Hanro Liebenberg has been named as Player of the Year in the Leicester Tigers Supporters’ Awards for 2020/21.
Back-rower Liebenberg topped the online poll among supporters after being nominated for the club’s top prize alongside internationals Ellis Genge and Nemani Nadolo, fellow forwards Harry Wells and Jasper Wiese, and young-guns Dan Kelly and Freddie Steward.
The 25-year-old made 21 appearances for Tigers during the 2020/21 campaign, including 20 starts, and scored three tries.
Speaking about the award, Liebenberg said: “I didn’t expect it but I am truly humbled and honoured.
“I am absolutely humbled by it, thank-you to everyone who voted.”
“To win the same award as the people who have won this before me is amazing,” added Liebenberg.
“To be mentioned on the same trophy as someone like Martin Johnson is mind blowing.
“He’s a childhood hero of many and someone I looked up to and admired growing up.”
The South African joined Tigers ahead of the 2019/20 season and immediately struck a chord with Leicester supporters with his hard-working approach on the pitch.
Looking at his time with the club so far, which has included a host of changes across the playing squad, coaching team and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Liebenberg said he believes the signs are positive for the future.
“It certainly has been strange times but, as a team, I think we have adapted well and embraced this new environment we have been given,” he said.
Liebenberg also paid tribute to his fellow Tigers for their efforts in seeing the team to a European Final and top-six finish in the Gallagher Premiership this season.
“There are 23 guys who take the field on the weekend, but it’s the whole squad who drive what we do and keep us going,” said the Tigers forward.
“Each week, almost 50 guys contribute to what we do towards playing on the weekend and prepare those who get the chance to play.”
He also believes the backing of head coach Steve Borthwick since his arrival at Tigers almost a year ago has helped him grow in confidence as a player.
“Steve has really backed me and I feel lucky to have that support and confidence from him to go out and play,” Liebenberg added.
“Since I came over to the club, the players and coaching staff have been so good and that really makes it easier to fit in.”
In a back row which includes fellow Supporters’ Award winner and Springboks squad-member Wiese, as well as countryman Cyle Brink and a number of rising stars in Tommy Reffell, George Martin and Ollie Chessum, the Player of the Year also admitted he is enjoying not being comfortable.
“I don’t think I am ever comfortable,” he said.
“You go in to the start of every week not really sure if you are going to be selected because the competition for places is so high and that keeps you on your toes.”
After an 11th-place finish in his first season, Liebenberg has played a key role in helping the side improve to sixth in the Gallagher Premiership ladder. But, what does he put that rise in the table down to?
“Hard work, simple,” responded Liebenberg.
“We set ourselves high standards and ensure our preparation is the best it can be, which began back in pre-season, and we followed through on them.
“It all comes down to hard work.”
As for next season, the Leicester Tigers forward believes it’s exciting to think about what is to come from the squad being re-shaped by Borthwick.
“I think there is a lot to be positive out this season but, also, there is so much left in us as a team.
“It is exciting when you look at the players we have, the players coming in next season and exciting to think about what is ahead for us as a group.
“We have a bit of a break now and time to reflect, then get back to work next month and continue to build on what we have already done to keep improving as a club.”
Other winners were Freddie Steward, who topped the fan-vote as Young Player of the Year, and Jasper Wiese, who claimed the Newcomer of the Year award.