2023 Golden Boot winners announced as Wigan Warriors ace loses out to history-making Kiwi star

Ben Olawumi
James Fisher-Harris, Georgia Hale, Jérémy Bourson

James Fisher-Harris (left), Georgia Hale (centre) & Jérémy Bourson (right) were the respective winners of the 2023 IRL Golden Boot awards - Alamy

England ace Harry Smith lost out to New Zealand star James Fisher-Harris for the 2023 IRL Golden Boot award, with Georgia Hale and Jérémy Bourson also crowned the best international players of the year.

Awarded annually, the accolade recognises the best player in sanctioned international matches each year. The wait for a men’s player from England to lift the award goes on, with the last being St Helens winger Tommy Makinson in 2018.

Half-back Smith was up against Fisher-Harris, his Kiwis team-mate Joseph Tapine and Australia ace Payne Haas. Having been crowned an NRL champion with Penrith Panthers, Fisher-Harris picked up a Pacific Cup winners’ medal having helped lead New Zealand to a 30-0 triumph over the Kangaroos in the inaugural final of the tournament.

The 27-year-old becomes the first prop to win the Golden Boot since the award’s inception in 1984, and was presented the honour by two-time World Cup winner Brad Fittler, who recently departed his role as the head coach of New South Wales.

A quintet of Adam Blair, James Graham, Darren Lockyer, Adrian Morley and Ruben Wiki were on the panel choosing between the four nominees, with those five amongst just nine players in the history of the game to have played more than 50 internationals for their respective countries.

2023 Golden Boot winners announced as Wigan Warriors ace Harry Smith loses out to history-making Kiwis star James Fisher-Harris

In addition to the men’s Golden Boot, one has been awarded to the best performing in the women’s game and one to the best performing in the wheelchair game since 2018 and 2019 respectively.

New Zealand’s Hale is the first forward to win the women’s award, chosen by a panel of Jillaroos great Karyn Murphy, Kiwi dual-code ace Honey Hireme-Smiler and former England prop turned commentator Danika Priim.

At club level, Hale began the year in Super League with Leeds Rhinos before making the move back Down Under to the NRLW, helping to guide the Gold Coast Titans to their first-ever Grand Final triumph.

On the international stage, she led the Kiwi Ferns to a first win against the Jillaroos since 2016, and continues New Zealand’s stranglehold on the award. Due to the impact of COVID, it wasn’t handed out in either 2020 or 2021, with the Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns now tied on two apiece in the women’s game, as Hale follows up Raecene McGregor’s success last year.

France international Bourson meanwhile pipped England’s Lewis King to to the wheelchair award following two international clashes between the 2022 World Cup finalists, with each triumphing in the other’s backyard.

The Catalans Dragons ace was chosen by a four-strong panel of Malcolm Kielty (England) and Robert Fassolette (France), the two key figures in establishing the sport, along with another driving force in the game’s development in Martin Coyd, and long -serving administrator Niel Wood.

International Rugby League chief congratulates 2023 Golden Boot winners James Fisher-Harris, Georgia Hale and Jérémy Bourson

International Rugby League Chair Troy Grant gave an exclusive interview to Love Rugby League last month about the success of the inaugural Pacific Championships Down Under, delivering a warning shot to the Northern Hemisphere to advance its progress on the international stage sooner rather than later.

Grant lauded the three winners of the Golden Boot in 2023, saying: “You only need to hear from their coaches and team-mates to know that James, Georgia and Jérémy are deserved winners of the Golden Boot and worthy of having their names alongside some of the greats of our game.

“Each played a significant role in the achievements of their team at international level this season, in which all three of last year’s World Cup winners were beaten, and they have now created personal history.

“On behalf of the IRL Board, I would like to congratulate the winners, all of the players who were nominated and the members of the judging panels whose status and achievements in the game ensure the Golden Boot remains one of the most prestigious awards in Rugby League.”

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