Michael Brown at the World Cup
Michael Brown blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Michael Brown: Halberg judges should tick Nelsen's column

By Michael Brown

Ryan Nelsen takes a moment after the All Whites game against Paraguay, at Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ryan Nelsen takes a moment after the All Whites game against Paraguay, at Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Halberg judges should have an easy time of it this year because all of the major awards have already been decided. Well, they should be.

The All Whites should win Team of the Year, Ricki Herbert Coach of the Year and captain Ryan Nelsen should win Sportsman of the Year. That really only leaves Sportswoman of the Year because the All Whites should also win the Supreme Halberg.

What they have achieved at this World Cup has been truly special and it needs to be properly recognised.

Herbert was privately miffed his side didn't pick up Team of the Year in 2009 for beating Bahrain and qualifying for New Zealand's first World Cup in 28 years. He felt that was a more worthy achievement than rowing pair Hamish Bond's and Eric Murray's world title.

But the success in South Africa has served to prove the Halberg judges were right to overlook them last year. That win over Bahrain was brilliant, striking a chord with most New Zealanders, but this year's results have been stupendous and acclaimed by all New Zealanders.

Achieving on the world stage is what the judges look for.

New Zealand can expect to rocket up the world rankings from 78 to somewhere near the top 40 after their results against Serbia, Slovakia and Italy. They were 47th in 2002 after beating Australia to qualify for the Confederations Cup, their highest world ranking since Fifa introduced the ranking table in 1993, but that wasn't altogether deserved. This time they will justify their lofty position.

Other New Zealand teams can win world titles or Commonwealth Games golds in 2010 but they won't even come close to the All Whites when the Halbergs are handed out. It almost seems redundant to nominate other finalists.

The same can be said for the Coach of the Year category. Herbert has the additional benefit of having his achievements with the Wellington Phoenix added to his entry after the A-League side fell only one game short of the grand final.

That was good, and potentially worthy of a nomination anyway, but he is now being heralded as one of the coaches of the World Cup so far alongside Diego Maradona, Chile's Marcelo Bielsa and Slovenia's Matjaz Kek.

Not bad for someone who earns $50,000 as national coach. Fabio Capello banks that every second day as England's top man, and look how well they have been going.

The Team and Coach of the Year decisions appear quite straightforward but there's less surety around the Sportsman of the Year gong. Nelsen deserves the accolade for steering the All Whites to history but individuals in a team are rarely recognised.

Dan Carter, Richie McCaw (twice) and Daniel Vettori have all lost out in the past decade and Pero Cameron was overlooked in favour of golfer Craig Perks in 2002, even though the Tall Blacks finished a hardly-believable fourth at the world championships (the team won the Supreme Award and Tab Baldwin the coach award).

An exception was in 2003 when the Silver Ferns cleaned up all of the major awards - but they won the world title. The All Whites were never going to win the World Cup.

It's also difficult to predict how the judges will approach the task. They don't always go with the populist vote.

The Kiwis lost out to the Evers-Swindell twins in the race for Team of the Year in 2008, despite winning the World Cup for the first time, and Scott Dixon was pipped by Valerie Vili in 2008, despite claiming the Indy 500, arguably motor racing's biggest single race. The judges, it seemed, valued Olympic success over anything else.

Nelsen has been New Zealand's most important player at the World Cup and he is, arguably, the most influential player for any of the 32 teams in South Africa. The All Whites would not have picked up results against Slovakia and Italy without him.

It will be an interesting discussion when the Halberg judges convene around their big table to decide this year's winners, but it shouldn't be a long one.

- Herald on Sunday

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