In the first instalment of a compelling three-part series, NZME’s sports journalists delve into the highs and lows of 2023, offering bold takes on controversies ranging from VAR’s impact on football to the Warriors’ future concerns and the unexpected delights of sports analysis on TikTok, as well as scathing critiques of extended World Cups, NZR’s coaching decisions, and the Football Ferns’ missed opportunities in the Women’s World Cup.
Jason Pine: VAR needs to go
Technology is stealing the soul of football.
The sport needs to admit they got it wrong and walk back the use of VAR.
The only thing that should remain is goal-line technology; get rid of the rest and live with the fact humans will make errors.
VAR has been exponentially more detrimental to the game than anything that happened before it was introduced.
Chris Rattue: The Warriors are a worry
The Warriors have been taken in by their success.
I went into the 2023 season optimistic about their prospects, and they succeeded beyond those expectations.
But I also have a sense of doom about 2024 because, at the time of writing, they have not fixed up their squad and the departure of Josh Curran and Bayley Sironen removes vital spark.
Last week, the Warriors announced the signing of premiership-winning and Queensland second-rower Kurt Capewell who will provide value not only on his play on the field but in mentoring other players. It’s a good move, but won’t be enough to patch up all the holes.
The big issue is a glaring lack of middle forwards.
Addin Fonua-Blake’s late-season attempt to break free of a contract he extended just last year, to return to Sydney on compassionate grounds, is a major worry.
His desire to escape a big contract after such a successful season suggests he is very unsettled. His performances dropped off in the 2023 playoffs, particularly against the Broncos where Payne Haas was able to wipe the floor with him.
Fonua-Blake has pledged his loyalty to the Warriors in 2024 after club chief executive Cameron George held firm, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he battles to match his brilliant 2023 year.
If he fades even slightly, the Warriors will be toast.
Steve Holloway: TikTok is the best place to watch sport
The sporting smorgasbord served up by a good TikTok algorithm is unbeatable.
For the uninitiated, TikTok is a video-only social media platform where 34 million videos a day are posted.
The more you watch of a certain type of video, the more it shows you that.
So if curated well, in the space of a few minutes, a Monday morning scroll could comprise of Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville getting heated about the latest Man United loss, an Intricate analysis of the latest UFC card – with explanations on where the fights were won and lost, Lydia Ko’s best shots from her latest major, Warriors fans reacting to their latest win and the best magic Messi has created for Inter Miami.
Many of these TikTok accounts become full-time as their follower counts soar into the millions, allowing them to pump more money into improving their output with production values and creativity. The variety of quality content is exceptional.
TikTok’s advantage is its user base and speed. Within minutes of a major moment happening in sport, some expert (or lunatic) will have broken it down, with clear video, and given it wider context. Don’t sleep on the Tok.
Andrew Alderson: The World Cups were dull
Tedious, elongated, soporific World Cups. Rugby and cricket, at 51 and 46 days respectively, here’s looking at you.
By comparison, dullness never gets a chance to strike with Fifa’s sturdy 32-team-64-game-32-day football formula.
World Rugby has a scroll of problems to solve, driven principally by the obstacle of concussion. Don’t make the game less palatable by forming four pools of five, thus guaranteeing an effective bye each round and stifling momentum while teams and stakeholders rack up bills of joie de vivre on company tabs in the south of France.
Likewise, the International Cricket Council teases out their 50-over showpiece, in a bid to maximise revenue. They should be applauded for employing a round robin but, of the 45 group matches for 10 teams, only five days contained two fixtures. Surely they can up the tempo? The T20 equivalent, admittedly involving 16 teams in a pool format, takes four weeks.
Luke Kirkness: NZR had a shocker
The most glaring and infuriating sporting moment of the year centres on New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) inexplicable decision to announce the appointment of the All Blacks coach for 2024 before the team had played at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
After much angst following last year’s historic series defeat to Ireland, it was eventually announced in March that Scott Robertson would take over after the World Cup in September-October.
The move was a textbook example of poor decision-making and a lack of strategic foresight.
If NZR believed Robertson was the best coach for the All Blacks, why not make the change before the World Cup? Its half-hearted endorsement of Foster undermined the team’s credibility and severely hampered their chances on the international stage.
NZR’s decision to announce Robertson’s appointment before the tournament raised serious doubts about its commitment to success. It was an egregious misstep by NZR.
Winston Aldworth: NZR had a blinder
(Notwithstanding everything written by Luke Kirkness immediately above this item,) New Zealand Rugby (NZR) got it perfectly right in the coaching-appointment stakes.
In the last 18 months of his time in charge of the All Blacks, Ian Foster got the support he desperately needed and received the barebones of a motivational pep-talk that took his team to within one stray kick at goal of winning the sport’s biggest prize: The whole world’s against us, no one thinks we can do it.
NZ Rugby got the best possible outcome from the Foster coaching tenure – his side went further in the tournament than many All Blacks teams of the past have managed with far greater reserves of talent at hand. What would Christian Cullen have given to be within one strike of glory? And in Scott Robertson they got the right coach to lead them forward.
Yes, the timing of the announcement was awkward – but there’s no nice way of doing these things and NZR’s hand was forced to a large extent by the coming and going of coaches at club and national level elsewhere.
Michael Burgess: Football Ferns blew it
The Football Ferns blew it at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. While their breakthrough win against Norway has been rightly lauded – and was an awakening for women’s football in the country – the ultimate failure to make it to the knockout stages from there was a huge setback, given what it could have done for the sport.
When will they have another chance like that?
In the end, it reflected a poor build-up. Despite a smorgasbord of games, the coaching staff were unable to settle on their best XI and formation until way too late, while the tactical switches and use of substitutions in the final two group matches were questionable. It still hurts.
New Zealand Football had three years – from when the hosting rights were confirmed in June 2020 – to capitalise on a unique opportunity and build the best possible squad – and they fell short.
Bonnie Jansen: NZ Football’s big moment wasn’t all it seemed
The spectacular goal scored by Hannah Wilkinson on the opening night of the 2023 World Cup may have cost the Football Ferns a spot in the tournament’s knock-out phase.
Yes, that goal, was groundbreaking. It was historic – and a very classy strike – but was it detrimental to the future of their tournament?
By Wilkinson scoring that goal, it gave the nation and the team hope ... and it seemingly gave coach Jitka Klimkova too much trust that Wilkinson was New Zealand’s best attacking option.
Following that 1-0 victory over Norway – Wilkinson would go on to start and play most of the next two fixtures.
Klimkova was reluctant to bring anyone on in her replacement – which hurt New Zealand’s chances of getting out of Group A. The belief in Wilkinson was too high. The next two games she underperformed, missing tournament-changing chances. The Football Ferns had plenty of young star power that could have come off that bench: Grace Jale, Milly Clegg, Paige Satchell, but we barely saw them.
And while the veteran didn’t directly cost the Football Ferns a round-of-16 spot – and was the main contributor to their biggest-ever World Cup success – New Zealand’s World Cup hero was detrimentally trusted too much.