The 57th ISPS Handa Halberg Awards was a night to remember for Bay of Plenty's Dame Noeline Taurua as she and her Silver Ferns cleaned up in multiple categories. She spoke to sports reporter David Beck about what the awards meant to her and the team.

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The magnitude of the Silver Ferns' Netball World Cup victory last July is evident in the accolades that have come in the seven months following.

At the end of 2019, head coach Dame Noeline Taurua was made a Dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to netball and at the 57th ISPS Handa Halberg Awards on Thursday night she and her team took top honours.



Taurua was named Buddle Findlay Coach Of The Year and presented with the Sport New Zealand leadership award for her efforts in the leading the Silver Ferns from Commonwealth Games failures to world champions.

The Silver Ferns were named Team of the Year before also claiming the Supreme Award.

Taurua admitted that, while confident in her own and the players' abilities, the speed of the side's turn around and the recognition received since surprised even her.

"That's probably the amazing thing about it, I definitely would never written a script to what's happened post Netball World Cup, not only for the team but also for myself. I suppose that's the highs of success and what happens when you succeed on the world stage.

"It's fantastic for our sport. I feel that over the last two years there have been massive shifts. With the lows of the Commonwealth Games and the highs of the Netball World Cup it's a bit of a fairytale kind of journey winning the Halbergs last night."

Bay of Plenty athletes and coaches were sprinkled throughout the award categories on Thursday; former Rotorua Boys' High School student Israel Adesanya was named Sportsman of the Year and Whakatāne's Lisa Carrington Sportswoman of the Year.

Rotorua's Lisa Adams was a finalist in the Para Athlete of the Year Award, won by Sophie Pascoe, while Tauranga's Kane Williamson and Scott McLaughlin were finalists for Sportsman of the Year.

Taurua, a former Rotorua woman who last year relocated from Australia to Pukehina Beach, said she was not surprised at all to see athletes from her home region finding success on the world stage.

The Halberg Supreme Award winning Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty Images
The Halberg Supreme Award winning Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty Images

"Bay of Plenty, I have always known to have a lot of talent throughout the region. It's always been a consistent message with a lot of athletes and especially coaches who come through the ranks of the Bay of Plenty region, myself included, that it's the hard work which comes out at the forefront.

"I think we've got so much talent that we've all grown up in the same environment of trying to be competitive against one another. That's once again a great grounding once you become higher or become an elite athlete.

"I relocated back from Australia in December and just getting my feet on the ground has been lovely. Being out at Pukehina Beach is just a dream so everything about being back and getting out in the regions, I'm looking forward to."

She put the success of the Silver Ferns in 2019 down to the players' deep desire to improve. The goal now was to use that momentum to grow the game at all levels.

"Definitely the people involved, the intent for them to be better forced a shift in the standards and that's become ingrained in what they know needs to be done to wear the black dress and be a Silver Fern.

"The next thing is now the levels underneath and trying to grow the next line of Silver Ferns, whether it be as players or the upcoming coaches. We've got a lot of work to do in that respect but the Netball World Cup is a great foundation or starting point for us to build upon."

Former Rotorua Boys' High School student Israel Adesanya was named ISPS Handa Sportsman of the Year at the Halberg Awards on Thursday. Photo / Getty Images
Former Rotorua Boys' High School student Israel Adesanya was named ISPS Handa Sportsman of the Year at the Halberg Awards on Thursday. Photo / Getty Images

Meanwhile, UFC middleweight champion and Sportsman of the Year Adesanya stole the show with a powerful acceptance speech.

The Nigerian-New Zealand MMA fighter was the first combat sport athlete to win the award since 1953 and delivered a fiery acceptance speech, calling for an end to the "tall poppy" culture in the country and motivating young athletes.

"This isn't really for me," Adesanya said. "This is for the young generation coming up who get to see someone they can relate to, someone of my essence if you will, that they can see a combat athlete ... is up there with the likes of the All Blacks, the Black Caps, the Tall Blacks."

Adesanya's full speech
"How long do I have? [Clears throat amid laughter]. It's the 57th annual Halbergs. It's the first time combat athletes have been nominated so you know, I have to do this for the old, the combat athletes of old. Rest in Peace Jimmy Thunder, David Tua, Doug Viney sitting right there, Ray Sefo, Joseph Parker, and now Israel Adesanya.

"Kiwis, we love a good one out. We love a good fight. This is part of the culture. Straight up. We're a country of a warrior race, the Māori. This is part of our culture. If a fight broke out right now, what would you all do? You'd ignore me and you'd watch the fight. It's in our DNA. We've been doing this for so long, you guys have no idea. Welcome to the party.

"We've been doing this for so long. Way back, we've been wearing New Zealand on our back all over the world. We did it twice last year in Australia, UFC 234 and 243, me and two of my other teammates, we repeated the three-peat. And guess what, next weekend we have other people coming to our shores at UFC Auckland and we're gonna defend the land, and repeat the three-peat. Understand this.

"So for me, this really isn't for me. This is for the young generation coming up who get to see someone they can relate to, someone who is of my essence, if you will. A combat athlete that they can feel like, 'Man, my sport, like Muay Thai or Jiu-Jitsu or Wrestling is up there with the All-Blacks, the Black Caps, and the Tall Blacks and New Zealand's top sporting teams'. We're on a level playing field. Like I said, we've been doing this for a long time, so this is for them.

"And this is for my team, City Kickboxing. This is for my coach, Eugene Bareman, because without him my career wouldn't be sh*t. I wouldn't be here. Understand that.

"And one more thing I've got say: New Zealand we have this f- woo, censorship! Where's the swear jar? Nah, f*ck it - we have this culture of tall puppy syndrome which is messed up. Coming up in this country, I've seen it so many times. When you see somebody rising you want to tear them down because you feel inadequate and you want to call it humble. I am extraordinarily humble, believe me, but you'll never know that because you never get to know me. Understand this, if you see one of us shining, whether it be the netball team, the Black Caps, the Sailors, pump them up! Embrace them! Because if they win, we win, if I win, you win! Understand that.

"And I know some of you will be a little salty, you might clap but you're a little salty, but hey, stay salty, the Black Kiwi's gonna fly all day. Shout out to myself in this mustard-coloured jacket and shout out to the guy with the mustard coloured face as well. Peace!"