The big Halberg debate: Who takes the supreme award

Dan Carter, Kane Williamson and Lydia Ko are all nominated for Halberg Awards. Photos / Brett Phibbs and Getty
Dan Carter, Kane Williamson and Lydia Ko are all nominated for Halberg Awards. Photos / Brett Phibbs and Getty

Sports editor for nzherald.co.nz Cameron McMillan and NZME. sports journalist Kris Shannon debate the Halberg Award nominees ahead of tonight's awards show where they predict it will be the All Blacks v Lydia Ko.

Cameron:

Kris, the Halberg Awards are tonight and to be honest I've never been a big fan, as in tuning in or caring whether a team did or didn't win, but I love the process of judging a winner. So let's see if we can decide who won New Zealand sport in 2015?

Now people will say, 'the process is flawed, it's comparing apples with oranges'. But as American author and essayist Chuck Klosterman once so eloquently pointed out - apples and oranges are actually pretty close in nature. Both are fruit, both spheres, both make juice. Once you take away other citrus fruit, the apple would be in line as the next comparable thing to an orange.

So yeah. They are all sports so we can compare.

First off a quick glance at the Halberg nominations and they seem to have it covered. Or is there a 7 foot, mustachioed elephant left in the Halberg foyer?

Kris:

While a seven-foot mustachioed elephant is an adorable mental image, I can't quibble with Steven Adams' omission. He and Winston Reid are the Kiwi men consistently making the biggest impact in global sport, but an injury-hit Thunder missed the playoffs last season and Adams skipped the basketball world champs.

I just pray the Dan Carter awards train doesn't roll on. Setting aside the fact there are more deserving All Blacks, there's no reason a rugby player should be singled out for this award. Cricket, on the other hand, is an individual sport masquerading as a team game, so I'm entirely comfortable with Kane Williamson winning after a scarcely-believable 2015. Or Scott Dixon could pick up his third trophy after winning his fourth IndyCar title.

The sportswoman of the year category looks a little more clear cut. With respect to Lauren Boyle, Linda Villumsen and Lisa Carrington - all wonderful athletes who enjoyed successful years - surely they're chasing second place? Because if Tarantino wants the original screenplay award at the Oscars renamed 'the Quentin', we can probably already start calling this one 'the Lydia', right?

Cameron:

Not so fast on 'the Lydia'. I've been angling for a few years now on calling the actual award statuette a Murray, as in 'Valerie Adams won seven straight Murrays before Ko stopped her run'. Which brings up the fascinating stat - who was the last athlete to win the Sportswoman of the Year, not named Ko, Adams or Vili? Kate McIlroy for mountain running in 2005! Where were you when McIlroy claimed that world title?

Looking at this year's field for sportswoman of the year compared to previous years just shows how strong New Zealand women are on the international sports scene. The 2004 nominees: Rachael Anderson (surf life saving), Angela McMillan (aerobics), Vanessa Quin (mountain biking) and winner Sarah Ulmer (cycling). I can safely say I have never heard of two of those athletes.

Valerie Adams receives the Westpac New Zealand Sportswomen of the Year at the 2011. Photo / Richard Robinson
Valerie Adams receives the Westpac New Zealand Sportswomen of the Year at the 2011. Photo / Richard Robinson

But there is no way Lydia doesn't win this. But at which point does voting fatigue start to hurt Ko? What if she remains number one and wins at least a major every year for the next 20 years?

Back on the McIlroy point. I agree with American sportswriter Bill Simmons that the Oscars should reassess the winner every five years. If we look back on the 2010 sporting landscape the first thing I think of is the All Whites World Cup performance - which I think validates their award. I had to actually look up what the All Blacks did that year (lost in Hong Kong, did the grand slam) because, the All Blacks are amazing every year - which actually hurts their case. Something Ko may find soon. Is that fair?

Kris:

It's not fair, but it's certainly a factor. And it's a factor that this year will actually help the All Blacks' chances.

Not that they need it, of course. The All Blacks are winning Team of the Year. But - HOT TAKE ALERT - what they achieved in 2015 wasn't all that remarkable. We, the media and the public, just made out that winning the World Cup would be much harder than it was, consistently reminding everyone that no team had retained the World Cup and that the All Blacks had never won one offshore.

Both true but what happened four years ago is almost entirely irrelevant when assessing a team's prospects in the present. And considering there had been only seven World Cups, that made six chances for a team to defend their crown and five opportunities for the All Blacks to claim the Webb Ellis Cup overseas. Sample sizes that small are just statistical noise, a quirk.

So what did the All Blacks achieve in England? They progressed through the easiest pool at the tournament, thrashed a hapless French side before beating South Africa and Australia, you know, something they do every year. Actually, that's not fair. They've beaten South Africa and Australia (often twice) every year since 2009.

If not the All Blacks, though, then who? The Black Caps? So close, yet so far. Eric Murray and Hamish Bond? That's where voter fatigue sets in, given the rowers won last year and will probably do likewise after Rio. But Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, never honoured at the Halbergs, have a hell of a case. The sailers completed 2015 unbeaten, winning 22 consecutive regattas and claiming a world championship crown. To put in perspective their dominance of the competitive 49er class, no other Olympic sailing crew has ever progressed through a year without suffering defeat.

But maybe I'm just being a contrarian. Do you have any takes so hot they must be handled with gloves?

Cameron:

I like the shout out for Burling and Tuke a lot. Those two are so unappreciated, as are Team Jolly, for their impressive achievements for one major reason - their sport is not on TV. But if you watched the live streaming of the world championships the other week, you'd know just how fun a sport it is to watch. Now with drones readily available and up to the second graphics, we have comprehensive coverage of sailing. It should be on mainstream TV instead but I guess it clashes with the kabaddi playoffs.

Blair Tuke and Peter Burling. Photo / Pedro Martinez
Blair Tuke and Peter Burling. Photo / Pedro Martinez

The other point that hurts them, despite the fact we are all America's Cup experts every five years, is that not many people are clued up on the 49er or the 470 classes. But you can't argue with their dominance.

But I'm still picking the All Blacks because they won a Rugby World Cup. That's the biggest achievement in this country. Nothing else matters (apologies to Hillary, Rutherford, Jackson, Concords, Catton and Yelich-O'Connor).

The All Blacks, Lydia Ko and Sophie Pasoe (for the Disabled Sportsperson of the Year) are all shoo-ins tonight.

Back to my point about people having little knowledge about sailing. What about coaching influence? Has to be the hardest category to judge.

Kris:

You're right - it's virtually impossible to assess the impact of someone like Hamish Willcox (49er coach) or Gordon Walker (Lisa Carrington's coach). Are these men coaching savants, developing and inspiring raw Kiwi talent to the top of the world, or are they merely guiding once-in-a-generation athletes to a destination at which they may have arrived regardless?

The answer probably lies somewhere in between and, with such uncertainty, it's easy to fall back on timing. 2016 is, of course, an Olympic year. See you in 12 months, chaps.

All Blacks Steve Hansen and captain Richie McCaw. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks Steve Hansen and captain Richie McCaw. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Which leaves us with Steve Hansen and Mike Hesson. One took over the best team in the world and made them even better, the other inherited a rabble and transformed them into contenders in all forms of the game. But, as impressive as Hesson's achievements were, only one man went home with a winner's medal. This one is Hansen's and, having picked his charges as the best team, I presume you agree? But what of the top prize?

Cameron:

Hansen is my coach of the year over Hesson purely because rugby coaches, by using substitutes, have a bigger influence than cricket coaches who, according to evolution buster Shane Warne, just drive the bus to the ground.

From what I've read and heard though, Hesson would break down some serious analytics and stats about how to get the best out of that bus and would get to the ground in record time without breaking the speed limit.

The supreme award is between All Blacks and Lydia Ko.

Breaking into just what they've done in the last 12 months makes it clearer. You can't say the All Blacks should get it because they became the first team to defend a World Cup title, because that doesn't matter because you're adding in an achievement from 2011.

That was a different team. And you can't say that being defending champions added extra pressure. The All Blacks always have pressure on them to win every game and World Cup.

In 2015 they lost just one game but put in the some pretty ordinary performances and were only really impressive in Joburg, Eden Park and in the three knockout games. Not enough for me when compared to Ko.

Week in-week out she is at the top of women's golf. A freakish number of 17 top 10 finishes in 24 LPGA Tour tournaments, Six victories in the year, just one missed cut and reached world number one in one of the most popular sports in the world.

And age does count in my book (on sale soon 'Cam's Halberg conspiracies'). She's only 18 playing against some people twice her age.

Ko was consistently dominant. Something All Blacks' fans wanted all year and only got in the final three weeks of the season. Ko is supreme indeed.

Lydia Ko celebrates with her trophy after winning the Evian Championship. Photo / AP
Lydia Ko celebrates with her trophy after winning the Evian Championship. Photo / AP

Kris:

I think we can agree the All Blacks will claim the supreme award. As you say, winning a Rugby World Cup, for better or worse, is just about the most important thing New Zealanders can do.

But, objectively, Ko's accomplishments in 2015 are on another level. On one hand, we have the perennial top dog in rugby, doing what they were long favoured to do. On the other, we have a teenager dominating one of the world's most popular sports, sitting atop ranking list that, at last count, extends down to No 1109.

Removing our rugby parochialism, it's no contest.

The full list of finalists for the 53rd Halberg Awards:

Sportsman of the Year:
Daniel Carter (Rugby), Danny Lee (Golf), Kane Williamson (Cricket), Scott Dixon (Motorsport).

Sportswoman of the Year:
Lauren Boyle (Swimming), Linda Villumsen (Cycling), Lisa Carrington (Canoeing), Lydia Ko (Golf).

Disabled Sportsperson of the Year:
Corey Peters (Para-Skiing), Michael Johnson (Para-Shooting), Nikita Howarth (Para-Swimming), Sophie Pascoe (Para-Swimming).

Team of the Year:
All Blacks (Rugby), Black Caps (Cricket), Men's Pair; Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (Rowing), Men's 49er Class; Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (Yachting).

SKY NEXT Emerging Talent
Campbell Stewart (Cycling), Dylan Schmidt (Trampoline), Eliza McCartney (Athletics), Tai Wynyard (Basketball).

Coach of the Year
Gordon Walker (Canoeing), Hamish Willcox (Yachting), Mike Hesson (Cricket), Steve Hansen (Rugby).

Radio Sport Sporting Moment
Breakers win title with buzzer-beater, Grant Elliott's six against South Africa, Kiwis win Anzac test, Highlanders claim maiden title, Nathan Friend's backflip, Richie McCaw's final test in New Zealand, Lydia Ko wins first major, Beauden Barrett seals World Cup final, Ross Taylor's 290 against Australia, Amber Hearn's goal for Football Ferns against Brazil.

- NZ Herald

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