Halberg Awards: Who will take home NZ sport's ultimate accolade?

  • 13/02/2020

OPINION: The Halberg Awards are always a source of great debate around the water cooler - especially in a sports newsroom. 

Separating performances across codes and assessing which accomplishments are greater is fraught with difficulty.

But that job is tasked to judges and no doubt, come Friday morning, there will be heated debate over who won and who didn't.

Newshub's would-be judges explain who they would vote for and why. 

Sports Team of the Year

Finalists: Blackcaps (cricket), Black Ferns Sevens, Silver Ferns (netball),  women's eight (rowing), women's double (rowing)

Andrew Gourdie, Newshub sports presenter: The Silver Ferns should win, because you only have to look at the position the team was in 12 months before they swept to glory.

They were an absolute mess at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, failing to earn a place on the podium and seemingly going backwards fast. 

To beat England and Australia to win the World Cup was nothing short of a sporting miracle. 

Silver Ferns celebrate their World Cup triumph
Silver Ferns celebrate their World Cup triumph. Photo credit: AAP

James Regan, Newshub sport reporter: The Silver Ferns were the success story of 2019 for me.

The way they went from rags at the Commonwealth Games to riches at the World Cup inspired the country and put netball in New Zealand back on the map. 

The style, pace and appeal with which they play is unreal.

Chris Forster, The AM Show sport producer: Has to be the Silver Ferns - from rock bottom to World Cup winners.

Ollie Ritchie, Newshub sport reporter:  The Silver Ferns are the only genuine contenders here.

The transformation this side has made under Dame Noeline Taurua to become world champions is simply remarkable. 

Brad Lewis, Newshub sport digital producer: The redemption story of 2019, no doubt, the Silver Ferns' triumph in Liverpool was the one World Cup we didn't dare expect to win last year. 

A flawless campaign culminated in a thrilling final win against our old mates from across the ditch. 


Sportsman of the Year 

Finalists: Israel Adesanya (mixed martial arts), Scott McLaughlin (motorsport), Tom Walsh (athletics), Kane Williamson (cricket), 

Regan: Israel Adesanya is a complete athlete, character and champion.

The dominance he showed in claiming the UFC middleweight championship belt and the confidence that flows from him outside the ring makes Adesanaya a true champion of his craft. 

Forster: Israel Adesanya - boundary breaker and legitimate UFC superstar. 

Ritchie: Israel Adesanya's annihilation of Robert Whittaker seemed like it was over before it began, becoming the UFC middleweight champion in the process and seemingly set to conquer that division.

Israel Adesanya reflects on his UFC world title
Israel Adesanya reflects on his UFC world title. Photo credit: Photosport

Lewis: I'm a massive Scott McLaughlin fan, but if Israel Adesanya doesn't win this gong, I'm done with the Halbergs.

To win a UFC title out of a little gym in central Auckland is a remarkable achievement. Adesanya is on his way to being the biggest global sports star out of New Zealand. 

Gourdie: It's obvious isn't it? I don't mean any disrespect to his fellow finalists, who are all outstanding sportsmen, but Israel Adesanya's achievements leave him standing head and shoulders above the rest in this category.

He will win and I can't wait to see him accept - a watershed moment for combat sports and, indeed, the Halberg Awards themselves. 


Sportswoman of the Year 

Finalists: Laura Langman (netball), Courtney Duncan (motorsport), Lisa Carrington (canoe), Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (snowsports) 

Forster: Laura Langman edges Lisa Carrington in a tight race between two wonderful athletes.

Langman gets my vote, because of her leadership in turning around a side bereft of confidence.

Ritchie: What more is there to say about Zoi Sadowski-Synott - a world champion, X-Games gold and silver medallist, and US Open champion. 

She's so good, she landed an ESPY nomination, becoming just the third Kiwi to do so. 

Lewis: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott for me, just ahead of Laura Langman, who carried the Ferns on her back in Liverpool.

Sadowski-Synnott is an absolute star with global appeal - oh, and she's a world champion.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott celebrates her US Open success
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott celebrates her US Open success. Photo credit: Supplied

Gourdie: Zoe Sadowski-Synnott

No-one loves a bit of history more than the Halbergs voting academy and a first-ever snowboarding world championship gold medal has a nice ring to it.

Snowboarding is a truly global sport, which should absolutely give her an edge over her rivals for the award. 

Regan: Laura Langman's professionalism, resilience and skill makes her an all-round champion of netball and for women's sport in New Zealand.

The dedication she's shown to the black dress all these years was repaid with the magnificent World Cup victory, that she herself steered home.


Para athlete or team

Finalists: Cameron Leslie (swimming & wheelchair rugby), para cycling team, Lisa Adams (athletics), Sophie Pascoe (swimming)

Lewis: This one is tough, but with two world championship gold medals and a world record, Cameron Leslie stands out as the elite achiever of 2019.

Gourdie: A perfect four from four at the world champs - Sophie Pascoe simply could not do more.

But I'm curious to see whether two gold medals and a world record is enough to give Cameron Leslie the edge. 

Who'd be a judge, eh?   

Sophie Pascoe celebrates another world title
Sophie Pascoe celebrates another world title. Photo credit: Photosport

Regan: Four gold medals at last year's world championships showed the world Sophie Pascoe was still the one to beat in the build-up to a Paralympics.

She had an outstanding 2019, which has put her in the boxseat for another sweep of medals at Tokyo. 

Forster: Lisa Adams has a cool story and a simply great performance.

Ritchie: Well coached by sister Dame Val, Lisa Adams set a new world record in the shot put, as she more than announced herself on the world stage, then cemented that reputation with gold at the para athletics world championships in Dubai.


Coach of the Year 

Finalists: Eugene Bareman (mixed martial arts), Dame Noeline Taurua (netball), Gary Hay (rowing), Gordon Walker (canoe), Roly Crichton (swimming) 

Ritchie: Dame Noeline Taurua was solely responsible for the Silver Ferns' dramatic change in fortunes, taking them from the easybeats of world netball to world champions.

You get the feeling this will be netball's night. 

Gourdie: This is the most closely fought category of the awards in 2020 and as tough as this is on Eugene Bareman, I think Dame Noeline Taurua has to win.

She perfectly illustrated how vital a coach can be in enhancing and transforming performance. She brought a modern approach to the Silver Ferns environment that converted the confidence of her athletes, individually and collectively, and the culture of the team.

She dragged them up from the bottom of the heap, turning them into world champions.

Dame Noeline Taurua celebrates World Cup victory
Dame Noeline Taurua celebrates World Cup victory. Photo credit: Photosport

A truly remarkable woman, who is now recognised as the standard in her sport and should be held up as an example for others to follow.      

Regan: Eugene Bareman's stock of fighters is outstanding, and the time and energy he's put into getting City Kickboxing where it is would be second to none. 

Now regarded as among the best in the world, Bareman and CKB have a record that can't be disputed, producing two UFC world champions in 2019. 

Forster: This is an easy one - Dame Noeline Taurua transformed the Ferns from woeful to wonderful in 2019.

Lewis: Fairly certain this one is going in Noeline Taurua's direction, but Eugene Bareman is now regarded as one of the elite coaches in combat sports.

The City Kickboxing gym houses two UFC world champions, two top-10 challengers and two highly ranked heavyweight boxers. Bareman is the puppet master behind all of the great success that gym has achieved the last three years and probably the most humble human being in the country.


Supreme Award

Selected from Team, Sportsman, Sportswoman and Para winners

Gourdie: To go from complete and utter disarray to beating the defending Commonwealth (England) and world champions (Australia) on the way to winning the World Cup makes the Silver Ferns deserving winners. 

Regan: Israel Adesanya has broken down barriers for MMA in New Zealand and he's opening doubters' eyes to the sport, which can't be underestimated.  

He did so much more in 2019 than just being a champion in the ring. 

Forster: Silver Ferns, for getting netball back on the map and in the hearts of New Zealanders. 

Ritchie: Silver Ferns just pip Israel Adesanya for me.

Silver Ferns celebrate their World Cup victory
Silver Ferns celebrate their World Cup victory. Photo credit: Photosport

Lewis: No single sporting achievement by a New Zealander compares to what Israel Adesanya accomplished in Melbourne last year, but his entire body of work across 2019 is just as impressive.

In January, 'The Last Stylebender' beat his idol and one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, Anderson Silva. In June, he topped Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC Fight of the Year to claim an interim title, before dispatching Robert Whittaker inside two rounds to win the outright belt.

Sorry Silver Ferns fans, that far exceeds a netball world title - but, hey, that's just my opinion. 

Join us from 6pm Thursday for live updates of the 2019 Halberg Awards