Opinion: Winter Olympians, Black Ferns eye highest sporting honours at 2023 Halberg Awards

  • 15/02/2023
Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott & Black Fern Charmaine McMenamin celebrate their 2022 sporting victories
Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott & Black Fern Charmaine McMenamin celebrate their 2022 sporting victories. Photo credit: Photosport

OPINION: Yes, it's that time of year again... time for everyone to get upset over the dishing out of New Zealand's highest sporting honours - the Halberg Awards.

Some will always feel their favourites have been snubbed, while others will wonder how winners can justify their selection, all the time trying to compare apples with oranges across different levels of different sports.

Nothing in sport beats a good Halbergs debate... or even a bad one.

This year, New Zealand has seen some incredible performances across a wide variety of codes, some of which aren't even represented among the Halbergs finalists.

There will still be disagreement over the recipients, but according to our Newshub experts, the favourites are relatively clearcut.

This year's ceremony at Auckland's Spark Arena will also be an opportunity to remember the man whose name has become synonymous with the occasion and his untiring support of disabled sport...

RIP Sir Murray Halberg 1933-2022


Sportsman of the Year

Paul Coll (squash), Aaron Gate (cycling), Nico Porteous (freeskiing), Dylan Schmidt (trampoline), Shane van Gisbergen (motorsport)

Alex Powell - Shane van Gisbergen

With the most dominant Supercars season history has seen, Shane van Gisbergen's efforts in 2022 will go down as legendary.

The Kiwi defended his title in style, with a record 21 race wins to finish 615 points ahead of his next closest competitor.

Shane van Gisbergen celebrates victory at Tailem Bend, South Australia
Shane van Gisbergen celebrates victory at Tailem Bend, South Australia. Photo credit: Getty

Despite the argument of anyone being able to win in his car, van Gisbergen also finished 1146 points clear of teammate Broc Feeney.

Motorsport rarely gets the love it deserves from Halbergs judges, but it's time we actually recognise Shane van Gisbergen as a true Kiwi great of the sport.

Stephen Foote - Van Gisbergen

As much as I value the exploits of Nico Porteous and his historic Winter Olympic gold, it feels like time SVG receives the plaudits he's due.

SVG clinched his second straight Supercars title in 2022 with a record 21-win campaign, which included a second victory at the iconic Bathurst 1000.

Nobody beats 'The Giz'.

Andrew Gourdie - Nico Porteous 

A relatively straightforward selection in a year that saw history made on the slopes of Beijing. As the first Kiwi man to claim a Winter Olympics gold medal, Porteous stands head and shoulders above his rivals in this category.

Alex Chapman - Nico Porteous

You have to contextualise these awards against global impact and achievement, and the size of the stage where they found success. Based on that, Porteous takes out Sportsman of the year and probably quite comfortably.

Already our youngest Olympic medallist with bronze four years before, the now-21-year-old claimed our second-ever gold at a Winter Olympics, less than two weeks after good mate Zoi Sadowski-Synnott broke our duck.

Nico Porteous in action at the Beijing Winter Olympics
Nico Porteous in action at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Photo credit: Getty

His win in the freeski halfpipe was thrilling, filled with spins and incredible difficulty, leaving those watching gasping in awe and disbelief. Oh, and he casually did it on his first run.

Side note, still farcical jockey James McDonald isn’t a finalist - I'll save my ranting on this for another day.

Grant Chapman - Aaron Gate

It may 'only' have been the Commonwealth Games, but Gate's incredible four gold medals at Birmingham, spread across track and road, created history for New Zealand at an event that has been close to the hearts of Kiwis since inception.

Coming just 12 months after his heartbreaking crash at the Tokyo Olympics, his comeback was something we could all celebrate.


Sportswoman of the Year

Ellesse Andrews (cycling), Dame Lisa Carrington (kayak), Ruahei Demant (rugby), Lydia Ko (golf), Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (snowboarding)

Alex Powell - Ruahei Demant

After a disastrous 2021 that forced a last-minute coaching change, the Black Ferns needed their leadership to step up, and Demant did all that and more.

Leading from the front in every sense of the word, she was at the helm of the World Cup triumph, and recognised by World Rugby and NZ Rugby as the best women's player in the game.

Ruahei Demant in action for the Black Ferns
Ruahei Demant in action for the Black Ferns. Photo credit: Photosport

It's only fitting that a Halberg be added to that list as well.

Stephen Foote - Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

The Kiwi snow queen deserves her flowers, after a glittering year highlighted by her historic feats at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

With New Zealand unable to reach the top of a podium since the Game began in 1924, Sadowski-Synnott soared to victory in the women's slopestyle final to bring home our first-ever gold medal, adding a silver medal in the Big Air for good measure.

The Wanaka native then jetted to the Winter X-Games at Aspen, where she won gold medals in both of her favoured disciplines.

Oh, and she's 21 years old. 

Andrew Gourdie - Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

A very strong group of finalists, but it has to go to our historymaker. Sadowski-Synnott became the first New Zealand athlete to claim Winter Olympics gold in the slopestyle event, before adding a silver medal in the Big Air competition.

Should complete a double for our stars of the slopes.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott nails her gold-medal run at the Beijing Winter Olympics
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott nails her gold-medal run at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Photo credit: Photosport

Alex Chapman - Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

Same argument as the men and to be honest, with all due respect, it’s not even close.

New Zealand finally ascended to the Winter Olympics summit with our first gold and, heck, it was a special one.

Sadowski-Synnott taking out the snowboard slopestyle at Beijing, landing what she called the best run of her life for that incredible 92.88 score, was extra special, because so many back home were able to watch on a Waitangi Day public holiday.

That final landing when she raised her arms is a shot that’ll go down in New Zealand sporting folklore - it's Walkeresque.

That reaction - and her mobbing by her competitors when her winning score comes up - is still epic. Throw in an Olympic silver in the Big Air a few days later and winning two X Games golds, and it's a heck of a year for the 21-year-old.

Not that it impacts my decision, but honorary mention to her old man for what’s still one of the best interviews.

Grant Chapman - Lydia Ko

After bursting onto the professional golfing stage, becoming the youngest-ever world No.1 for men or women, Ko went through a prolonged period of the yips, where she had more caddies than tournament wins.

All that has changed over the past two years, as the teenage prodigy has blossomed into a young women with the world at her feet again, regaining the top ranking, winning the LPGA's top (and most lucrative) prize... and getting married.

Lydia Ko celebrates her LPGA Championship win with fiance Chung Jun
Lydia Ko celebrates her LPGA Championship win with fiance Chung Jun. Photo credit: Getty

Seven years have passed since her last Major win, but it seems just a matter of time before the three-time Halberg Sportswoman of the Year - once Supreme Winner - captures another to clinch her place in the LPGA Hall of Fame. 


Team of the Year

Black Ferns (rugby), Joelle King & Amanda Landers-Murphy (squash), Joelle King & Paul Coll (squash), Kerri Williams & Grace Prendergast (rowing), NZ Eventing Team (equestrian)

Alex Powell - Black Ferns

Who else? The Black Ferns inspired and galvanised New Zealand in their World Cup-winning run, and rode the crest of a wave of support never before seen in this country.

In arguably the greatest game of rugby ever played on Kiwi soil, they defeated England in the final and changed the course of women's rugby in Aotearoa.

Long may it continue.

Stephen Foote - Black Ferns

An absolute lock.

The Kiwi women prevailed in a dramatic final two rounds of knockout action to defend their Rugby World Cup title in a fashion fitting for Hollywood, capturing the hearts of the nation along the way.

They deserve recognition as much as for the impact they made in popularising both women's rugby and sport in general, as for lifting the trophy again.

Andrew Gourdie - Black Ferns

It's hard to imagine a more popular and deserving winner of this particular category.

The Black Ferns captured the imagination of the New Zealand public with a group of players adored by Kiwis and performances that evoked feelings of immense pride among fans, who fell in love with the team during heart-stopping victories in the semi final and final on home soil.

Black Ferns celebrate their World Cup win
Black Ferns celebrate their World Cup win. Photo credit: Photosport

Alex Chapman - Black Ferns

It’s not close. Next. 

Grant Chapman - Black Ferns



Coach of the Year

Craig Palmer (cycling), Tommy Pyatt (freeskiing), Wayne Smith (rugby), Sean Thompson (snowboarding), Gordon Walker (kayak)

Alex Powell - (Sir?) Wayne Smith

Just knight the man already. Winning a World Cup after less than eight months at the helm of the side is extraordinary.

In the men's game, countries like England, Australia and Wales have subsequently replaced their coaches before the 2023 World Cup, with the example set by Smith surely front of mind in their build-up to France.

But 2022 is just one chapter in Smith's incredible career and more evidence of his status as one of New Zealand's all-time greats.

Stephen Foote - Wayne Smith

I mean, obviously.

Director of the year Wayne Smith was at the heart of everything great about the Black Ferns, bucking the trend of their rivals' bruising forward-based approach by implementing an unapologetically expansive brand of rugby that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but delivered the ultimate result.

Wayne Smith gets his hands on another Rugby World Cup
Wayne Smith gets his hands on another Rugby World Cup.

A knighthood appears imminent.

Andrew Gourdie - Wayne Smith 

The first person to coach teams to men's and women's Rugby World Cup victories deserves every accolade that comes his way, and should be a deserving winner of this category. 

Smith deserves immense credit for galvanising a team struck by scandal only months before a World Cup on home soil, developing key relationships with players and implementing a gameplan strong enough to knock over arguably the greatest team in rugby history in the tournament decider.

Alex Chapman - Wayne Smith

This was the hardest one for me.

Pyatt and Thompson have helped proteges to incredible success and Olympic golds, Craig Palmer continued to guide a fantastic men’s endurance programme and Gordon Walker's as important to Lisa Carrington as her boat is.

But man, could anyone have done what Wayne Smith did? Could anyone else in world rugby have changed the course of culture calamities like he did?

'The Professor' whipped out his test tubes and vials for one final time to complete a turnaround very few of us could’ve expected. An experiment some may say, but an award-winning one.

Grant Chapman - Wayne Smith

It's all been said.


Para Athlete/Team of the year

Adam Hall (Para skiing), Cameron Leslie (Para swimming), Nicole Murray (Para cycling), Dame Sophie Pascoe (Para swimming), Corey Peters (Para skiing)

Alex Powell - Corey Peters

One skiing gold and one silver from Beijing represented half New Zealand's medal tally at Beijing, with the other two medals both being bronze to Adam Hall.

In fact, Peters' downhill sitting gold medal was our first at the Winter Paralympics, adding to the two Winter Olympics golds won by Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous.

Corey Peters in action at the Beijing Winter Paralympics
Corey Peters in action at the Beijing Winter Paralympics. Photo credit: Photosport

Olympic success should come above Commonwealth Games, so Peters deserves to be named as Para Athlete of the Year over our Birmingham contingent, in recognition of winning the biggest prize in his sport.

Stephen Foote - Dame Sophie Pascoe

Can we rename this the Dame Sophie Pascoe Award already? The swimming sensation is peerless.

Andrew Gourdie - Dame Sophie Pascoe

Our greatest ever para-athlete did what she does best at Birmingham. Pascoe may be coming towards the end of her career in the pool, but winning the 100m freestyle proved she’s still at the top of her game.

Alex Chapman - Corey Peters

In a category dominated by Dame Sophie Pascoe for so long, it's awesome to see such a tight race. I've gone for Peters, purely for his gold-silver success at Beijing.

Grant Chapman - Corey Peters

Winter Paralympic gold (and silver) trumps Commonwealth Games gold (and all-time record medal haul) for Dame Sophie Pascoe - just.


Emerging Talent

Cameron Gray (swimming), Gustav Legnavsky (freeski halfpipe), Jenna Hastings (cycling), Joshua Willmer (swimming), Tara Vaughan (kayak) 

Alex Powell - Cameron Gray

Finger's crossed, but New Zealand may be entering a new golden era in the pool.

Gray, 19, took out bronze in the 50m butterfly at the Birmingham Commonwealth, making him a contender for Paris Olympics 2024.

Cameron Gray wins bronze at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games
Cameron Gray wins bronze at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Photo credit: Photosport

Along with the likes of Lewis Clareburt, Andrew Jeffcoat, Joshua Wilmer, Erika Fairweather and Jesse Reynolds, there's no better time than now to come through as a Kiwi swimmer.

Stephen Foote - Cameron Gray

NZ swimming appears to be undergoing a mini renaissance of sorts, with Gray right in the thick of that resurgence.

The 18-year-old bolted into the Commonwealth Games squad with an eye-catching display at the national championships, then delivered on that promise with bronze in the 50m butterfly at Birmingham.

The future is bright for the Aucklander.

Andrew Gourdie - Joshua Willmer 

For the youngest member of the NZ Commonwealth Games swim team to claim a gold medal at just 17 suggests this is a young man with a bright future. Excited to see what he can achieve in the pool in years to come. 

Alex Chapman - Jenna Hastings

Junior world champion in the downhill mountain bike at Les Gets was a heck of an achievement, on a tricky course that even the defending champ couldn’t cope with. Wouldn't be surprising to see senior level accolades down the track too.

Joshua Willmer celebrates his Halberg Disability Games gold - and Commonwealth Games gold
Joshua Willmer celebrates his Halberg Disability Games gold - and Commonwealth Games gold. Photo credit: Photosport

Grant Chapman - Joshua Willmer

As Dame Sophie Pascoe nears the end of her incredible career in the pool, her successor may already have emerged, with teenager Willmer taking Commonwealth Games gold in his first year of international competition.

Willmer could just as easily been among the para-athlete finalists and, fittingly, was once a triathlon winner at the Halberg Junior Disability Games, so his career has come full circle.

Moment of the Year

Ajaz Patel's 10 wickets v India (cricket), Corey Peters' two Winter Paralympics medals (skiing), Aaron Gate's four Comm Games gold medals (cycling), Imogen Ayris' pole vault bronze with fractured foot (athletics), Sam Tanner's "happiest 6th placegetter ever" (athletics), Paul Coll & Joelle King black-eye celebration (squash), Shane van Gisbergen's Bathurst win (motorsport), Ryan Fox's Dunhill Links Championship win (golf), Black Ferns win the final lineout at World Cup (rugby), Ruby Tui's World Cup singalong (rugby)

Alex Powell - Black Ferns win the final lineout

With the greatest respect to Diego Maradona, I'm more than happy for Joanah Ngan-Woo's heroics to take the 'hand of God' mantle.

With a World Cup on the line, the understated Black Ferns lock stepped up in the big moment, with an inch-perfect lineout steal that all but secured another title for New Zealand.

We've hardly heard from Ngan-Woo since, only adding to her aura as Black Ferns saviour, but of all the significant moments in Kiwi sport over the past 12 months, this was the one that captured the nation.

Stephen Foote - Ajaz Patel's 10 wickets against India

It's almost an insult that such an accomplishment is included under this category.

The mercurial spinner became just the third player in the long and illustrious history of cricket to snare all 10 wickets in an innings during the Blackcaps' second-test defeat of India at Mumbai, with his 10/119 lifted him above the legendary Sir Richard Hadlee for the best bowling figures by a New Zealander.

The fact that the feat came against the mighty Indians on their own turf makes that much more special.

Andrew Gourdie - Black Ferns win the final lineout

Not nearly enough has been made of the clutch play of the year from Joanah Ngan-Woo, whose silhouette of this iconic moment should be immortalised in bronze outside Eden Park to coincide with the awarding of her damehood.

Alex Chapman - Black Ferns lineout

The word “moment” means it has to be an individual one, not a collection of them.

Based on that alone, it has to be the Black Ferns winning that final lineout. Joanah Ngan-Woo whacking the ball out of English grasps will forever be immortalised in New Zealand sporting history and probably should be remembered in some sort of form, whether it’s a statue or bank note.

Grant Chapman - Ruby Tui's singalong

Yeah, sure, the lineout won the game, but Tui's charisma throughout the Black Ferns' World Cup campaign helped win the hearts and minds of an NZ public that really began to appreciate women's sport as a viable contender for their attention in 2022.

Given the achievements of Dame Val Adams, Dame Sophie Pascoe, Dame Lisa Carrington, Dame Noeline Taurua and her Silver Ferns, Dame Lydia Ko (surely next year) and the Black Ferns Sevens, this realisation may have been slow coming, but the Eden Park singalong would have had all those that have campaigned for this day misty eyed. 


Halberg Supreme Award

Alex Powell - Black Ferns

Andrew Gourdie - Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

Stephen Foote - Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

Alex Chapman - Black Ferns

But it should be Zoi Sadowski-Synnott...

Grant Chapman - Black Ferns


Join us at 8pm Wednesday for live updates of the 2023 Halberg Awards