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Experts verdict on Indigo Prem player of the season

Indigo Prem

Ben Roach, Lloyd Lewis, Matt O'Brien and Lee Ree impressed the panel

Long serving Llandovery scrum half Lee Rees has prevented a Newport shut-out from our selected panel of experts who were assigned the task of providing their Indigo Premership player of the season.

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Rees gave his usual sparky performance from the base of the scrum in the Indigo Prem final to give young pretender Che Hope plenty to think about. The former Wales 7s player was a constant menace during a demanding campaign and provided his back-line with plenty of clean ball to plunder tries.

The remaining experts all plumped for Newport players, with captain Ben Roach, Matt O’Brien and Lloyd Lewis all making an impression. Read on to hear their explanations for their choices.

Lee Rees

Lee Rees has had another outstanding season for the Drovers

Rob Cole
Westgate Sports Agency

When is comes to reliability, consistency, drive, determination, and influencing matches and players around him, it is difficult to look past Llandovery scrum half Lee Rees as player of the year in the Indigo Premiership.

Matt O’Brien and Evan Lloyd may have scored more points and orchestrated proceedings brilliantly all season at Newport and Ebbw Vale, but Rees has been the catalyst for so many great moments this season and so many in the past.

Like a fine wine, he has matured with age, those broad shoulders of his seemingly capable of coping with anything thrown at him. He lost only twice in 29 games over the course of the season and ended up with his best return of 11 tries in his 15th season as a Drover.

That took his tally to 84 tries in 347 games for his only club and he now has two league titles and two cup wins to his credit.

A Wales U20 and Sevens international, it is amazing to think the Scarlets never really gave him a second glance.
The region haven’t ignored the talent of one of the most talented teenagers in Wales, Macs Page, who used his 18 games in the Premiership to huge advantage. His two tries in the semi-final win over Cardiff were crucial.

Other youngsters who shone over the course of the season were Ebbw Vale No 8 Owen Conquer, Pontypool scrum half Morgan Lloyd and full back Huw Anderson, Newport centre Harri Ackerman and Swansea’s Harri Houston.

Lloyd Lewis

Lloyd Lewis scores against Pontypool

Simon Latham
Newport RFC photographer

Having photographed no less than 30 matches this season, you obviously get to see a lot of players in action. I mainly spend my time photographing the team I support – Newport RFC.

When thinking about the Premiership player of the season, it’s easy to think of big team players like Matt O’Brien or Ben Roach. These players are always first on the team sheet, and are players you build your team around.

But with players like that you obviously need other players who compliment the way they play – players that can read what is going to happen next – especially when OB has the ball as anything can happen.

Bearing that in mind, my nomination is Lloyd Lewis. He is a player that has a lust for life. With his music talents, concerts, and onscreen activities for S4C, he could easily get caught up in the headlights of fame. He definitely loves the attention, but this never detracts from what he needs to do on the field.

The more I get to know Lloyd, the more I can see his disappointment when things don’t go to plan. He is committed to correcting things the next time he is on the field – it’s personal to him. This has been obvious to me this season.

I think he was a little disappointed last season, with only 12 starts and 10 tries. He was determined to do better this season, and he didn’t disappoint.

Lloyd has the ability to run, and run very fast. He has blistering acceleration and has the strength to complement that speed.

With this and his mindset to be the best he can be, he has been integral to the way Newport have played and performed this season.

His mission this season has been to never give up.

When watching him, he doesn’t decide if he isn’t going to catch someone, and then slow down. He always believes he will catch them and doesn’t slow down.

He has had his fair share of cramp, knocks, and bruises during the season. Despite this, he has driven through the pain barrier to continue his quest to be the best.

One notable time was in the match against Merthyr, as Cole Swannack intercepted in the centre of the field and accelerated towards the try line. Lloyd was on the right wing, had to stop, turn around and chase Cole down, who had a huge head start.

Lloyd never gave up. He caught Cole and prevented a try from being scored. Taking all into consideration, with 17 starts for Newport, and three coming on as a replacement, he amassed 17 tries. In six of those game he scored a brace of tries and helped Newport reach second place in the league.

They were only beaten to the top by the massive team effort from Llandovery. With his skill and determination shown this season, Lloyd Lewis is my man of the season in the Indigo Group Premiership for 2023/24.

Ben Roach

Ben Roach has been a huge influence for Newport this season

Chris Kirwan
South Wales Argus

Newport fell short of the title but had a superb campaign, with captain Ben Roach in the thick of it.

The back row forward started in every Premiership game plus the Premiership Cup defeat at Cardiff and was pivotal to the Black and Ambers’ style.

The 30-year-old has the Wales Sevens pedigree to thrive in an expansive game – and he notched nine tries this season – but also possesses the ability to mix it at close quarters.

He covers an incredible amount of ground with the pace to scramble in defence but physicality to hit hard and often.

Roach & Co up front put the graft in to allow Matt O’Brien to pull the strings for Chay Foster-Smith, Lloyd Lewis, Elliot Frewen to run free.

The number eight leads by deeds and is exactly the sort of player that is needed in the Elite Domestic Competition; he will show total commitment to the Newport badge while also helping the next generations push on to wear Dragons colours regularly.

Roach is a former professional who still wouldn’t look out of place in any of the four regional squads.

Matt O'Brien

Matt O’Brien kicks for goal

Ioan Dyer
Radio GTFM

Congratulations to Llandovery on a superb season, a clean sweep, achieving the treble; topping the Welsh Premiership, winning the play-off final and winning the National Cup, a feat achieved last time by Pontypridd back in 2012/13.

Over the course of the season a number of players deserve special mention in dispatches; Lloyd Lewis of Newport and Tyler Davies of Llandovery for battling it out for top try scorer in the Indigo Prem, surprisingly neither managed to score in the final therefore they finished on 17 league tries this season.

Chris Dicomidis from Pontypridd had an eventful season; he reached 400 caps for Pontypridd and by the end of the year had taken over the head coach role at Sardis Road.

The evergreen Lee Rees continued to impress for Llandovery. His quick thinking and pace certainly kept the Llandovery team on their toes and finally, two up and coming youngsters deserve credit for their performances for Newport. Scrum half Che Hope has been in outstanding form, he reminds me a lot of a certain Mike Phillips, and in the centre, Joe Westwood literally stands out. Not only has he got plenty of power to bust defensive lines, but he`s got tons of gas and is quick on his feet.
However, my player of this season is Matt O’Brien from Newport. He has been in imperious, and at times in inspirational form and has been a massive part of the Newport team throughout the season.

Rugby is a team game and it`s unfair sometimes to highlight individual players, but almost everything Newport does, seems to involve Matt at some point. A quick glance at some stats confirms how good O’Brien  has been all season;

–   He played 22 games this season, out of those 20 Newport have won, and lost just two.
–   He scored six tries, 66 penalties, and a drop goal this season
–   He holds the record for the most points ever scored by a Newport player in one match, 34 points against  Bridgend
–   A total of 200 appearances for Newport
–   A  total points tally of 1326, which is second in the clubs history to Dan Griffiths with his 1551.

With those sort of stats, you’d put good money on O’Brien going on to be Newport`s top points scorer sometime soon – that would be an incredible achievement!
Having watched several of Newport’s games this season, it’s been obvious that they have been willing to attack from anywhere on the park, and O’Brien has certainly made this happen from running the ball from everywhere.

Another element of Newport`s play this season is how ruthless they have been in beating teams. Once a bonus point is won, Newport seems to treat it as a nil all game and carry on scoring tries in order to put even more daylight between both sides, and this has been clear to see right throughout the season. Having spoken to some of the youngsters in the Newport team, playing with and alongside O’Brien has been an invaluable experience which they have thoroughly enjoyed, and crucially taking learnings from every game moving forward.

Ben Roach

Ben Roach breaks clear against Llandovery

Graeme Gillespie
WRU Website manager

Silverware may have eluded him at Church Bank in the Indigo Premiership final, but Ben Roach’s wholehearted performance from the back of the Newport scrum epitomised his entire campaign with the Black & Ambers.

The former Wales 7s player never gives less than 100 per cent and every time he goes into a tackle with the ball, he means business and the opposition will require a blow torch to force him to release the ball.

Newport head coach Ty Morris would be the first to admit he picks Roach for what he delivers on the field but his impact off the field is just as influential. Talk to any of his teammates and they will tell you he says the right things at the right time to get the best out of his players.

He is a switched-on intelligent rugby player with an all court game. Not only is he a handful in attack he plays a major role in the Black & Ambers line-out while his defence is teak tough. For me, there is no question, Ben Roach is easily my player of the Indigo Prem season,

Llandovery’s Adam Warren and Macs Page deserve a mention in despatches – they are at opposite ends of their careers, but both played key roles in the Drovers success this season while Cardiff’s Morgan Allen keeps on keeping on while his second row partner Sean Moore deserves more credit than he normally receives. He has proved a consistent performer for the Blue & Blacks in recent years and again provided coach Steve Law with total commitment to the cause.

Elsewhere Pontypool hooker Sam Scarfe and Newport scrum half Che Hope never looked out of their depth and suggested they both have bright futures at a higher level of the game.





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