Halberg Awards: Black Ferns icon Wayne Smith reveals phone call from Sir Graham Henry that convinced him to go ceremony

Halberg Coach of the Year winner Wayne Smith almost didn't make the awards ceremony, revealing the phone call that changed his mind.

With Cyclone Gabrielle devastating communities throughout New Zealand, Waihi Beach resident Smith was forced to take the road less travelled to Auckland.

Realising he couldn't take the usual route through the Karangahake Gorge, he had doubts he would make it at all, but for a conversation with former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry.

Smith needed little convincing from his former coach, and knew he had to show up for the world champion and Team of the Year Black Ferns.

"I didn't think I was going to make it," he said. "Karangahake Gorge was closed.

"We were going to leave about midday and come up here through the gorge, but found out it was closed and had to go through Tauranga.

"I pondered for a moment if I would come or not. I rang sir Graham and said, 'Ted, I don't think I will make it tonight', and he said, 'you've got to make it, you've got to come, it's going to be a special night for the girls', so I'm happy."

Sir Graham was right, it proved to be another special night for the Black Ferns, with another two awards to go along with Coach and Team of the Year.

Joanah Ngan-Woo's World Cup-winning lineout steal was voted as Moment of the Year, while Black Ferns Sevens captain and World Cup winner Sarah Hirini was given the Sport NZ Leadership Award for her service to both union codes.

Wayne Smith with his Coach of the Year award.
Wayne Smith with his Coach of the Year award. Photo credit: Getty Images

Smith has paid tribute to his former team, as well as the late Sir Murray Halberg, not just for his accomplishments as an athlete, but his impact outside sport.

"I normally see them in rugby jerseys and shorts, smashing each other at training," he said of his players. "They're beautiful women, beautiful athletes, but beautiful people inside.

"I can't speak highly enough of them, every time I see them, it gives me a real glow.

"I'm not really into awards in a team sport personally, but this one's special for me, because Sir Murray was a great athlete and a great competitor, but really, it's how he dedicated his life to making other lives better and that's what counts.

"I know a lot of people are carrying on that work, but his life was phenomenal, and for parents like Trish and I with a boy with CP [cerebral palsey], makes it doubly emotional for me."