When St Helens’ Tommy Makinson won rugby league’s Golden Boot award this week, opinion was certainly very split. Some were delighted for the England winger while some – mostly Australian – weren’t exactly congratulatory of Makinson receiving the accolade.
New South Wales legend and head coach Brad Fittler mocked the choice of the 27-year-old as the winner of the award, saying that “I can’t believe the best player in the world is a person I’ve never seen play.” Indeed, news sources Down Under have described Makinson as “a little known Englishman”, which seems remarkably unfair for a player who has impressed in Super League in recent years. Perhaps Fittler should pay attention to rugby league globally to ensure he is aware of the best talent in the northern hemisphere and, while he is entitled to his opinion that the choice belittles the integrity of the award, the figurehead of such an iconic team – the New South Wales blues – shouldn’t be so dismissive of the choice or other players.
Indeed, Fittler himself won the award in 2000 – but that was when the award was presented under different criteria.
Prior to the Rugby League International Federation purchasing the award ahead of 2017, the accolade – the only dual-hemisphere award in the sport – was presented to the player viewed as the best in the world, encompassing all performances throughout the year – both at club and international level. Johnathan Thurston, Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer are just three iconic legends to have been presented the award under those criteria.
This year’s award, however, is the first to have been issued under the new standards and, with those being to take solely international performances into account, Makinson is certainly worthy of the award. After making his international debut for Wayne Bennett’s England team in the June test in Denver against the Kiwis – a debut which was long overdue in the opinion of many – he has proceeded to score a match-winning hat-trick to seal England’s series triumph over New Zealand.
While Makinson has fairly won the award after beating competition from James Tedesco – who, despite starring for both New South Wales and Sydney Roosters after winning State of Origin and the NRL, only made his international debut last month – Elliott Whitehead and New Zealand’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, the views of icons like Fittler suggest a new award should be issued.
Instead of creating a new award, the RLIF purchased the Golden Boot from Rugby League World and changed the criteria – something many, perhaps including those in the game – were unaware of until this week. So, why not have two awards? Surely it would make sense for there to be an award for the best international player of the year but also having an award for the best player in the world is vital for the sport.
Recognising the qualities and impact of players like Makinson and his England showings in 2018 is huge. After all, Tedesco has barely played international rugby before last month – regardless of how good a player he is – and Watene-Zelezniak couldn’t really compete with Makinson in terms of impact, especially this autumn. Nevertheless, a sport like rugby league – like in union and in football – really must have an accolade which celebrates the best player in the world over a given year, one which encompasses every single match of rugby league.