How Makinson beat big names to claim Golden Boot

After Tommy Makinson's three-try man-of-the-match performance in England's series clinching 20-14 defeat of New Zealand at Anfield last weekend, Wayne Bennett asked journalists: "Where have you been hiding him?"

Many NRL fans are probably asking the same question after the 26-year-old St Helens winger was presented with the 2018 RLIF Golden Boot award at Elland Road in Leeds on Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEDT).

Makinson edged out New Zealand captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Australian fullback James Tedesco and England teammate Elliott Whitehead – all of whom play in the NRL – to become the first winger to win the prestigious award.

In doing so, he also became the first English player afforded the honour since Kevin Sinfield in 2012 and just the fifth after previous winners Ellery Hanley (1988), Garry Schofield (1990), Andy Farrell (2004).

NSW coach Brad Fittler summed up the view of many Australians when he said: "I can't believe the best player in the world is a person I've never seen play".

Fittler said Tedesco should have won the award after his efforts for the Blues this season but State of Origin form is not taken into consideration for the Golden Boot as only Australian players are eligible. 

With the RLIF deciding the Golden Boot should be awarded to the player deemed to have had the greatest impact at international level from last December's World Cup final to last weekend's second England-New Zealand Test, Dally M winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and 2018 Man of Steel Ben Barba were ruled out.

Given that Barba also played for St Helens this year, some may argue Makinson isn't even the best player at his club and he is only in the England team because of the season-ending knee injury suffered by Sydney Roosters recruit Ryan Hall.

Yet Makinson has made the most of every opportunity and impressed on debut in June's Denver Test against the Kiwis by scoring a try, setting up another for Whitehead and running 112 metres in seven second-half carries of the ball after starting on the interchange.

Some of those same English journalists Bennett quizzed about Makinson after his stunning second Test performance had argued hard a week earlier to convince other members of the Golden Boot judging panel that he should be included on the long list of 10 players.

After his starring role in Liverpool, which included three try-saving tackles as well as a three-try haul, other judges were relieved they had been so persuasive.

Tedesco was the only survivor from on an initial long list of five Australian and Tonga players chosen once their international commitments had concluded to make the final short list.

The other players selected after the October 20 Test in Auckland were Kangaroos captain Boyd Cordner, winger Valentine Holmes and Tonga forwards Jason Taumalolo and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.

The judging panel of international media again consulted after the first England-New Zealand Test and added Watene-Zelezniak, Kiwis teammate Shaun Johnson and the English trio of Makinson, Whitehead and Canberra-bound second-rower John Bateman to the long list.

Further debate by the judges after last weekend's second Test decided on the four-man short list, from which Makinson was later chosen by an overwhelming vote as the winner.

In the series opener, Makinson ran 107 metres with the ball, made six tackle breaks, a line break and a try assist to earn his nomination alongside Kangaroos pair Boyd Cordner and Valentine Holmes, Kiwis playmaker Shaun Johnson and Tonga stars Jason Taumalolo and Siosiua Taukeaiho.

At Anfield, Makinson took his game to new heights as he crossed for tries in the 38th, 57th and 74th minutes, while carrying the ball 156 metres from 15 runs, including some tough carries near his own line, while making three line breaks and six tackle breaks.

In doing so, he made a compelling case not only for inclusion on the short list alongside Whitehead - who was man of the match in Denver and the first Test against the Kiwis at Hull - but to win the award which was first presented to Wally Lewis in 1984 and last year went to Cameron Smith.

Watene-Zelezniak has revelled as fullback and captain for New Zealand this year but he was on the losing team in three Tests against England, while leading the Kiwis to an 18-16 defeat of Australia last month.

That Test marked Tedesco's debut for the Kangaroos and while he was man of the match against Tonga a week later, the NSW and Sydney Roosters player of the year has not played enough at international level to claim the Golden Boot ahead of Makinson.    

The award caps a stunning rise for a player who was denied earlier representative honours due to injury.

After breaking his ankle in 2015, Makinson's 2016 season was ended by an anterior cruciate ligament rupture but he made a successful return last year and was recently named in the 2018 Super League Dream Team.

While Bennett wondered where had been hiding, Makinson is now in full sight and will undoubtedly attract attention from NRL clubs, despite signing with St Helens until the end of the 2021 season.

 

Brad Walter was part of the panel also comprising BBC commentator Dave Woods, renowned journalist Steve Mascord, film maker and Pacific specialist Joanna Lester and League Express managing editor Martyn Sadler.