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Hugo Crush named double player of the season as Highland Rugby Club hand out end-of-year awards for 2023/24 season

By Andrew Henderson

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Highland Rugby Club have handed out their end-of-season prizes for the 2023/24 campaign.

Across four teams – three men’s sides and one women’s – there were a number of accolades to hand out to recognise the star performers at the club over the last year.

In the men’s third team, known as the Sea Eagles, Neori Vakacokaivalu was named the most improved player, with coach Dougie Kellock commenting: “There seems to be no pictures of (Neori) in action as nobody is taking photos – they are just staring in disbelief as you tear up the pitch with another lung bursting run.

“Neori is often the first on the teamsheet, and someone who leads by example both on and off the field with a perfect attitude throughout, a worthy winner of this award.”

Highland Rugby Club recently held their end-of-season awards. Picture: James Mackenzie
Highland Rugby Club recently held their end-of-season awards. Picture: James Mackenzie

Angus Wilson was voted the Sea Eagles’ players’ player of the year, with his teammates saying Wilson brought “real aggression to the game, with a love of the hard work in contact on both sides of the ball, especially bringing a lot of physicality to our defence.”

The coaches’ player of the year was Fergus Riach, with Kellock saying: “It was obvious from day one of pre-season that he’s a highly talented individual. He’s blessed with some serious pace and game intelligence well beyond his years.

“He’s fearless and has amazing confidence considering he’s just progressed from the under-18s. He made his debut at full back and was clearly a classy operator, but then due to injuries played at nine and 10 showing versatility, game management, and a willingness to play where required.”

The men’s second team, known as the Raptors, had Tom Reid as the most improved player. Departing Raptors coach Blair Lockwood said: “Tom bounced around between the third XV and second XV – making the most of getting as much game time as possible.

“As the season progressed Tom was a shoe in in the Raptors front row because of his improved scrummaging, strong carries and big shots in defence.”

There the players’ player of the year was voted as Ross Gibson, with Lockwood adding: “Ross has been a key part of the Raptors’ success this year. The man in the centre has covered multiple positions in the midfield improving in many areas.

“Ross is a very skilled player and has shown a great mindset in his playing which was rewarded with a first XV debut. Always reliable under pressure, he slotted a memorable, winning penalty against Dundee.”

The coaches’ voted Raptors player of the year was Liam Quinn. Lockwood explained: “Captain Liam Quinn has been a stalwart on the pitch for the Raptors this season. He has led from the front and been a great role model to a young pack.

“Quinny never shies away from the dirty and unseen work while still leaving a bit in the tank for some flare when required.”

From the women’s team, Lauren Parkes was named the side’s most improved player. There, coach Brian Crush said: “Lauren Parkes has been with us from day one. This season, due to injury, we asked her to take on the pivotal role of stand-off.

It was an excellent first season of competitive rugby for Highland RFC's women. Picture: Owen Cochrane
It was an excellent first season of competitive rugby for Highland RFC's women. Picture: Owen Cochrane

“From calling our plays to tactical kicking, she has exceled. Combined with her solid defence, Lauren has definitely stepped up a gear this season.”

The players’ voted Louise Mason as their player of the year, with Crush adding: “Louise joined us at the start of this season and immediately made an impression. From her hard ball carrying and uncompromising attitude on the pitch, she has become a formidable player.

“Off the pitch, she is a popular character. I don’t think you could find anyone who loves the team and the game as much as Louise – that’s infectious – so it was no surprise that she polled the most votes from players.”

Coaches, on the other hand, could not pick between two players for their player of the year. Amy Brown was one of them, with Crush explaining: “Amy Brown has been our captain since we formed two seasons ago. She has worked extremely hard on her skills and understanding of the game, whilst also helping team mates with their game.

“Being such a great communicator on and off the pitch has helped everyone. Amy keeps everyone informed about upcoming games and events.

“As our captain she has led us to winning the Caledonia Region League Division Two title and promotion to Division One in our first season in the competition.”

The other player to share the prize with Brown was Amy Rennie, about whom Crush said: “Amy has been a consistent performer this season. Always getting over the gain line with her strong runs.

“Her accurate throws at the line-out open's up attack options. As a more experienced player, she leads by example on the pitch driving up the standards.”

In the men’s first team, it was Rory Mighton who was named most improved, with coach Brian Bell saying: "Last season Rory was still a raw prospect. This season he has definitely kicked on, with good improvement in his fitness and strength.

“He definitely adds more power to the scrum than before. He's working harder in the loose making the hard yards, and does his bit defensively. We're sure there's more to come from Rory."

The same player was picked by his teammates and coaches to be player of the year, with Hugo Crush doubling up on the prizes.

Hugo Crush in full flow against Ayr. Picture: Callum Mackay
Hugo Crush in full flow against Ayr. Picture: Callum Mackay

Fellow half back Scott Fraser said: “Crushy has been outstanding from start to finish this season. Top try scorer for us in the league, a real live wire constantly causing trouble for defences."

Backs’ coach Junior Bulumakau added: "Crushy has lead us from the front this year starting with the work done pre-season. He trains really well, always leading by example, and encouraging everyone around him.

“His form saw tries being scored through his own breaks, lung busting support runs, as well as quick reactions to opposition mistakes – and he works hard in defence with several impressive cover tackles.

“He kept this up all season, and in post season at sevens tournaments in Kirkcaldy, Musselburgh, Jed-Forest and Perth."

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