Weekend Sport: Five (other) things to watch, February 15-17

Oh Lord, are we really ready for Super Rugby in February? Are we ever really ready?

Seems every other sport has had their very brief time in the sun and the spotlight is firmly back on the national game, especially with a World Cup on offer later in the year.

It won't take long for us to get hysterical about how our beloved All Blacks are tracking, but for the next few months, we'll be obsessing on our best players flitting in and out of their Super Rugby teams on the whim of the national coaching staff.

The Chiefs vs Highlanders season-opener - the first of the much-hyped "local derbies" - looks slightly underwhelming, with a host of big names missing. At least Blues vs Crusaders brings the age-old Auckland vs Canterbury baggage, spiced by a former red-and-black now coaching the arch-enemy against his old outfit.

The Hurricanes have an appalling record in the first week of the season, with just two wins over the past eight years, so their road outing against the Waratahs looms as an early banana-peel game.

Kieran Read & Luke Romano
Kieran Read & Luke Romano with Super Rugby Trophy. Photo credit: Photosport

Catch live updates of all these games on newshub.co.nz.

But if you're still not ready to invest emotionally in the oval-ball code, here are a few other sporty things to keep you amused this weekend.

 

NRL Māori All-Stars vs Indigenous All-Stars

Friday 9:30pm (NZT) on SKY

NRL is also back - kind of.

While it's been great following the northern hemisphere rugby league competitions, this weekend marks the return of NRL's best a month out from the 2019 season.

Things start off with the new-look All-Stars fixture between the New Zealand Māori and the Australian Indigenous side in Melbourne, followed by the World Club challenge in Wigan.

The NRL is trialling a new All-Stars format, after previously testing the Indigenous against NRL and World teams, but with the Māori stepping up in 2019, there's more hype around this fixture.

The likes of Dane Gagai and Kalyn Ponga have opted to represent their family heritage, joining a line-up that could easily start for the Kiwis in a test.

Maori All-Stars coach Stacey Jones & captain Adam Blair
Maori All-Stars coach Stacey Jones & captain Adam Blair. Photo credit: Getty

Expect plenty of drama and action, starting with a fierce Māori haka against an indigenous war cry that will get the crowd hyped before kick-off. 

Ben Francis

 

Blackcaps vs Bangladesh

Saturday 11am on SKY
Live updates on newshub.co.nz

The second ODI in a three-match series against Bangladesh, on its own, perhaps isn't the most exciting spectacle.

But when you add to the mix that this will be the penultimate outing before the Blackcaps World Cup selection, it raises so many unanswered questions heading into the tournament.

Who will open the batting? Who will open the bowling? Time is running out for players trying to book seats on the plane.

Martin Guptill celebrates
Martin Guptill celebrates his century against Bangladesh. Photo credit: Photosport

Although the Blackcaps should win, questions over the optimum World Cup squad are far from resolved.

Luke Robinson

 

NBA All-Stars Weekend - Rising Stars

Saturday 3pm (NZT) on ESPN

While most attention has centred on the 'LeBron vs Giannis' All-Stars Game on Monday, with all its selection sub-plots, many believe the USA vs World Rising Stars format is where this mid-season promotion should be headed.

Essentially, the NBA's best first and second-year players face off in a contest for global bragging rights. It's a nod to the fact that some of the league's best players are now imported from offshore.

The presence of Giannis 'The Greek Freak' Antetokounmpo on the main bill is another glaring example of that, with five other non-Americans in the All-Star mix.

The rising stars fixture will feature some players who were unlucky to miss selection for the main game. Aussie Ben Simmons is still listed for both and if he fronts for this one, his clash with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell should be worth monitoring, given their often-heated contest for Rookie-of-the-Year honours last season.

Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic
Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic in action against Miami. Photo credit: Reuters.

The World have won four of the five previous games played under this format. Look for Slovenian rookie Luka Doncic to emerge as this year's Most Valuable Player.

Grant Chapman

 

Duke vs North Carolina State

Sunday 2pm (NZT) on ESPN

If you haven't had a chance to witness the physics-defying feats of Duke's basketball superstar Zion Williamson, do yourself a huge favour and tune in Sunday, when the American college heavyweights take on North Carolina State.

Alongside scorching-hot Houston Rocket James Harden, Williamson is the hottest property in basketball right now and he's still doing it all for free.

A tank of a human with springs in his soles and an endless supply of energy, the 18-year-old is a lock for number one in the next NBA draft and needs to be seen to be believed.

Zion Williamson lines up another dunk
Zion Williamson lines up another dunk.

The kid is the most prodigious young talent since LeBron James, and he plays with two other certified lottery picks in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.

Hitch yourself to the bandwagon, it's filling up fast.

Stephen Foote

 

Bellator 216 - Paul Daley vs Michael Page

4pm Sunday on SKY

It's a busy weekend for combat sports, with three events in as many days.

The UFC welcomes back former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez on Monday, while Bellator has a doubleheader weekend, featuring some exciting fights.

With more than 30 fights to choose from, MMA fans will be drooling for a few days, but the standout bout's at Bellator 216 on Sunday.

Two outstanding strikers take centrestage in the Bellator cage, when welterweights Paul Daley and Michael 'MVP' Page clash in what could be a fight-of-the-year candidate.

Paul Daley celebrates his win over Brennan Ward
Paul Daley celebrates his win over Brennan Ward. Photo credit: Getty

Page is riding a whirlwind of momentum that has some pundits comparing him to Conor McGregor. The 31-year-old has dispatched five of his last six opponents inside two rounds, including a flying-knee KO of Evangelista Santos in 2016 that resulted in a broken eye socket for the Brazilian.

There's no love lost between the two Brits and given Daley's history, you can expect fireworks - possibly before and after the bell.

The UFC fired Daley in 2010, after he threw a punch more than 10 seconds after the final bell against opponent Josh Koscheck.

But make no mistake, Daley is an elite kickboxer with fight-finishing power. So too is Page, which is why this fight should not be missed.

Brad Lewis

 

Best of the rest

 

Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne Victory at Eden Park (Friday)

NZ Breakers vs Brisbane Bullets in ANBL (Saturday)

Sydney Roosters vs Wigan Warriors in Rugby League World Club Challenge (Sunday)

Northern Knights vs Auckland Aces/Central Stags in Super Smash T20 final (Sunday)

Melbourne Stars vs Melbourne Renegades/Sydney Sixers in Big Bash T20 final (Sunday)

Newshub.