The stakes are high for the competing Sharp Blacks, writes Calum Henderson.

You could be forgiven for mistaking new TVNZ On Demand series Knives Out for a mockumentary on first glance. Who outside the meat industry had ever heard of the Sharp Blacks, New Zealand's world champion butchery team? Who knew competitive butchery was even a thing?

At first it seems too funny to possibly be real. You've got team captain Corey Winder talking about how Lance Armstrong inspired him to be a champion ("he might have used some drugs, but put that aside ... ") and reflecting on how "some people say 'you're the Richie McCaw of the butchery world'". It's like something straight out of The Office ("I'm sure Texas couldn't run and manage a successful paper merchants").

You've got Trevor Saville, manager of the Australian Steelers, giving us a tour of his Gold Coast butcher's shop complete with a chandelier, red carpet and lounge area. "The Aussie Steelers really want to beat the Kiwis," he crows. "I think a couple of them might even commit suicide if they don't win." Strewth.

It's as serious as your life, this competitive butchery business. And Once you get over your initial disbelief, Knives Out is an absolutely cracking sports documentary - it even has Keith Quinn doing the narration.

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Although Winder rejects the Richie McCaw comparison, there are some obvious parallels between the Sharp Blacks and the All Blacks. There's the world domination (three times world champions), the intense transtasman rivalry, even a shock loss to France in the last World Butchers' Challenge in 2016.

This series follows the six-member team in the build up to the 2018 World Butchers' Challenge in Ireland. What started as a semi-casual showdown between Australia and New Zealand is now a 12-nation affair, and the stakes, excuse the pun, have never been higher.

The format of the competition is laid out at the team's first practice. They start with a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb and five chickens, and have 3 hours and 15 minutes to turn that into a shop window display of more than 80 different products. It's a high pressure race against the clock, with judges assessing everything from the presentation and garnish to the cut, rummaging through the fat waste bins to see if any good meat has been missed.

The first run through leaves a bit to be desired. "I'd be embarrassed to serve those in my shop," Corey condemns a presentation during the debrief session. He takes a leaf from the judges on cooking shows like MasterChef, paraphrasing slightly: "If it's shit, it doesn't hit the table."

What a captain; what a team.

Lowdown

Knives Out,

TVNZ On Demand