane among a 14-long injury list, and Cooper was under serious pressure.

But Cooper pulled together a team of mostly youngsters and journeymen into a competitive outfit.

Colin Cooper masterminded the Chiefs comeback
Colin Cooper masterminded the Chiefs comeback. Photo credit: AAP

His calm demeanour and confidence that his team would develop was vital, especially with the pressure on him every week at the media conferences.

At first, they just kept their head above the water, then slowly, they started swimming. All of a sudden, they went all Michael Phelps on the Crusaders.

Then, they left the Rebels in their wake. They're swimming very nicely, heading into the playoffs.

JD: Colin Cooper

It's time to let go of the perception that Cooper's a bad coach.

The knives were out for him, after losing the first four games of the season, but even without Damian McKenzie, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick for big chunks of the year, the Chiefs were able to finish seventh.

Cooper deserves a lot of the credit.

OR: Scott Robertson

No contest. Top of the table for the third year in a row.

Yes, there were some mixed performances, but Robertson again showed why he's so highly regarded in New Zealand.

Miles ahead of any other NZ Super Rugby coach.

KE: Easy. Scott Robertson - and no, it's not just because he's the most successful.

Throw in a cancelled match, the Crusaders name change debacle and misdemeanors in South Africa - I've been impressed with how he's handled the season, on and off the field.

AG: Scott Robertson

Who else? 

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