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In the New Zealand Rugby Players Association annual awards, Vahaakolo was named best young player of the year.
He beat Auckland winger AJ Lam, Taranaki lock Josh Lord, Waikato halfback Xavier Roe and Auckland fullback Zarn Sullivan to win the award.
Vahaakolo (23) came south from Auckland in the middle of the year and then trained for about a month with the Highlanders. He impressed for Dunedin in the club competition and was named the most promising player in the club’s awards.
Vahaakolo went on to play well on the wing for Otago, in his first season at the top level, scoring plenty of tries as Otago had a promising season before everything went up in flames as it crashed out in the semifinals.
The nippy winger has a good back story, having been raised on the streets and not taking up rugby until his later years at high school.
He is a qualified accountant, completing his course in under three years.
Other award winners included All Black captain Sam Cane, who was voted player of the year, in a repeat of the honour he received at the New Zealand Rugby awards last week.
Chiefs loose forward Lachlan Boshier was named Super Rugby player of the year, while Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon was named Mitre 10 Cup player of the year.
Waikato and Black Ferns loose forward Kennedy Simon was voted best women’s player and also player of the Farah Palmer Cup.
The awards were voted on by members of the players association.