Who won New Zealand sport in 2018?

It's a question that nobody except you, the immensely valued reader, is currently wondering to themselves, but we at the Herald aimed to answer which individual, team or theme had the biggest impact on the New Zealand sporting landscape in 2018.

Niall Anderson and Joel Kulasingham were given the arduous task of deciding who won the year, and did it the only way they know how - with elaborate justifications, outrageous takes, and forced pop-culture references.

Hopefully, one of your New Year's Resolutions was to do more reading, because below - in bracket format! - are far too many words on how sport in New Zealand unfolded in 2018. The selection committee's rulings are final, so if you're outraged about a particular snub, don't make us tap the sign...

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Important reminder.
Important reminder.

Here's the bracket - let's get this show on the road!

Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett and Scott Barrett of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty
Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett and Scott Barrett of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty

But in 2018, it was the sisters who shined. The Black Ferns (in both the sevens and XVs arenas) probably had their biggest ever year. The Black Ferns sevens won gold at the Commonwealth Games – thanks to a special Kelly Brazier try of the year in extra time – and defended their World Cup title. Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge made history by becoming the first woman to be named the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial player of the year, beating out All Blacks Richie Mo'unga, Brodie Retallick and Codie Taylor. And the profile of women's rugby is the highest it has ever been.

Unlucky bros, the Black Ferns advance in a tight one. - JK

9) Majority sports v 24) Women's Black Sticks

The Women's Black Sticks shone to claim their first Commonwealth Games gold medal, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that was the end of their 2018 season. A disappointing 11th place finish at the World Cup in July was in fact their final outing in 2018, and since then, the only media coverage they've received has been the unwanted kind, via a review into a potential negative culture created by coach Mark Hager. Hockey fits the category of second-tier sports struggling for mainstream coverage in New Zealand – including from this website – and the battle for recognition facing similar sports is probably only going to get harder. Majority sports move on…. - NA

10) Joe Schmidt v 23) Player power

Let's give it up for Joe Schmidt, the Kiwi-born coaching phenom who not long ago was a stranger to the majority of the New Zealand public. He has led Ireland to their most successful period in its history, winning three Six Nations titles (2014, 2015, 2018) including a Grand Slam (2018), a first win on South African soil (2016), a first win over New Zealand (2016) and a series win in Australia (2018). And he topped off a fantastic year – where he was named 2018 World Rugby Coach of the Year – with a 16-9 victory over the All Blacks in Dublin to claim the nominal 'best team in the world' tag heading into next year's World Cup.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo / Getty
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo / Getty

Schmidt is up against player power, the millennial athlete's reclaiming of what is rightfully theirs. As sports fans, we should all be for player power. In an ultra-capitalist environment, individual autonomy and financial freedom for the athlete is becoming increasingly difficult. But this year, we saw athletes make moves against the teams, organisations and systems that make it harder to let them do what they do: Shaun Johnson asked for a release from his contract at the Warriors (more on this later); Football Ferns players penned letters of complaints against their disgraced former coach Andreas Heraf; several All Blacks left (or announced that they would be leaving) the country to make more money for their families.

Speaking of player power, Schmidt made probably the biggest boss move of the year – I guess it's more coaching power in his case – when he announced that he will "finish coaching" after next year's World Cup to spend more time with his family, just when everyone wanted him to take over as the next All Blacks coach.

Now that is what I call a power move. Schmidt advances by a bonus point victory. - JK

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8) The Folaus v 23) Paige Hareb

It's annoying how good Israel Folau is at rugby. Not for the usual blasé anti-Australian rhetoric reasons, but for the fact it'd be so much better if he simply wasn't in the public eye and mainstream media with his homophobic comments.

It'd be so good to ignore him if he was simply playing in Japan or France, but no, he's a standout every week for the Waratahs and is consistently the Wallabies' most potent backline threat against the All Blacks. So, we get to hear about his warped beliefs, and those beliefs get to remain public as the Australian Rugby Union bowed to his every whim, giving him a four year deal.

As for Paige Hareb, well she won a qualifying tour event, was part of the success of the "World Team" at the Founders Cup and finished second at the World Games. A big deal for New Zealand surfing, but compared to the accomplishments of others already mentioned, and Folau, it didn't create as many waves (lol, geddit?)

I'm sure Paige Hareb has far more progressive and pleasant views, but this bracket doesn't operate on sentiment alone, and Israel's 2018 is more than enough to put the Folaus into the next round. - NA

7) Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v 26) Reviews

There's not many other athletes who play in a team sport who have had a better year than Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The Warriors skipper helped lead the team back into the playoffs and cultural relevancy. He then became the first Warrior to ever win the Dally M medal – the NRL's greatest individual honour. RTS is so much fun to watch, and this year, he eclipsed SBW as the best three letter acronym athlete in the country.

He is however, up against a low-key powerhouse. Given the 26th seed because it really wasn't a thing that happened too often before this year, reviews became so common in New Zealand sport in 2018 that it became more relevant than the other kind of review - the slowly dying art of music and pop culture criticism. Almost every sporting body this year felt like they were under review, due to poor performances, negative environments created by coaches, and/or cultures of bullying and intimidation. Here's a list of sports governing bodies that underwent an internal review this year: Triathlon NZ, Rowing NZ, Netball NZ, NZ Football, Cycling NZ, Hockey NZ, and even the governing body of the other governing bodies, Sport NZ.

Another early playoff loss for RTS. Reviews goes through. - JK

4) Crusaders v 29) Teenagers

Back-to-back Super Rugby titles sure make a strong case for the Crusaders, especially considering how dominant they were during their run to the title. But teenagers, who are woefully underseeded here by the incompetent seeding committee, had two things in their favour – excellent results, and unexpected results. Someone – usually the Crusaders, admittedly - wins a Super Rugby title every year, but Winter Olympics medals, like the bronzes earned by 16-year-olds Nico Porteous and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott?

Bronze medalists Zoi Sadowski Synnott and Nico Porteous. Photo / Getty
Bronze medalists Zoi Sadowski Synnott and Nico Porteous. Photo / Getty

That hadn't been accomplished in 26 years, and is more than enough for a first round victory. - NA

3) Commonwealth Games stars v 30) Scott Dixon

Every four years, we get to witness New Zealand athletes do some pretty cool stuff at a level that is not quite the top, in an event that celebrates colonialism in all its glory. This year, there were many Commonwealth Games stars who the country seemed to love for a few weeks like Valerie Adams, Eliza McCartney, Joelle King, Tom Walsh, Sophie Pascoe, etc. We love our Comm Games stars, and they love us.

They're up against the sole motorsport candidate in the draw. Scott Dixon was the obligatory driver pick, beating out Supercars winner Scott McLaughlin. Both drivers had great years, but Dixon had a movie come out this year so he made the top 32. Other than that, Dixon also won his fifth IndyCar championship to move into second in IndyCar history behind American A.J. Foyt. It's still nuts that a Kiwi is killing it over in America in a sport that is very American, at least in its following. Unfortunately for Dixon, New Zealanders don't really know anything about IndyCar racing, including me.

So the Comm Games stars move on easily. - JK

13) Lydia Ko v 20) Loopholes

We have taken Lydia Ko's consistent excellence for granted in many ways, to the point where she can earn 10 top 10 finishes, win over $1 million and claim her first victory in nearly two years, and it still doesn't quite match the feats when she burst onto the scene. Compare to the rise of the loophole, which has seen the likes of Laura Langman, Maria Folau, Brad Shields and Matt Todd all benefit from exemptions to normal rules, and I'll create a loophole into the next round. - NA

14) Jonelle and Tim Price v 19) Karl Tu'inukuafe

Equestrian power couple Jonelle and Tim Price might be the best sporting couple in New Zealand history. They became only the second married couple to win equestrian's two most prestigious titles in the same year – Jonelle won the Badminton in May, while Tim won the Burghley Horse Trials in September.

And Jonelle also wins in the quote of the year category for her description of her 15-year-old winning horse Molly: "Molly would, if she were a person, come from Swindon (or West Auckland for our NZ followers), be a couple of stone overweight, have several tattoos, wear a too-tight leather jacket over skin-tight leopard skin pants, have a boyfriend with an IQ of 10 who is a club bouncer, and four children by four different fathers."

Jonelle Price riding Classic Moet (aka Molly). Photo / Getty
Jonelle Price riding Classic Moet (aka Molly). Photo / Getty

Speaking of club bouncers, the Prices are up against the year's best rugby story, Karl Tu'inukuafe. You simply have to love this man. He's basically a massive teddy bear, with a big heart and an even bigger scrum motor. Just four years ago, he was pushing 175kgs and was warned by a doctor that he had to change his lifestyle. He didn't have a professional contract and worked as a bouncer at Auckland nightclubs. Now he's an All Black and is one of the best props in the world.

In the closest first-round matchup so far, Tu'inukuafe edges the Prices by a width of a moustache. - JK

12) Watching sport on TV v 21) Technology in sport

I am by no means a technophobe, but technology in sport can produce some mixed results. As an example, for every time replay review results in game-changing accurate decisions, there's a counter-example where it causes endless delays or complete confusion. The phrase "Perfect is the enemy of good" comes to mind, but there is a technology that has an incredible impact on sport. Yes, I'm talking about the technology which allows you to watch sport on television, instead of suffering the time, weather, traffic, cost and often inferior product of attending live sport. - NA

11) Shaun Johnson-Warriors breakup v 22) Israel Adesanya

The Shaun Johnson-Warriors saga is a rare breakup that benefits everyone – one of those relationships where both parties move on to better partners and become better people because of it. They might even stay friends after it all. Johnson gets a new team that will probably value him a bit more and a much-needed change of scenery; the Warriors get to move on from a million dollar star who probably wasn't justifying his price tag; and even the Herald wins for breaking the initial story – yay us! In the words of the great Ariana Grande: "I'm so f***in' grateful for my ex."

SJ and the Warriors are up against one of the most exciting athletes to come out of New Zealand in the last few years in MMA fighter Israel Adesanya. The undefeated 'Style Bender' made his much-anticipated UFC debut in February, making easy work of Australian Rob Wilkinson. He's since added three more wins, his latest an impressive TKO against top-10 ranked middleweight Derek Brunson. It earned him a superfight against UFC legend Anderson Silva in February, with a win likely setting up a transtasman clash for the UFC middleweight title against Kiwi-born Aussie Robert Whitaker.

Adesanya has the potential to be a great Kiwi athlete but he's not there yet. Rugby league's Beyoncé and Destiny's Child take the win by unanimous decision. Thank u, next. - JK

5) Steven Adams v 28) Spark

Don't you feel like Steven Adams suffers from the same excellence expectations as Lydia Ko? Imagine telling somebody 10 years ago that New Zealand would potentially have a NBA All-Star, and yet now, Adams can put up a 20 point, 20 rebound performance and everyone just nods and goes "Yep, sounds about right". This is where, if I was good at writing, I'd compare him to SKY in their battle against Spark. But I'm not, so – seamless transition – Spark are on the rise in the sports world, having secured the rights to NBA TV, most of motorsport, both Rugby World Cups, hockey (definitely a huge majority sport, remember) and the Premier League.

Steven Adams. Photo / Getty
Steven Adams. Photo / Getty

SKY is Steven Adams. Spark is …. Luka Doncic? DeAaron Fox? I don't know. But in 2018, the excitement of Spark's potential rise – and the huge scalp of the Rugby World Cup rights - takes down the relentless consistency of Adams. - NA

6) Steve Hansen v 27) Esports

So Steve Hansen will be stepping aside after next year's World Cup, as most of us expected. And when he does retire, he will probably be seen as the best to ever do it. His 2018 was pretty solid. The All Blacks still played some scintillating rugby, and Hansen was actually pretty funny in press conferences. But they also lost two tests, including the big one against Ireland – where Hansen kinda looked outcoached by Joe Schmidt.

Meanwhile, if you were wondering what the most widely played sport in 2018 was in New Zealand, it was probably Esports – with a big part of it being Fortnite. Esports is also going to be an Olympic sport in the future. Like it or not, it's here to stay.

The retiring All Blacks coach has no chance against Generation Z. A big upset to finish off round one: Esports topples Hansen. - JK

ROUND OF 16

1) All Blacks v 16) Former All Blacks playing abroad

I mean, you can probably tell who is winning this matchup based on the title alone, right? There's a reason they're former All Blacks. The monetary difference from playing overseas is not as significant for the best All Blacks as it is for, say, unfortunate first round knockouts Auckland Rugby, and the much-ballyhooed "Power of the Black Jersey" still exists, as seen by top players being set to take sabbaticals, rather than leaving the country for good. And really, if Former All Blacks advanced over Current All Blacks, what on earth would we be suggesting? - NA

2) Kane Williamson v 18) Black Ferns

Williamson, the white guy who dresses in white, comes up once again against women's sporting progress – awkward. This time though, he's up against a stronger opponent. While gender equality were no walkovers, they're young and it's still early in their career. The upside is really high, but it's still very raw when it comes to talent – or more accurately, people's perception of their talent. The Black Ferns, on the other hand, have consistently shown why they're one of the best and most entertaining sports teams in the country. Also, Williamson has a personality of a cricket bat.

The Black Ferns knock out one of the early favourites. - JK

9) Majority sports v 8) The Folaus

Hardly a month went by without the Folaus in the headlines. We've covered off Israel's busy year in the headlines, but Maria was no shrinking violet either. She publicly supported her husband's comments, was part of the Silver Ferns' epic meltdown at the Commonwealth Games, was important enough to earn a loophole to move overseas, but was then slammed by fans of her new team. It was a big year for majority sports, but of course, the Folaus are a heavy presence in the biggest sport of all in New Zealand, and Maria's busy year only adds to their overall presence. It's a close one, but remember - God is on their side! Tiebreaker goes to God. - NA

10) Joe Schmidt v 26) Reviews

Schmidt, the creative rugby genius and rush defence specialist, is apparently not taking over the reigns as All Blacks coach next year. So is he really a winner? Plus, New Zealand sport's broken sporting system is an overwhelming force that will swallow anyone and anything up.

Bye Joe. - JK

29) Teenagers v 20) Loopholes

We've already mentioned Nico Porteous and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, but it wasn't just in the winter codes where Kiwi teenagers shone in 2018. Then 17-year-old Amelia Kerr blasted the highest women's ODI score for the White Ferns, smacking an absurd 232 not out against Ireland, then taking a casual 5-17 with the ball. Sure, it was Ireland, who are extremely not good at women's cricket, but Kerr is New Zealand's most promising cricketer in years, and her record performance should stand the test of time. There's no need for a loophole to send the teens into the next round. - NA

New Zealand bowler Amelia Kerr. Photo / Getty
New Zealand bowler Amelia Kerr. Photo / Getty

3) Commonwealth Games stars v 19) Karl Tu'inukuafe

As I alluded to before, the best athletes in the world don't compete in the Commonwealth Games.

Tu'inukuafe, on the other hand, does compete against the world's best athletes. And he's just a great guy.

Easy win for Big Karl. - JK

12) Watching sport on TV v 28) Spark

The winner of this battle depends on how optimistic you are about watching the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Spark will be broadcasting the tournament "via an app that will be compatible with a wide range of devices," with customers needing a broadband or mobile connection. No longer will just turning on the TV be enough to catch all of the World Cup, and anyone with parents will know the potential pitfalls that come with asking consumers to figure out anything technological.

Additionally, all it will take is one or two people to complain about their internet cutting out, and the media will be out in force to feast upon Spark's "struggles" (Trust me, I know).

The Herald's Chris Keall wrote about the risk Spark are taking. "While I admire his moxie and desperately hope it goes well for him, I think the telco's MD Simon Moutter is taking a huge risk," penned Keall.

"If Spark's stream cuts out during the 2019 Rugby World Cup - as happened to Optus mid-year during the FIFA World Cup - then New Zealanders' anger will know no bounds."

He's 100 per cent correct, and I have a feeling that by the end of the tournament, (older) people will be pining for the easier days where every game was readily available on simple television. - NA

11) Shaun Johnson-Warriors breakup v 27) Esports

The Warriors were good again, the Kiwis had a coach change (oh wait, another review!), RTS made history, but the SJ-Warriors story saga was by far the most zeitgeisty rugby league story of the year. People love breakups, as shown by this meme of the highest quality.

But you know what was even more zeitgeisty this year? Fortnite. Esports continues to eat everything up in its wake and moves on to the quarters. - JK
Bonus BDE index:

Shaun Johnson – Nope
Stephen Kearney – Nah
Cameron George – Yes!

QUARTER-FINALS

1) All Blacks v 8) The Folaus

The heartwarming run of the Folaus comes to an end here. Not only did the All Blacks beat the Wallabies on the field, they took down Folau's opinions off the paddock too. TJ Perenara and Brad Weber both spoke out powerfully in response to Folau's archaic beliefs, the All Blacks wore rainbow laces in support of the LBGT community, and were involved in a diversity campaign, even if it did have a whiff of cynical brand promotion. "Love wins" could be an All Blacks slogan based on on-field success alone, but now it has two meanings. - NA

18) Black Ferns v 26) Reviews

Black Ferns star Portia Woodman confirmed to the Herald this year that there was internal strife within the team after the 2016 Olympics where they lost in the final to Australia. There was conflict between the players and coaches, she explained.

Even before this year, reviews was threatening to breakout as New Zealand sport's next star. It's gonna be tough to stop this freight train. - JK

29) Teenagers v 12) Watching sport on TV

Do teenagers even know what television is? Spark's plan to broadcast the Rugby World Cup would have no issues if they were targeting solely to young people, many of whom don't even own TVs.

And, despite the possible pitfalls that knocked them out in the last round, Spark do have the right idea - people are moving away from watching sport on television. Young people are forever the generation which decides what's popular. Future decision makers for major companies are going to be influenced by the youth - there will be more trends, and more ideas, but the most important base to market those will always be teenagers. Sorry, olds, it's the truth. How do you think Dua Lipa and Halsey became popular? Oh, you don't know who they are? Exactly…. - NA

19) Karl Tu'inukuafe v 27) Esports

There's only one thing that can take down the evil force that is Fortnite, and that's the lush, impeccably groomed creature living on Big Karl's upper lip.

Tu'inukuafe quick scopes Esports to reach the semis. - JK

SEMIFINALS

1) All Blacks v 29) Teenagers

The All Blacks might have won this, but the Ireland loss obviously hurt their 2018 resume, and then in November, the Under-17 Football Ferns claimed a historic third at the U-17 World Cup. It could put them ahead of All Blacks in Halberg Team of the Year voting – in fact, it probably will, and since when has the Halberg voting panel ever made a wrong decision?

If that explanation doesn't do it for you, then how about the important tiebreaker of "Did My Chemical Romance record a hit song about you?" And seeing I can't find any songs about Liam Squire or the rolling maul, the winner is… - NA

26) Reviews v 19) Karl Tu'inukuafe

Hmm… 26 against 19 in the conference finals. Interesting. But then again, 2018 has been that type of year. Sadly, Tu'inukuafe's fairytale run ends here, as even the mighty moustache is no match for the widespread lack of transparency, incompetence and inequality of many of New Zealand's sporting bodies, and the systems that uphold them. Reviews is the Donald Trump of NZ sport.

Reviews are through to the finals, sigh. - JK

THE FINAL

29) Teenagers v 26) Reviews

How did the Under-17 Football Ferns perform so well at the World Cup, you wonder? Well, it probably had something to do with no longer having Andreas Heraf in charge of everything as New Zealand Football Technical Director. How was Heraf ousted? Via review. Amelia Kerr and the White Ferns underperformed at the Cricket World Cup, leading to a ... review.

Not even teenagers were immune to the might of the review in 2018 - and that is why the review is the winner of New Zealand's sporting year. - NA