Why Mike Brown Was England's Player of 2013
Mike Brown's 2013 has been a year of huge progress.
A man once known more infamously as "Mister Angry" has honed his talents on both the international and club stage, capping off his calendar with some sensational form in the November Test series.
However, that's just one reason why the fullback stands out as England's brightest star from the past 12 months, overcoming obstacles and trials along the way, but ultimately displaying great resolve and emerging as a better player because of it.
Stuart Lancaster's star-studded cast of Premiership big guns boasts many an international marvel, and the likes of Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw and Owen Farrell along with others may feel aggrieved at being bested in this hunt.
However, it's Brown who stands above all others as 2013's finest, with the reasons as to why discussed up ahead.
1. Consistency Is Key
Perhaps the most critical box in need of ticking when deciding upon a Player of the Year in any track or trade is consistency.
So often does a player display flash-in-the-pan brilliance only to swiftly go off the boil, but such was not the case during Brown's 2013 campaign.
Brown didn't manage to make his way into Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions squad, and was just about as involved as any other English international as a result, playing in 10 of his country's 11 fixtures in 2013.
Between the Six Nations, the summer tour of Argentina and the November Test series, Brown never let individual standards slip, irrespective of who was lined up opposite him.
Although quality improved as the campaign wore on and the 28-year-old became more used to his international surroundings, Brown was a reliable presence from start to finish.
2. Perseverance Pays off
Of course, Brown's brightest moments have all come in the No. 15 jersey, but the speedster was put at a disadvantage for the first half of 2013 in being played out of position.
During the Six Nations, the 28-year-old was forced to play off the left wing, having not yet established himself as Stuart Lancaster's first-choice fullback.
In fact, it wasn't until the summer tour of Argentina that Brown was allowed to strut his stuff in his most natural role internationally, and he hasn't looked back since.
Not only has the utility therefore shone in his natural habitat, but he's been made to work just to get the actual opportunity to do so.
Not many other players in this year's England roster can say they've have had to contend in similar conditions, never mind thriving in that capacity regardless.
3. An Omnipresent Force
Lancaster has proven himself to be a fair and ever-watchful coach in terms of his selection process and rewarding players showing good form on the club level, a contingent among which Brown obviously numbers given his prominence in the national team over the last 12 months.
The Harlequins fullback has been a staple of Conor O'Shea's team this year, providing the London outfit with a presence at the base as reliable as any other in the Premiership.
Brown isn't renowned for his prolific nature and has scored just one try in the 2013/14 Premiership campaign thus far, in addition to the five managed during the 2012/13 season.
However, what he might lack in terms of breakout potential from the back a la Israel Folau, Brown more than makes up for in security. His defensive prowess should not be underestimated.
And that's not to say the versatile virtuoso isn't capable of flair, but there's a lot to be said for how unselfish Brown has a tendency to be, helping Harlequins into that upper bracket of European powers.
Maintaining that standard amid the demands of a domestic season, European involvement and international duties is not something every star can manage, but Brown's constant form on the club scale has ensured that Lancaster hasn't been able to ignore his talents.
4. A Record-Breaking Year
The stats often tend to speak for themselves and such is the case in Brown's impressive 2013.
With 10 appearances to his name this year, the fullback was one international outing short of matching his entire cap tally from the previous five years of national team involvement, having played in 11 games between his 2007 debut and the end of 2012.
Even though he was out on the flank, Brown was also one of just three players to play every minute of England's Six Nations campaign in 2013, Chris Ashton and captain Chris Robshaw being the other two servants to the cause.
If anything, it may not have hurt Brown to miss out on the Lions tour, as the trip to South America played its part as something of a coming-of-age event.
Now, England head toward the 2014 Six Nations knowing full well just how confident a talent they possess in the Hampshire native, who's likely to assume his rightful spot at the back of Lancaster's starting XV.
5. It's Tough at the Top
It's one thing to make one's way to the pinnacle of their trade; it's another thing entirely to make the position one's own.
In Alex Goode and Ben Foden, Brown has been faced with some hefty competition over the past year, with each of those figures showcasing some superb value for Saracens and Northampton Saints, respectively.
With that being the case, Brown has done magnificently to fend off the competition of his peers, starting in each of England's three QBE internationals, and only ever giving way late in the second period of any fixture.
It's partly for that reason that Brown was selected as England's Man of the Series, per QBERugby.co.uk, and 2014 again poses a challenge in the player tying down his reservation as Lancaster's go-to man at fullback.
Brown's 2013 is something of a rags-to-riches tale as he started in relative obscurity, but couldn't have hoped to finish the campaign any more strongly, despite the huge amount of talent snapping at his heels.
As things stand, fullback is a position that looks as stacked with top talent as any other position in the English roster, with Brown at the head of the field.