Chris Wilson July 27, 2012
Christian Lealiifano of the Brumbies was second in the Australian player of the year award. Photo: Mark Nolan
He was almost crowned Super Rugby's Australian player of the year despite a midseason injury breakdown, but playmaker Christian Lealiifano says it would be ''selfish'' to think he could have led the ACT Brumbies into this year's finals.
The Brumbies have again been pipped at the post by the Queensland Reds, Ewen McKenzie named yesterday Australia's coach of the year ahead of Brumbies mentor Jake White, and Reds scrumhalf Will Genia named player of the year ahead of Lealiifano.
It took a man-of-the-match performance from Genia in the final round of the season to give him the three votes required to snatch a one-vote win over Lealiifano, Scott Higginbotham (Reds) and David Pocock (Western Force).
Lealiifano played just 800 minutes compared to Genia's 1360 minutes this season, his year cruelly ended in round 11 when he broke and dislocated his ankle after the siren in a win over the NSW Waratahs.
But the 24-year-old's form had been so dominant until that point that he had led player of the year voting by four votes from his nearest Australian rival, and nine votes ahead of the eventual winner, Genia.
Lealiifano collected votes as one of the best three Australian players on the field in eight of his 10 appearances this season.
The Brumbies held a big lead in the Australian conference at the time, only to be overcome by a revived Reds team in the final round.
Lealiifano said it would be unfair to speculate whether his injury had changed his team's fortune.
''The first few games I found it very hard to watch because you miss it so much and you want to be a part of it … you want to be playing your role in the team's success,'' Lealiifano said.
''It's pretty selfish to think you would have made a difference or you want to be out there to do it all.''
Lealiifano said Genia was a deserved winner of the player of the year award.
''He's won it two years in a row and it just shows the player he is,'' Lealiifano said.
''It's good to get recognised and be noticed, but that's taking nothing away from Will Genia. He played well the whole season and he's the star of the show. He's a star at the Wallabies and he's doing some big things at the Reds, I was just the bloke that finished there second.''
Lealiifano has already begun working to try and improve again next year.
He is back in the gym, despite still having his left shoulder in a sling and having just removed a rehabilitation boot from his right ankle. He's hoping to be fit for the start of pre-season in October.
''You go through a lot of mixed feelings and emotions when something like that [injury] happens to you,'' he said.
''Your confidence does take a dent, but I think I'm over that stage now and ready to bounce back better than what I was this season.
''If I can replicate the training I've done this season, or even better than what I've done this season, then I'll only be better for it and so will the squad.
''We've got a bit of time to reassess now and work towards that main goal [the championship] that hopefully we can contest for next year.''
Genia, meanwhile, said all of the other highly-placed contenders were probably more deserving of the player of the year title, his second award in an effort only previously achieved by flanker George Smith and fullback Chris Latham.
''For me in particular, Scott Higginbotham can be disappointed to have not received the award,'' Genia said. ''I really do think he was exceptional for us and I think the biggest thing he has gained in his game is just that consistency week in week out of playing well.''
■ WALLABIES scrumhalf Will Genia has credited his Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year award to ignoring a lucrative offer from the Force and instead staying with the Reds.
Midway during the Super Rugby season, Genia had decided to move to the Force next season, but overnight had a change of mind, opting to finally stick with the Reds. While this U-turn infuriated the Force, it had the desired effect of reviving Genia, whose was appreciably out of form in the opening rounds of this year's tournament.
Genia said that personal contentment was important in his form revival. Deciding to re-sign with the Reds ''made a massive difference''.
''Looking back at that time, it was very stressful and it took my concentration away from playing well for Queensland. I was worrying about other things,'' Genia said when receiving the award.
''Once I had that stability and knew where I was going to be, I could concentrate on performing, and doing my job for the team. It was no coincidence that I then started to be a bit more consistent with my performances.''