"He was my light."
With those words, Broncos prop Payne Haas gave a moving tribute to his late brother Chace, who died in August at the age of just 21, as he spoke on stage after winning the club's player of the year award jointly with Pat Carrigan.
The duo carried the side’s misfiring pack on the back of their young shoulders in a year where Haas experienced the grief of losing a dear loved one.
The 20-year-old Haas, in just his second full season of NRL as a starting prop, won the prestigious Paul Morgan Medal for the second year in a row, only this time in conjunction with Carrigan.
Haas and Carrigan also took out the players’ player award jointly. Haas won the best forward gong and Carrigan claimed the most consistent player of the year award.
There was a moving moment when the duo received their medals from three-time Paul Morgan Medal winner Corey Parker at the Broncos' presentation awards breakfast on Wednesday morning.
Haas spoke of his inspirational brother and then Carrigan said he had been playing for Haas and his family at the end of what was a difficult season for the club.
"It means a lot. Patty knows what I think of him. I tell him every week. He is a special person," Haas said.
"This year was tough. People know how special my brother is to me and how much he meant to me.
"It was pretty hard to get up for games but I knew I wanted to turn up for the boys and finish off the year.
"Patty is one of my best mates and to win two prestigious awards together is special."
Carrigan said he was "very privileged to be wearing this medal because there are a lot of greats that have worn it for the club".
"I am proud in that essence but I feel a bit embarrassed to be sharing it with Payno because of everything he went through at the back end of the year and with the games he missed. I think he is probably the true winner," Carrigan said.
"Payne is one of my best mates. We came through the grades together and this year we became closer. I really tried to play for him and his family at the back end of the year."
The two tyros were honoured for their superb personal achievements, which was counterbalanced by the stark reality and embarrassment of an inaugural wooden spoon winning season for the glamour club of the NRL.
Haas predicted better days ahead under new coach Kevin Walters.
"I don’t play for accolades or awards. I want to win. We failed to do that this year and I know next year it is going to be different," Haas said.
Haas and Carrigan finished the season with 101 player of the year points in a judging system involving the players and coach, with centre Kotoni Staggs a distant third on 34 points.
Haas, named in the NSW Blues squad for this year’s State of Origin series, played the full 80 minutes in nine of his 17 first-grade games this season, averaging 175 metres and 44 tackles.
With Matt Lodge injured for most of the season and Tevita Pangai jnr suspended for much of it, the slack was picked up by Haas and Carrigan.
Haas on the spot to score the opener
Carrigan had the added responsibility of being made stand-in captain for the majority of the year in the absence of injured skipper Alex Glenn, a role the 22-year-old lock filled admirably.
The Maroons hopeful churned out an average 156 metres and 46 tackles in 19 games.
The statistics read well, but both Haas and Carrigan played with a desire to do the famous Brisbane jersey proud. They both felt the pain of losses deeply.
Staggs, who suffered an ACL rupture in the final game of the season, was named the best back while England’s 2021 World Cup squad member Herbie Farnworth was rookie of the year.
Staggs forced from field with suspected ACL injury
Staggs said he would undergo surgery next week and was targeting a round-13 return next year after a nine-month recovery.
"I get surgery next week and hopefully it goes good and I can get back in to rehab and come back as quick as I can," Staggs said.
“It swelled up pretty bad and it is slowly going down.
"I have been icing it but speaking to the doctor the other day he said that the swelling mainly takes two weeks and he will get me straight in when it all goes down.
"I didn’t want the year to end like that. I knew straight away when I did it. I heard it pop out and I knew I wasn’t getting up in a hurry," Staggs added as he spoke of his disappointment.
“I was playing consistent footy and looking towards that Blues jersey so it was devastating when I went down.
"There is always next year and that is going to make me work even harder next year."