CASTLEFORD Tigers rookie Daryl Clark has become only the third man in history to win the prestigious Steve Prescott Man of Steel award and Super League Young Player of the Year in the same season.
The brilliant hooker, who is set to earn his England debut on the Four Nations later this month, completed the remarkable double during the competition’s gala dinner at Old Trafford Cricket Ground on Wednesday night in Manchester.
It was a terrific evening for his club with Daryl Powell also named Coach of the Year after guiding Castleford to a first Challenge Cup final in more than 20 years and a best-ever Super League finish.
Clark, 21, beat off competition from Leeds Rhinos legend Jamie Peacock, St Helens and England hooker James Roby and Warrington Wolves prop Chris Hill to take the Man of Steel as the league’s most valuable player.
It is the first year it has been named in honour of Prescott, the ex-St Helens, Hull FC and England full-back who died aged just 39 last November after raising almost half-a-million pound for charity while battling a rare form of stomach cancer.
Super League players each had a vote and the decision was then ratified by a specially-convened panel including a past Man of Steel, representatives of the players’ union and a member of the written and broadcast media.
Clark follows only dashing three-quarter Joe Lydon – with Widnes in 1984 – and another hooker – David Ward, who won the inaugural Man of Steel while at Leeds in 1977 – in taking both awards in the same campaign.
With scintillating, pacey breaks, amazing footwork and general gamebreaking skills, Clark has been central to Castleford’s superb year.
He bust almost 100 tackles, made nearly 3,000m averaging more than 10m every time he took possession, scored 13 league tries and created another 10.
Yet the statistics alone do not tell the whole story; crowds were simply on the edge of their seats whenever he had the ball.
Powell, meanwhile, left Championship outfit Featherstone Rovers to take over his hometown club in May last year after they had fallen to the bottom of Super League under predecessor Ian Millward. However, instilling real belief and values in his squad, which he assembled with some judicious recruitment for 2014, he has managed to turn them into a team that proved far greater than the sum of its parts.
Not only did they reach Wembley, where they lost out to Leeds, they also came within just 80 minutes of finishing top for the first time in their 88-year history.
Admittedly, their play-offs exit was a disappointment but, thankfully, those setbacks did not cloud judgements when it came to handing out the awards.
Leeds’ Luke Sutcliffe and Wigan’s Dan Sarginson were also shortlisted for the Young Player of the Year but, given Clark’s pedigree, never truly stood a chance when the RFL Performance Department, in consultation with the clubs, decreed that winner.
Warrington Wolves have paid £185,000 – one of the sport’s biggest transfer fees – to take the Castlefordian on a four-year deal starting next month.
However, frankly, as he emulates ex-Tigers team-mate Rangi Chase (2011) in winning this coveted award, it looks a snip.
Ex-Leeds Rhinos hooker Matt Diskin, Hull FC’s Richard Horne, Hull KR’s David Hodgson and Willie Manu were among those players given outstanding achievement awards for retiring with more than 200 Super League appearances.