Just one year ago an injury-hit Harry Mallinder was wondering whether his dream of making the grade in the Aviva Premiership would ever come true.
This time in 2015, the 19-year-old was at the end of a frustrating injury-ridden season, while taking his mind off being stuck on the sidelines by working through a part-time degree in Business Economics.
But fast forward 12 months and the story could not be more different with Mallinder nominated for the Land Rover discovery of the season award having starred for Saints this season across the back line.
He is joined on the illustrious shortlist by Saints team-mate Paul Hill, Harlequin Jack Clifford, Saracen Maro Itoje, Sale Sharks’ Sam James and Leicester Tigers’ Harry Thacker, with past winners of the gong including England players Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola.
Just to be included in such extraordinary company is something that Mallinder is the first to say was completely unfathomable this time last year.
“I’m definitely thrilled to be a part of such an impressive shortlist,” said Mallinder.
“I was a bit shocked really to be nominated, but I’m very honoured to be mentioned alongside some great young players in the Aviva Premiership.
“Some of the other guys have gone on to do great things already. You only have to look at the guys that have won this award in previous years and the success they’ve gone on to achieve to know this is a big deal.
“I can only hope to follow in their footsteps now. If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting to get so much of an opportunity this year.
“I had a terrible year last year with injuries and missed most of the season as a result.
“So to get back fit again was just massive, and I knew with the World Cup I might get some opportunities, but to be playing for the first team so regularly has been great.”
The shortlist was compiled by Land Rover ambassador David Flatman, ESPN’S Tom Hamilton, ITV’s Nick Heath, Premiership Rugby head of academies and development Mike Hynard, the Press Association’s Nick Purewal, Alex Lowe from The Times and BBC’s Sonja McLaughlan. Premiership Rugby’s communications director Paul Morgan chaired the panel.
The Land Rover discovery of the season award forms part of Land Rover’s ‘We Deal In Real’ campaign and its commitment to supporting rugby at all levels; from grassroots to the elite, recognising the burgeoning young talent emerging through English rugby.
Players aged under-23 on 16 October 2015 are eligible to win Land Rover discovery of the season and to make the shortlist, the player must have featured in five or more Aviva Premiership matches in the 2015-16 season.
The winner of the Land Rover discovery of the season will be named at the Aviva Premiership Rugby awards at the London Hilton, Park Lane presented by BT Sport’s Craig Doyle on Wednesday night (May 18).
With his dad leading Saints since 2007, Mallinder has grown up with the club and he admits pulling on the Northampton jersey still gives him goosebumps.
And having shown he is one of the club’s rising stars, next on the agenda for the versatile Mallinder is nailing down his spot in the starting XV for next season.
“I’ve been a big supporter of Saints. I’ve watched from the stands, been a ball boy, and to get my place and make a difference for such a great club finally after what seemed like a very long time has been amazing,” said Mallinder.
“I know full well there’s been some people who, before I broke through this season, maybe doubted my capabilities and why I was at the club.
“But I hope now I’ve played and shown what I can do that I’ve earned their respect, and that it’s about what I can do out on the field rather than what my surname is.
“If I manage to back up what I’ve done this year, and hopefully secure a starting place in whatever position that may be then I’ll be happy next year.
“But I’d love to follow in the footsteps of the people that have won this award and maybe go on to bigger and better things as well.”
The winner of the Land Rover discovery of the season will be named at this season’s Aviva Premiership Rugby awards on May 18. Keep up to date with Land Rover’s rugby activity by following @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal