2012 Steinlager Awards - Kelvin Tremain Player of the Year nominees

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James Mortimer     14 Dec 2012     Getty Images

Tremain, originally a lock before converting to a flanker, is whispered around knowledgeable rugby circles as perhaps the only All Blacks forward throughout the 1960s that could have challenged Colin Meads as the pack member of the decade.

The Hawke’s Bay legend was also regarded as a try scoring machine, scoring a mammoth 136 tries in 268 first class matches, a record that stood unchallenged for decades until Zinzan Brooke broke the famous mark before the turn of the century.

The former chairman of the Hawke’s Bay union and member of the New Zealand Rugby Union Council passed away at the tender age of 54, having played 38 Tests for the All Blacks.

The Kelvin Robin Tremain Memorial award is named in honour of All Black number 604, celebrating New Zealand Rugby’s best player.

The reigning Player of the Year is Jerome Kaino, and it would not be a surprise if the former All Blacks enforcer passes on his crown to one of his former back row colleagues.

The first nominee is All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

McCaw could have been excused for having a quieter year by his lofty standards, having led the All Blacks to World Cup success in 2011, while playing on one foot and becoming the first New Zealand player to reach the elusive century of Test matches.

That number, normally reserved for cricket, was again brought up by McCaw this season as he became the first player in history to record 100 Test victories.

In the process McCaw led the All Blacks to a 3-0 Steinlager Series win over Ireland, a whitewash of The Investec Rugby Championship, the retention of the Bledisloe Cup, and an overall 12-1-1 ledger for the season.

As a consequence, the All Blacks not only shook the monkey turned gorilla off their backs in terms of World Cup success, but hustled the elephant out of the room as well as they fulfilled perhaps their most important adjective for the season.

Do the tag of World Champions proud.

However for all of McCaw’s brilliance while playing 13 Test matches, no captain can function without capable lieutenants, and the All Blacks and the general public witnessed the continued evolution of perhaps the next New Zealand Test skipper – Kieran Read.

Now recognised in most circles as the best number eight in the game, Read’s highest honour this year was receiving the captain’s armband against Italy, captaining the All Blacks in McCaw’s absence.

While McCaw looked to reinvent himself as a link man and a ball carrier, Read continued to not only perform the numerous roles of an eightman, but was often seen creating chaos around the ruck, either with his uncompromising defence or uncanny knack to read play before it occurred.

Read’s leadership in Rome seemed natural to a man groomed in the Crusaders environment, not just by McCaw, but by another former All Blacks and Crusaders captain in current coach Todd Blackadder.

"I think the great leaders are the ones that don't work on it too hard, they just let it come," Read said.

"I've definitely got my own style of how I lead. I like the team to know exactly where they're going and are all on the same page. There's ways you can improve."

"I've got to get my performance right and the guys will follow. You can lead with your words after that,” the 2010 winner of the Kel Tremain Award said.

That philosophy is very much evident in the way that our final nominee goes about his business, with Conrad Smith the unassuming general who, like his fellow nominees, is perhaps the leading candidate to take up his position in an elite World XV.

Smith’s presence was felt before the All Blacks donned their jerseys for the first time in 2012, taking what some might have believed was a poisoned chalice, with the centre accepting the Hurricanes captaincy after the Wellington based franchise had been challenged on and off the field the previous season.

But the Hurricanes made a mockery of early predictions of a lower table finish, unleashing an astonishing attacking game that was even more remarkable for the fact that rarely did the team have any statistical ascendency in their contests.

And at the eye of the wild storm, was captain Conrad, whose game appeared to grow to another level with the added responsibility of leading the team.

Smith’s reliability was further proven when he donned the Black jersey, and despite playing with ostentatious midfielders of the likes of Sonny Bill and Ma’a Nonu – it was often the centre who was the conductor who allowed the All Blacks heavy infantry to run riot.

Perhaps the greatest indication of Smith’s immense importance to the All Blacks is the growing cacophony that laments lack of backup options behind a man that is pushing his claims to be one of the all-time greats.

There may not be automatic replacements for Smith, or the back row pillars of McCaw and Read, but tongiht is not who may be next in line - The Steinlager Awards and the Kelvin Tremain award are about celebrating the achievements this year of some very special All Blacks.

May the best man win…