James Tedesco had just received the 2019 NRL Players’ Champion award to go with the Dally M and Wally Lewis medals he'd also won when he set his sights on being crowned the international player of the year, too.
"Hopefully the Golden Boot, as well, is another award I can go for," Tedesco told reporters at the RLPA awards night in Paddington in October.
Yet after Australia’s loss to Tonga at Eden Park three weeks later, Tedesco admitted he hadn’t done enough in his two Test appearances for the Kangaroos.
"I think it’s based on international games, so I don’t think I’ll get it to be honest," Tedesco said.
The Golden Boot is now run by the International Rugby League and was awarded to another superstar fullback, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, for his performances with New Zealand this season.
Tuivasa-Sheck’s return after a 12-month Test absence coincided with a turnaround in fortunes for the Kiwis as they secured a 2-0 series defeat of Great Britain and avenged their 2017 World Cup loss to Tonga to close in on the world’s No.2 ranking.
Even in their loss to Australia at WIN Stadium, the Warriors captain was New Zealand’s best player and he laid on their only try for centre Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
In his four Test for the Kiwis this year, Tuivasa-Sheck carried the ball for 707 metres, produced two try assists, made two line breaks and 17 tackle breaks to confirm his status as one of the best ball runners in the game.
These are comparable to the statistics he has been producing on a regular basis in the NRL since debuting for Sydney Roosters in round 21 of the 2012 Telstra Premiership against Gold Coast.
The Golden Boot has been criticised in some quarters since the IRL changed the criteria so it applies only to international performances, with England winger Tommy Makinson winning the award in 2018.
Critics argue if the Golden Boot was given to the world’s best player, as it had been from the inception of the award by the UK’s Open Rugby magazine in 1994 until Cameron Smith claimed it in 2017, then Tedesco would have won.
However, this columnist was on the five-person panel which awarded the Golden Boot to Tuivasa-Sheck by the narrowest of margins over Tonga prop Siosiua Taukeiaho with Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves third and would feel comfortable with the 26-year-old receiving the honour under any criteria.
While there can be no questioning Tedesco’s achievements this year, an equally strong argument could be mounted for Tuivasa-Sheck if the Golden Boot was awarded for performances across the season as he was again one of the stars of the NRL, as well as at Test level.
Statistics barely separated the pair, with Tuivasa-Sheck and Tedesco ranking No.1 and No.2 in the NRL for running metres and tackle breaks.
Tedesco in focus
There was also little difference when it comes to try assists, while Tedesco (23) made the most line breaks in the NRL last season and Tuivasa-Sheck (14) was 10th.
However, for post-contact metres Tuivasa-Sheck (1271.6m) was seventh overall and Tedesco 25th with 990.2m.
Tedesco’s stunning season earned him the Dally M medal, with Tuivasa-Sheck finishing fifth, and the Players’ Champion award ahead of the Warriors fullback, Brisbane prop Payne Haas, Smith and his Melbourne teammate Cameron Munster.
Besides the Golden Boot trophy as the best international player, Tuivasa-Sheck also won ABC Grandstand’s NRL player of the year award, in which former players and coaches on the broadcaster’s commentary team awarded votes on a 3-2-1 basis after each game.
RTS in focus
Tuivasa-Sheck finished the regular season with 29 votes, four ahead of Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses and seven ahead of third-placed Haas.
Tedesco was 11th on 17 votes behind Roosters teammate Luke Keary, who polled 18 votes.
Perhaps it could be argued Tedesco played in a stronger team so he had to compete with the likes of Keary for accolades but Tuivasa-Sheck supporters could say he needed more individual brilliance to be noticed for the end-of-season awards.
And with the Warriors failing to make the finals, he was often on the losing team.
There is no doubt the pair, along with Manly’s Tom Trbojevic, are the best fullbacks in the game but they possess different qualities.
Tuivasa-Sheck is a leader on and off the field, and was appointed captain of the Warriors in 2017. His ability to make metres every time he touches the ball is influential on any team he represents.
However, Tedesco is a better defender and has excelled with his ability to find a gap around the ruck or running outside the likes of Keary and Cooper Cronk since he joined the Roosters in 2018.
Tuivasa-Sheck won a premiership with the Roosters in 2013 and would have undoubtedly thrived alongside a halves pairing of that calibre if he had not decided to return home to New Zealand in 2016.
In the end, all those points are irrelevant as the Golden Boot is decided solely on international performances and the best Kangaroos players in their win against the Kiwis and loss to Tonga were adjudged to be hooker Damian Cook and Haas.
Tuivasa-Sheck was considered to be the standout player in New Zealand's Tests against Great Britain and among the best whenever he pulled on a Kiwis jersey.
The judging panel described him as "a fullback of rare quality, who is safe under pressure and has a devastating ability to turn defence into attack with brilliant footwork and superb passing skills. He has genuine X-factor, is a game breaker and his running metres have been exceptional."
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.