Herald’s 24th annual shortlist identifies those who have made New Zealand a better place.

Today we launch the Herald's annual New Zealander of the Year awards.

Each year we sift through the stories of those who have reached a pinnacle and helped make New Zealand a better place in some way.

And 2015 has been a remarkable year. We've seen incredible sporting triumphs and awe-inspiring stories of individual bravery; there are those who have made a splash dedicating themselves to the good of others and those who have quietly changed thousands of lives.

One on our shortlist has saved thousands of babies, another took on our politicians before he hit his teens. One showed extraordinary courage facing death, another spent countless years battling injustice.

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All have made a difference to the lives of New Zealanders and a positive change to the country.

The difficulty was not in selecting those worthy of recognition, but in narrowing down a shortlist to final top 10 lists across news, business and sport.

Today we celebrate the first of those who made the lists. In news, Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw; the leaders who brought home the Rugby World Cup. Sport kicks off with star New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson and business profiles Mike Bennetts, chief executive of Z Energy, and Rocket Lab's Peter Beck.

Each subsequent day we will profile two nominees in each section before unveiling this year's winners in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Managing editor Shayne Currie said: "It is 24 years since the Herald launched its New Zealander of the Year award to recognise the people who go above and beyond.

"Every year I am amazed by the extraordinary people who help make a difference to other people's lives - and this year is no different," he said. "Each person you'll read about this week has an amazing story. It is a privilege and an honour to be able to tell them."

Previous winners include Sir Peter Blake, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman and Louise Nicholas.

Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw

For leading the All Blacks to an unprecedented back-to-back Rugby World Cup win.

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After the All Blacks opened their World Cup campaign with victory against Argentina, coach Steve Hansen and captain Richie McCaw squabbled like an old married couple over the interpretation device that the former said wasn't working.

It was a rare insight into the closeness and easiness of their relationship. These two, it could be said, became an item when McCaw was in his last year at school. Hansen, then the Canterbury coach, happened to see McCaw play for the Otago Boys' High School 1st XV and promptly demanded that no matter the cost, his province had to go after this one-of-a-kind No 7.

They have been on the same page ever since and the World Cup was their finest moment. They had a shared vision of the All Blacks becoming the first team to defend their title and were totally committed to it. It was a goal they set only weeks after the All Blacks had won the 2011 tournament. They knew the sacrifices each individual would have to make, the depth of understanding the team would need around not only their game plan and tactical approach but also the ebb and flow of the tournament.

They almost spoke as one for six weeks - pushing the same calm, methodical lines about taking it one game at a time and never looking too far ahead. When the public were anxious and doubtful, these two remained convinced they were on the right track, that their rewards would come.

They also shared a conviction that the All Blacks had to be world champions off the field and set the example with their respectful and honest exchanges.

The tightness of their bond and their belief in what they were doing was critical in bringing the entire team together and giving everyone a shared sense of purpose.