USA Tomahawks captain Apple Pope says the award given him this week by the Rugby League International Federation is something he wasn’t expecting. Pope was named the Nations’ International Player of the Year for the USA at a gala dinner in London. The award recognizes the achievements of a single player from each of the RLIF’s affiliate nations.
“When I first got the news it really caught me by surprise,” Pope told WeAreRugby. “Being recognized as the nation's top international player for 2011 is such a massive honor.”
The USA capped off an arduous season by clinching the Atlantic Zone seed for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup after winning out during the qualifying series in October. Their winning efforts have put the Tomahawks into Group D alongside co-hosts Wales and the Cook Islands. For Pope personally, 2011 has been a remarkable year. He captained the national team in all five of its international matches and has now skippered the side eight straight times since first leading the US against Canada in 2010. The Tomahawks finished the season with a 3-2 record. Their two losses were against Ireland last spring and Canada in September.
“There have been some difficult times for both myself and for the Tomahawks as a team in 2011,” Pope said. “So to see us come out of these difficulties on top with a World Cup berth and myself coming away with such a prestigious award is truly a great feeling. “I couldn’t be happier with where we are as a team and I am very grateful for this honor.”