GARETH Ernst joined Merewether Carlton from Singleton this season to improve his chances of playing finals rugby.
He didn’t expect to be awarded the Anderson Medal for the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union’s best and fairest along the way.
Ernst last night became the first No.9 to win the award since his former Singleton mentor Steve Merrick in 2000. Hamilton’s Tom Shannon was joint winner in 2009 but played some of the season at breakaway.
On Saturday Ernst hopes to add an elusive premiership medal to his collection when the Greens take on minor premiers Hamilton in the grand final at No.2 Sportsground.
Before this year, Ernst had played one finals match for Singleton, going down 26-21 to Hamilton in the 2006 elimination semi-final.
He was lured to Merewether by coach and former Bull Stacey Sykes and has proved the perfect replacement for Jay Strachan.
Boasting a bullet pass, good vision and a great rugby brain, Ernst has been a dominant figure at the base of the scrum since scoring a try on debut for the Greens in round one.
When voting went in camera after round 12, Ernst and Southern Beaches No.8 Bleddyn Gant were level on 15 points, two clear of Hamilton breakaway Steve Sione. Lake Macquarie No.8 Junior To’o was a point back.
By round 15, Ernst (19) had edged a point clear of Gant (18) and then stepped it up a gear, claiming maximum points in the last two rounds to finish on 25.
Gant didn’t earn another point and was second on 18, followed by Lake Macquarie captain Cal Menzies (16), To’o (15), Maitland’s Adam Perkins and Sione (both 14).
At last night’s awards dinner at Newcastle Panthers, NSW Country lock Nick Palmer was named the representative player of the year and Cal McDonald the most improved. Danny Maiava was named coach of the year after taking Lake Macquarie from the wooden spoon to a place in the preliminary final.
Veteran referee Mark Eades justified his decision to shelve semi-retirement when he received the Col King Medal for the premier whistleblower.
Hamilton hooker James Dyson took out the Jack Scott Medal for best colts player, Rowan Newton-Smith was named the best in first division and Paul Hughes was top of the pack in second division.