Ahead of next week's end-of-season award ceremony hosted by the Sale Sharks Supporters club, now is as good a time as any to step back from Sale's arduous late season run-in and assess which members of the Sharks' 2015/16 squad warrant individual recognition for their efforts over the last eight months.
NB: The accolades discussed in this article will only reflect the awards on offer at the Supporters Club's event on April 26th. A more extensive assortment of prizes and analysis will follow once the season officially concludes in May.
Player of the Year: Tommy Taylor
A bittersweet choice considering his impending departure to Premiership rivals Wasps but to select anybody other than Sale's 24-year-old hooker for the player of the season gong would be resentment in its ugliest form.
The most able and consistent performer at his position in the entire Premiership this season, Taylor was bizarrely overlooked for Eddie Jones' first England squad during the 2016 Six Nations but nevertheless was still able to complete his transition from a young domestic stalwart to an internationally-recognised hooker following a fully-deserved call up to the EPS for the last round of the tournament.
The architect of Sale's league-leading set piece this season (both scrum and lineout), numerous column inches have been written applauding Taylor as the best striking hooker in the league whilst his metronomic throwing accuracy has also garnered him further attention from around the country. Furthermore, Taylor's devastating impact in the loose as a mobile and intelligent ball-carrier and an increasing commitment to jackaling at the breakdown has ensured there are no areas on the pitch that the ex-Macclesfield hooker/flanker cannot influence. Taylor has become a bona fide star player this season for Sale by any definition and therefore deserves to be crowned their all-round best performer.
Best New Player: Bryn Evans
When it was announced last year that fan favourite Michael Paterson would become the latest in the long line of talented players opting to leave Sale in search of greener pastures, an (at the time) seemingly irreplaceable hole was created in the centre of Sale's pack.
Less than nine months later, Bryn Evans may have already exceeded his Kiwi countryman's (immense) contribution to the Sale Sharks.
Nev Edwards is a wonderful story, Sam James has burst onto the scene in impressive fashion and Peter Stringer has delivered far more than what was expected of him upon signing with Sale, but the impact Evans has had, not only in replacing Paterson (and Nathan Hines), but in helping the aforementioned Tommy Taylor craft the most efficient set-piece in the Premiership whilst leading the shallowest area in the Sharks squad (lock) with an average playing time of 79 minutes a game is simply unbeatable. One of the signings of the season across the entire league.
Outstanding Contribution to the Club: Vadim Cobilas
What more can be said about what Vadim Cobilas has done for Sale Sharks?
Going into last season as the only tighthead prop with Premiership experience in the entire
squad, Vadim has been the cornerstone of the indomitable pack assembled by Steve Diamond ever since signing his first professional contract with the club back in 2011.
Arguably the most glaring example of Diamond's perspicacious knowledge of how to craft a pack of forwards, over five years Cobilas has been transformed from an completely unknown quantity of Moldovan rugby into one of the most effective props in the entire Northern Hemisphere all whilst spending huge chunks of his Sale career without any form of relief by way of a backup prop.
Not only has Cobilas been the most consistent tighthead in the Premiership for over three seasons now, the fact he forged this reputation playing close to 80 minutes each week is simply unparalleled in modern rugby. A cult hero at Sale, Vadim's decision to join Bordeaux in the summer was hugely disappointing but completely understandable; his legend will forever be remembered amongst the Sharks' faithful .
Unsung Hero: Mike Haley
As much as I wanted to also hand this award to Bryn Evans, I felt Mike Haley's achievements had to be recognised in some form.
In the space of one season, Haley - who is still only 21-years-old - has gone from the talented but error-prone fullback who burst into the Sale first team last season into one of the most consistent but exciting and dangerous players Sale can field on any given week.
Now a far more assured and confident kicker who has also learned to protect the ball (and himself) more effectively in contact, Haley's ability to cover the space behind the defensive line, hoist up attainable up-and-unders for his teammates and bring the ball back from deep to set up the next wave of Sale attack are all skills that are often taken for granted when watching the most talented of 15s, but Haley's poise and astute decision-making which has remained undeviating week-to-week this season must be applauded.
Similar to Cobilas in 2014-15, the fact that Haley has performed so dependably with a multitude of full 80 minute performances without having a recognised backup behind him is a testament to his importance to the club, yet it is one that isn't appreciated nearly enough.
A trip to South Africa with the England Saxons surely beckons.
Hall of Fame: Dan Braid
Perhaps the greatest captain Sale Sharks have had in the professional era but undeniably the catalyst for Sale's miraculous escape from relegation during the dark days of the 2012-13 season, Dan Braid is an indisputable choice for induction into the Sharks' Hall of Fame.
A club legend forged in less than four seasons through unwavering leadership and rolling maul prowess, Braid's decision to join up with the Sharks' coaching staff for next season and beyond is one that will pay huge dividends for the club for years to come.
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