Māori stars cap off great Rugby League year with Golden Boots

By James Perry

Joey Manu and Raecene McGregor, and England’s Sebastien Bechara, are the 2022 IRL Golden Boot winners as the Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair international player of the year.

McGregor (Ngāti Whātua) has continued the form that saw her named Dally M NRLW Player of the Year last month into the Rugby League World Cup, helping the Kiwi Ferns reach the final this weekend in Manchester. Manu (Ngāpuhi) was a standout with the Roosters in the NRL and has cemented himself as a world-class fullback with the Kiwis in 2022 including setting a world record of 401 metres gained against Tonga in July.

Manu is the sixth Kiwi to win the award since its inception in 1984, and follows in the footsteps of other Māori players to do so in Hugh McGahan (1987), Stacey Jones (2002) and Benji Marshall (2010).

McGregor is the first New Zealander to be awarded the Women’s Golden Boot, which was introduced in 2018 and won by Jillaroos centre Isabelle Kelly, who passed the honour to team-mate Jessica Sergis the following year.

The Wheelchair Golden Boot was introduced in 2019, with Bechara’s England team-mate Jack Brown being the inaugural winner but due to COVID the award has not been presented for the past two years.

“Joey and Raecene have been standout players for New Zealand this entire year,” said NZRL CEO Greg Peters.
 
“Out of the six Test matches the Kiwis have played, Joey has been MVP of half of those (v Tonga, Lebanon and Fiji) and has been one of our best throughout the World Cup. Raecene was only recently crowned Dally M Player of the Year and to add the best player in the international game to her calibre of awards is outstanding.
 
“Players like Joey and Raecene inspire generations of young Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns coming through at every level. They wear the jersey with pride and play an integral role in our game.
 
“I can’t think of any two more deserving, this is a great day to be a Kiwi and they have both done their countries proud.”

Kiwis Head Coach Michael Maguire says Manu has set the bar high this season.
 
“Joey has a big career in the Kiwi jersey ahead of him. If he keeps going the way he is, I’m sure he will get a few more Golden Boots, along with going down as one of the greats for the Kiwis.”

McGregor’s award caps a stunning year for the Kiwi Ferns halfback, who was uncontracted for the postponed 2021 NRLW season until winning player-of-the match for the Māori All Stars.

After helping Sydney Roosters to the NRLW Premiership early in the year, she was awarded the Dally M Medal as the best player of the 2022 NRLW season.

Kiwi Ferns Head Coach Ricky Henry says McGregor has been an important member of his Kiwi Ferns squad looking for their first Rugby League World Cup title since 2008.
 
“She’s grown in this space not only as a leader but as a playmaker, she’s quality and the best in her position. 
 
“Having her in our campaign has given us a lot of confidence not only with her ability to game manage but how she makes the players around her look good too.