All Black Jerome Kaino would be my New Zealand player of the year. Even before the Big Dance tomorrow, I'd argue the 28-year-old flanker has shown enough already this season to command that respect among his peers.
He's stayed ahead of men like Keven Mealamu who has performed all season throughout the Super 15 and test series and others like Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg and Owen Franks who have whirred through the All Blacks tests.
Kaino will go close to the big gong when the International Rugby Board hands out its awards at a Monday night shindig in Auckland, although if it acts as it did the other day in voting for the chairmanship, we may see a deferred decision.
Kaino is in the voting mix with Will Genia, Ma'a Nonu, David Pocock, Thierry Dusautoir and Piri Weepu for the international player of the year.
These awards are a murky business much of the time. Judging appears to be haphazard; sometimes it takes in the whole year or on this occasion appears to focus on the World Cup.
If decisions were made about the rugby quality players deliver throughout the year, then Weepu would not be on the list, as he was injured for most of the Super 15 series. Comparing performances in competitions on either side of the equator is as awkward as pushing marbles uphill. So this column is concentrating on naming the New Zealand Player of the Year. The same name comes out: Jerome Kaino.
His performances for the Blues throughout the Super 15 were top-drawer in a side which did not always have its A-functions working. Every now and then he was concerned about a knee strain, but he monstered on, missing just a couple of matches.
Kaino was the menacing consistent power, driving the side forward with his mind and muscle, delivering follow-me performances to a pack which had a fill of international talent.
All the talent he had was harnessed to a harder edge, a relentless attitude which told opponents who was the master.
Kaino was the enforcer, the technician and the athlete. This year, Kaino has realised the potential the All Blacks first saw in him in 2004 when he was taken to Europe as a rookie 21-year-old.
Now he is a 47-test veteran, a flanker who is every bit as key to the All Blacks' loose forward resources as his skipper Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. The more he plays the better he feels.
Kaino has played all but 25 seconds of this World Cup campaign (he left the semifinal with cramp just before the final whistle). He missed parts of the opening test of the season against Fiji and the loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane when he was at home with his wife who was delivering their second child.
In each match he has been a thunderously accurate force.
He is in a rich run of form and a standout in a very strong All Blacks side.By Wynne Gray Email Wynne