Who will be pulling the strings in New Zealand sport as we head toward 2020? Who's the person you most want on your side in an administrative scrap?
Below are the 20 most powerful figures in New Zealand sport. They all have one of two things in common – control and/or influence.
This is a list that reflects the power individuals wield in New Zealand sport and the influence they are expected to have in the next 12 months. It was a list compiled by our in-house sports experts but not before significant input from several well-placed outsides sources.
From the time we started to today, we have instigated a couple of major shifts.
New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew was destined for a top-five placing before last week announcing he was standing down. Announcing his intention to go in turn elevated the importance of his chairman Brent Impey.
There are some other notable omissions. Cameron George might hold the reins at one of New Zealand's biggest and longest standing professional sports franchises, but he misses the list because the Warriors have missed the mark in 2019. At least we now know Shaun Johnson was not the problem.
David White made the initial list but slipped to No 21 after a background source with close ties to the sport rated him just the fourth most powerful person at NZ Cricket.
There is a relative lack of representation of New Zealand Olympic Committee officials, with chef de mission Rob Waddell placed relatively highly by some sources and nowhere at all by others. With no big events in odd-numbered years, the NZOC might as well break out the sun-loungers and wait for their inevitable knight- or damehoods.
There were close-but-no-cigars for the likes of TVNZ general manager of sport and women's sport champion Melodie Robinson, Warriors coach Stephen Kearney and All Blacks captain Kieran Read. Lesser known fringe operators like CSM Sport CEO Simon Porter and experienced sport lawyer Warren Alcock went close too. Next year, maybe.
Sports stars like Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Chris Wood and Valerie Adams would make an athlete-only list, but couldn't push past the bureaucrats.
Here, then, are New Zealand sport's 20 biggest power brokers.
20. Sonny Bill Williams
New Zealand's highest-profile Muslim, Sonny Bill Williams has probably been more influential off the pitch than on it this year given his injuries and the atrocities committed in the two Christchurch mosques in March.
The Blues and All Blacks midfielder was often inspirational in the wake of the killings of 51 of his Muslim brothers and sisters. He travelled to Christchurch – a place he knows well from his time at the Crusaders - and was happy to share his messages of forgiveness and hope to the media and wider public.
A doting husband and father, Williams has become more than just a professional rugby player; he has become a genuine role model and one who isn't afraid to appear vulnerable. We need more like him in New Zealand sport.
19. Kane Williamson
The captain of the Black Caps lives a Boy's Own Annual life while rejecting almost totally the trappings of fame. It is only his unquestioned brilliance with the bat that illuminates him.
It might say "Gary Stead" on the coach's nameplate but make no mistake, this is Williamson's team.
He wields power, yes, but he does so with a brief word, not a broadsword.
18. Noeline Taurua
Taurua's power doesn't just come from her title as head coach of the Silver Ferns, but more in the way she claimed it. With Netball New Zealand desperate to reclaim the coach they once snubbed, Taurua took over the struggling national side last year on her terms and has made a raft of bold changes to selection and structures since.
Taurua doesn't hold all the cards for netball in New Zealand, but she holds the best ones.
17. David Higgins
The shine has unquestionably come off the sports side of the Duco operation with stagnation (maybe regression) of heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker's career. Duco lost the NRL Nines and the nasty split between Higgins and former co-owner Dean Lonergan raised questions about the company's viability.
Yet Higgins takes a questionable idea like putting rugby players against cricketers in a game of T20 and somehow gets TVNZ to broadcast it live (badly, it must be said), and fill Hagley Oval.
Could any other promoter in the country do that? Exactly.
16. Peter Burling and Blair Tuke
World champions – check. Olympic gold medallists – check. America's Cup winners – check. Ocean Race alumni – check. In the world of sailing, there's not all that much left for Burling and Tuke to achieve.
The poster boys of New Zealand sailing, the pair find a way to succeed, be it in a 49er or something bigger. With the sound of sailing set to only get louder in New Zealand, Burling and Tuke control our immediate future on the water.
15. Kereyn Smith
Question: What does the NZOC actually do in years not divisible by two?
Answer: Tell me and we'll both know.
OK, it's an oldie but a goldie and the odd-numbered year is a reason why Smith features lower than some would expect.
One source described Smith as a formidable operator whose considerable talents were perhaps wasted at the NZOC.
Smith is, like Robertson, also near the head of the field in the race to be Biggest Champion for Women's Sport.
14. Chris Lendrum
It's a matter of opinion whether New Zealand Rugby is doing a good job of retaining players, and a subject of wider scope than the work of one man.
But lawyer Chris Lendrum is the bloke at the sharp end of negotiations, fending off all those big money offers from Europe and Japan.
His latest success is locking in locking great Sam Whitelock for four more years – subject to a few conditions – against the big man's initial instincts.
Not a job that is ever going to get easier though.
13. Farah Palmer
That is the one word which sums up Farah Palmer.
The triple World Cup winning Black Ferns captain is among the most important characters in our sports history, as a figure for change.
Palmer has led the way through wide-ranging deeds more than words, from attaining a PhD in sports sociology to breaking the glass ceiling in joining the New Zealand Rugby board.
She also serves on the Sport NZ board.
Players like Selica Winiata, the star fullback, cite her as a great influence. But it is an influence that goes far wider than her international teammates.
12. Bill Moran
Yeah, he's important and yeah, he'll get his knighthood. He's been a servant to football and a servant to the public. He's real Wellington. He's now the chairman of Sport New Zealand. He's important.
11. Greg Barclay
Cricket is a sport fuelled by gossip and for a while now the gossip has been this: Barclay is more than just chairman, he's the big dog in the kennel.
Cricket is also a sport where diplomacy skills (some would say sucking up to the big boys) are crucial. Barclay has proved to be a skilled and malleable operator in places like London and Dubai.
Cricket is facing big change as it looks to streamline the way it delivers such a fractured and sometimes fractious sport. Barclay, an old schoolmate of his CEO David White, might find it harder to maintain friends at home than he does to gain mates overseas.
10. Rob Nichol
As chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association, Nichol plays an important role in terms of lobbying on behalf of his players. He also advocates on behalf of players from many other sports.
He is a visible presence in terms of his rugby role and was a major motivating figure in the players' pushback against World Rugby's nations league concept, a story broken by the Herald in February which reverberated around the world.
Athlete advocates have become increasingly important in professional sport, and Nichol and his cohorts like Heath Mills and Stephanie Bond have led the way in this country.
9. Steven Adams
Making headlines simply by opening his mouth, the Oklahoma City Thunder's awkward centre represents the country on the biggest stage in basketball. He does so in a truly Kiwi fashion: with a dry wit and forgoing flashy outfits in favour of the comfort of Hunting and Fishing fleece.
Adams' power comes from his influence, and he's a genuine world superstar. Anything he turns his attention to instantly becomes important.
He also has the power to hold Basketball New Zealand over a barrel, which you imagine he quite enjoys doing given his long-standing grievances against the organisation.
Not that he ignores the sport here, with his basketball camps proving particularly important, as is the message: "Steven is on a mission to help young people succeed in education and basketball".
He has an elevated position on this list because you only have to open your eyes to see that no matter how hinky our own NBL is, basketball has won the hearts and minds of kids in our largest cities.
8. Peter Miskimmin
The heavyweight administrator has been the boss of Sport NZ for more than a decade. He would be higher up this list were it not for some seeds of doubt being planted over his ability to work as well with this Government.
The former hockey international has aimed millions in public funding at winners not grinners at the top level.
"Place your bet where you think you are going to win," he says.
If success is measured in medals, then he has been spot on for a small country.
7. Grant Dalton
The old man of the sea has a propensity to annoy the bejesus out of agencies he needs to work alongside to get stuff done. Those in his corner, including the more measured Sir Stephen Tindall, describe his bull-at-a-gate approach as a strength; critics tend to swear at the very mention of his name.
At this point in his long career, Dalton has leverage, having bought the America's Cup back to an Auckland waterfront crying out for some love. He's retooled the regatta rules to run roughshod over Rusty Coutts' legacy and has two future legends (see #16) in his employ.
Life should be good, but bet your sunken treasure he will have something to gripe about soon.
6. Michael Scott
High Performance Sport NZ deals in microseconds, according to its blurb, but Scott has declared there is no quick fix when it comes to problems such as dealing with bullying cultures in our top sport.
Top Kiwi sportswomen, in particular, have had to deal with bad team environments according to a series of reviews.
Hockey, football and cycling have been in the gun, while triathlon, rowing and netball also get a mention. Added to that, rugby union bigwig Neil Sorensen talked of culture problems on leaving the national sport's HQ in Wellington.
Taken together, top-level Kiwi sport sounds like a bit of a sick puppy although in a notable contrast our cricketers have led what some see as a revolution in fair but tough play.
There are a lot of different takes on these issues, but if widespread change is needed it's a big ask for one man and one organisation to drive it all.
He will have to wave a big stick and it's too early to tell if Aussie Scott - appointed in 2017 – has a magic wand.
5. Brent Impey
As New Zealand Rugby's chairman, Impey helps set the tone for the national sport in this country.
(Steve Tew, its chief executive, does too, but his impending departure means his influence has become diluted and as a result, he doesn't feature on this list, although he does deserve recognition).
Impey has made it his mission to improve the representation of women in the game here and as such he deserves credit. To a large extent, he has made inroads and while there is plenty of work to do, a good start is no mean feat given some of the chauvinistic attitudes attached to the game here.
Impey was a driving force in Dr Farah Palmer's appointment to New Zealand Rugby's board and a highly visible presence in the announcement of the organisation's Respect and Responsibility Report two years ago which was undertaken in the wake of the Chiefs' "strippergate" scandal.
He will be a key figure in the search for a new CEO and coach.
The country is sick of bad sports parents. It is past time for good parents - the true adults in the room - to take charge.
There are myriad reasons why traditional team sports are struggling for numbers and many are societal and difficult to counter. One factor in the drop-off is easily fixed and that is parents on the sidelines keeping their fat mouths shut. It is the old maxim: if you have nothing nice to say then say nothing at all.
Kids play sport to have fun with their mates; they do not play to affirm that the fruit of their parents' loins was the most potent since Zeus and Alcmene started heavy petting one sultry Greek night.
There are just too many stories of parents being a malevolent presence, from aggressively seeking out scholarships at rugby-rich schools to abusing volunteer refs at primary school netball.
A special mention must be made of obnoxious football parents. True story: one big North Shore club was thrown into turmoil this season when, under pressure from the dad of the best player, a coach tried to demote four of his players for poor performance. They were nine years old! Only well-timed uproar from good parents prevented it happening.
It should be an inspiration to all.
3. Steve Hansen
The All Blacks coach has probably the most important job in New Zealand sport this year: helping to provide the inspiration and strategy for his team's third World Cup win on the trot, a position which comes with pressure but also a privilege, as Hansen himself would say in his inimitable style.
Hansen has a far wider influence than this, though. He helps set the strategic direction of elite rugby in this country and while he will insist he has no influence over selections of other representative teams, for example, the New Zealand Maori, this isn't necessarily true.
But the results speak for themselves. Leading into this World Cup, Hansen can lay claim to being the best All Blacks head coach. If he wins another he'll be in line for a knighthood.
2. Grant Robertson
As an antidote to the Coleman years, Grant Robertson fits the bill. He's a sports minister who not only appears to care about sport but is actually willing to talk about it. Maybe a little intemperately at times, nevertheless he has provided a welcome change to the Minister of No Comment.
Just how that plays out with the man at No 8 on this list remains to be seen but he wouldn't be human if he didn't hanker for the days of a hands-off boss.
Robertson has bigger jobs, like the finance portfolio, but perhaps none that will be so far reaching.
Sport in New Zealand is at a crossroads. In the last few years, review after review after review after review has indicated a gradual rejection of a high-performance system/ culture that has prioritised the chase for medals above all else. And yet, nothing is surer than come Tokyo 2020 the country will demand medals. The rhetoric coming from the minister needs to set the tone for expectations while remaining true to the notion that sport is a very human endeavour and the athletes are the most important humans.
Robertson is a big proponent of increased visibility for women's sport. It would be nice if this movement was a little more organic and a lot less forced. It feels like a cottage industry has sprung up around who can lay stake to the claim of being Biggest Champion for Women's Sport with the Government leading the way.
1: Incoming Spark CEO Jolie Hodson and Sky CEO Martin Stewart
To mangle a horrible sporting cliché, the "battle" between Spark and Sky for sports rights could define the next decade of sport in New Zealand.
In the digital streaming corner, we have Spark whose bold play for the Rugby World Cup rights and wholly satisfactory price point have them pegged as the first realistic challenger to…
… the set-top-box corner where the undisputed champion of NZ sports broadcasting, Sky TV, sits on its creaking throne.
We still have a lot to learn about Spark's commitment to sport and what shape it might take beyond streaming on its Spark Sport app. But head of sport Jeff Latch has a significant history in broadcasting and if he's given a long leash, the results could have a profound effect on not just the fortunes of two companies, but on the continued viability of sport here.
The noises about Stewart's first few months in the job have all been positive, unless you're a Sky TV employee who's been told to shape up or ship out. According to one employee, he's a fan of big ideas and an enemy of those who tell him why big ideas might be too hard to implement.
In short, he sounds exactly like the sort of leader a company whose virtual monopoly on all the big events has been eroded and whose share price recently slipped to $1.20 needs.
Hodson's "We're very comfortable where we are with Spark Sport" answer to a question regarding her commitment to sport by the Herald's Chris Keall was hardly a clarion call for Latch to go forth and multiply Spark's portfolio.
The bush telegraph suggested that Moutter might have left in part because his bold vision to be a major sports player did not match that of the board.
If that's the case, the next time you see a list like this, Stewart might reign alone at the top.