Kiwi Male Sportsman of the Year
Gold: Kane Williamson
Prince Kane, the great one. Records fell like autumn leaves when Williamson was at the crease last year. Forget about all the potential he once carried, the dude is all the way there now, one of the world’s finest ever batsmen and already a New Zealand legend at age 25. His assured nature with the bat is almost unmatched, he’s just so pure and technically he’s as close to perfect as they come. Witnessing that lofted drive that he has is almost like a religious experience, certainly when it wins NZ the game at Eden Park against Australia – guts to Pat Cummins. He scored more test runs in 2015 than any NZer ever before in a calendar year, tonning up five times including his high score of 242* against Sri Lanka in Wellington. Yet it was so much more than that because he also added 1376 runs in ODIs, which would’ve been the world’s best for 2015 were it not for his buddy Martin Guptill. It was a career year for Williamson, one that deserves to go down in history. Already some of the sport’s finest publications have dedicated themselves to studying it.
Silver: Scott Dixon
A fourth IndyCar Series title for the Chip Ganassi stalwart and product of the streets of Manurewa, Auckland. This one was as improbable as they come, entering the final race in third but he stormed to victory and with Juan Pablo Montoya finishing back in sixth that mean the pair were tied on points and Dixon took it on individual race wins. It was a brilliant finish to a top season, finding his absolute best when it was most needed. The term ‘clutch’ seems appropriate here. As well as that he was part of the triumphant Chip Ganassi team that won the 24 Hours of Daytona last January. His 37 race wins on the IndyCar Series are more than any other non-US driver in history.
Bronze: Dan Carter
Dan the man, signing off from international rugby in style. He was already NZ’s finest ever first five-eight but it must have felt like a bit of unfinished business for him having missed the last World Cup final with injury. Well, to paraphrase a famous line in cinematic history, in 2015 we spelled redemption… D-A-N. Carter was brilliant all World Cup but still managed to reach a level that many thought was long past him in the two most important games of his career. Ten points in the semi (making 2/2 pens and 1/2 conversions with a cheeky but crucial droppie in there too) and then another 19 points in the final. He put the ABs in front from the tee and led the way from there. Credit also to Danny Lee, Winston Reid, Steven Adams, Martin Guptill and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, all of whom might’ve gotten here in different years.
Kiwi Female Sportswoman of the Year
Gold: Lydia Ko
Yeah, it’s gotta be, doesn’t it? And this time she truly deserves it, consolidating her place among the elite golfers on the women’s tour and even getting that pesky first major title out of the way. In fact she became the youngest major winner of all time with her triumph at the Evian Championship – only at 18 years and 142 days old. Should be a few more of those and maybe a few more of these in the future for Queen Ko. Plus she might be the most universally beloved athlete in the country now that Richie’s retired.
Silver: Lauren Boyle
Running Ko damn close in this category, especially since the tiebreakers are just personal favouritism and, let’s be honest, swimming is an infinitely more viewable sport than golf, is Lauren Boyle. She’s continually doing great things in a highly competitive sport but slugging her way to a silver medal in the 1500m freestyle at last year’s World Champs is among her career highlights. She was second only to American Katie Ledecky – who this year is probably gonna emerge as the Female Phelps when she dominates at Rio. Plus a Commonwealth Record in that event adds some icing to the cake.
Bronze: Abby Erceg
Gotta give the footy ferns some love. Erceg, at only 26, is the most capped Fern ever with 119 matches under her belt and captains the team from the centre of defence. She was NZ’s best player at the 2015 World Cup, in which they were unlucky not to advance into the knockouts and also helped blank the Brazilians in that historic 1-0 win in São Paulo. Erceg also found time to play 15 matches for Chicago Red Stars, starting in their semi-final loss in the NWSL in America. She’s since been traded to Western New York (who were runners up back in 2013 when they had Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd). Erceg sneaks in just a head of Laura Langman, Lisa Carrington and Sophie Pascoe.
Kiwi Sports Team of the Year
Put simply, there were none better. Starting with that famous game in Apia, the ABs played 12 times in 2015 and lost only once – 27-19 to Australia at ANZ Stadium. They beat them by 28 the following week. Not only did they win but they slaughtered, outscoring opponents by 441 points to 191 combined. A late Richie McCaw try from a trick lineout play earned them a victory over South Africa in Jo’Berg and their World Cup campaign really couldn’t have gone much smoother. Through the groups with ease yet no complacency, they then fustigated the French 62-13 in an exorcism of the last time they met at Millennium Stadium and then held off South Africa in the semi for a 20-18 win before beating Australia 34-17 (in a game much closer than the score ended up) to bring Old Bill back to NZ once again. Magnificent stuff, really. The Blackcaps had a great year too, but ultimately fell in the same group as the Silver Ferns in that they just couldn’t beat the damn Aussies. Credit to the Breakers as well, another championship for them, while the Highlanders won their first.
The Gordon Tietjens Award (for coach of the year)
Who else could it be? There’s never been a finer organised World Cup campaign than this one, a superb All Blacks team taking nothing for granted, working for each other with a demanding yet inclusive team culture and a standard of expectation that gets the best out of each and every one of the players. Probably why they’re so superb, really. Hansen is at the forefront of that, helped out by a strong leadership group but then as coach that’s his responsibility too. Plus he tactically nailed the two toughest games (semi and final, obvs), leading to a pair of immensely memorable All Blacks wins. Quite frankly, he’s the gold standard. Well, Gordon Tietjens is… but Shag’s a tight second.
Game/Match/Contest/Moment of the Year
BLACKCAPS vs South Africa, Eden Park, 24 March 2015
The World Cup semi-final and possibly the greatest game of ODI cricket ever played, almost certainly the best ever witnessed beneath the Long White Cloud. South Africa won the toss and elected to bat in a game that’d be reduced to 43 overs a side thanks to rain. Faf du Plessis led the assault with 82 before late blitzkriegs from AB de Villiers and Dennis Miller got SA through to 281/5 in their 43 overs, a total that was flipped to a target of 298 for NZ under D/L. A massive ask, but a blistering 59 off 26 balls from Brendon McCullum got us off to a great start, he fair demolished Dale Steyn. Kane Williamson was dismissed cheaply though, and neither Guppy nor Rossco could go on from their starts. It was up to a 103 run partnership between Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott to keep the train on the tracks, the boundaries coming just often enough to stay in touch. But when Corey was dismissed for 58, the Blackcaps were left with 46 to win off 30, nervous times ahead. Hearts were definitely in mouths when Elliott top edged one into the outfield, only for Behardien and Duminy to run into each other and spill the chance. 12 to win off the final over, a bye and a single, Dan Vettori on strike as the crowd cheers his name. Steyn gets treatment on his sore hamstring. In he comes again, full and fast, and Dan rocks back, chopping the ball down to third man to the boundary. There’s a bye of the next ball, running hard on a missed shot and that leaves Grant Elliott with five to win off two balls. Four to tie, which would see NZ through anyway. In comes Steyn. There stands Grant. 45,000 fans at Eden Park holding their breath, waiting for the miracle, waiting for this delivery…
Shout out also to the Rugby World Cup semi between those two nations, that was a real nail-biter. Also the Breakers second finals game against Cairns, in which they clinched the title with that Ekene Ibekwe buzzer beater. Quite enjoyed getting one over the Aussies in the rugby league ANZAC Test as well.
Breakthrough Talent of the Year
This one goes to an athlete that used 2015 to establish themselves among the best in their business. There are plenty of guys and gals who deserve recognition here. Corey Webster’s exploits are up there. Tui Lolohea and Albert Vete for the Warriors, both brilliant young players who rocketed themselves onto the NRL landscape. Flying Kiwis like Tyler Boyd after his debut in the Portuguese Primera Division or Bill Tuiloma’s debut in the French Ligue 1 (as well as some stellar performances for the All Whites and NZ U20s). Or Rosie White who’s been around for the Footy Ferns a while now but came back from the World Cup to sign for the defending Women's Super League champions, Liverpool Ladies. And Danny Lee’s rise from 220th in the World at the end of 2014 to 34th in the world now, highlighted by that fantastic victory at the Greenbrier Classic. However this one goes to a dude who has gone from a former Canterbury Bulldogs junior in the NRL to world rugby superstar. Man, he didn’t even make the Hurricanes official squad until the 2015 season, but a tremendous campaign there got him into the All Blacks frame (two tries on debut vs Australia) and by the end of the year he was undroppable. Fear the Skudder Step.
Battler of the Year
Arguably the most prestigious award of all, given to a person who may not ever have that superstar talent and yet though elbow grease and a little number-eight wire mentality is still able to achieve great things. It’s not a category that can be fully defined, but you know a great battler when you see one. The Barracuda is a great battler. (There are good battlers and bad battlers, btw). In many ways the heart and soul of the Highlanders’ first ever Super Rugby title (at least since Fumi is ineligible for this award), Buckman didn’t score the most tries and he didn’t play the most games. But something about his floppy hair and tenacious spirit has made him a real cult hero down south. Also, Joe Wheeler (who came up with the nickname) and this song have helped. Here’s a recent rendition:
Unfortunately a pre-season shoulder injury has ended Buckman’s 2016 Super season before it’s even begun. Other battlers to be considered include Mark Craig, Wyatt Crockett and everyone who played for the All Whites out of the ASB Premiership in 2015.
Flat-Track Bully of the Year
Hey, the lad’s undefeated. Gotta respect the record when a fella’s undefeated no matter who he’s fought. Gotta respect the craft and the desire to win just as much too. The old saying goes that you can only beat what’s put in front of you and nobody beat ‘em more brutally than Smokin’ Joe did. Apparently 2016 is the year he takes it to the next level and we all certainly wanna see him and Anthony Joshua do the dance (though without the trash talk, neither’s much good at it). That’s all good, nobody should ever win this award back to back, but for a 2015 of knocking bastards down, JP was the Flat-Track Bully of the Year. Coming in second place was Julian Savea for five combined tries at the World Cup vs Georgia and Namibia (plus absolutely demolishing a coach-less France in the quarters).
Freak Of The Year
After spending the early part of his NRL career on the wing, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck reached heights unseen by an NRL fullback in 2015. Tuivasa-Sheck dazzled all season long, even after making his move to the Warriors for the 2016 season official and showcased a lethal combination of speed, power and footwork that makes him one of the the most difficult players to tackle in the NRL. Tuivasa-Sheck led the NRL with the most runs in the entire league (606) which subsequently meant he ran for the most metres of any player in the NRL with 6,516m. This is a new record for metres made throughout the season and Tuivasa-Sheck ended up running the footy more than 2kms more than another kiwi Jesse Bromwich who finished second with 4,118m.
Tuivasa-Sheck finished with 16 line breaks, leaving him ranked 8th and 11 tries but he's far from a gun runner of the footy as he also finished the 2015 season with 15. This means that Tuivasa-Sheck not only ran for the most metres in an NRL season ever, he also had more try assists than the likes of Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk, Anthony Milford, Trent Hodkinson and Kieran Foran.
The Steven Adams Award (for Steven Adams)
Possibly TNC’s favourite son, Kiwi Steve embodies all that we love about NZ sports. He had to win something. Humble and hard-working, tough and uncompromising, if he’s not scrapping for a rebound then he’s usually got a smile underneath that questionable moustache and nobody’s prouder of their roots than he is. Not to mention that he’s in the middle of his best NBA season yet, turning into a beastly proposition on the pick and rolls, crushing the rim with regularity. Here’s a New Zealander out there doing the dirty work for two of the world’s premier sportsmen in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s also the best interview out there. Keep up the good work, Stevie.
The Groundskeeper Willie Award (for having to deal with other people’s messes)
It’s been a tough campaign for the Nix. The struggles of Jeffrey Sarpong, their star new import, didn’t help the inconsistencies on the pitch and despite Blake Powell’s recent magnificence they’ve definitely fallen below where they had planned. Look, the season ain’t over yet, there’s still time.
But it’s hard to friggin’ blame them with some of the crap they’ve had to deal with. Beginning with the A-League, David Gallop, Aussie Football and all that rubbish. Everyone else gets a long term licence except the Nix, despite being comfortably self-sufficient and never causing anyone any problems. Nah but they want another Sydney team, which pissed off the Sydney teams, not to mention the other smaller market franchises which didn’t wanna see a precedent for this kinda thing. Instead of backtracking though, the powers that be went and dug themselves even deeper into a hole. None of this was helped by the odd bit of shoddy reporting (looking at you, Stuff.co.nz) and while it now looks like that ten-year deal is probably coming sooner rather than later, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the poor Nix and the absolute muppetry they have to deal with. It falls outside the jurisdiction period of these awards but having to deal with NZ Football can’t be much fun either, what with them forgetting to send away the documents on the Nix’s new signing (Alex Jones), leaving them on the table for two days until it was too late. Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned the abysmal state of A-League refereeing at times. Christ Almighty, guys.
The Guy Fawkes Memorial Award (for going out with a bang)
With all due respect to the retirement laps of Brendon McCullum and Richie McCaw, which were widely publicised and inspired universal adoration, the best retirement of 2015 was DC’s. Early on in 2015 and people (irresponsible and well-paid people) were calling for him to be axed, we couldn’t win the World Cup with a decrepit first five-eighth! He’s too slow, he’s too old. Yeah well flash forward and he was the Man of the Match in the final and voted World Rugby Player of the Year (for what that’s worth). B-Mac and Richie will be fine racing horses and flying planes. Carter wins this one.
The Edmund Hillary Award (for following the dream into uncharted territory)
Paul Lasike and Corey Webster
A shared award for a couple guys who took it as far as they could manage in sports where New Zealanders had never really cracked before. There are only a handful of kiwis to have played in both the NFL and the NBA, and these two were close to adding to that total. Lasike got himself on the Arizona Cardinals pre-season squad as an undrafted running back/full back straight outta college and even scored a touchdown in one game before missing the final cut. But after some visa issues he wound up on the Chicago Bears Practice Squad where the dream lives on – he spent the whole 2015 season there and after that he put pen to paper on a futures contract meaning he’ll be back in 2016 for another swing. As for Webster, after a year of slaying for the Breakers and Tall Blacks, he funded his own way to the US where he trialled with the New Orleans Pelicans and ended up playing three pre-season games, probably unlucky not to get more of an opportunity but too many injuries to players around him forced the decision makers’ hands and he was waived and returned to the Breakers… where he quickly resumed the slaying. Fellow Breaker/Tall Black Tai Wynyard is pencilled in for next year’s awards as he takes his talents to Kentucky, one of the finest college bball programmes out.
The Rowing Award (for Rowing)
Hey, it’s not a kiwi sports awards if we don’t acknowledge our ability when it comes to making boats go fast. Mate, Mahe Drysdale, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, Lisa Carrington in the canoe… it’s just a factory of talent. Then spread the coverage out further and chuck in Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, 49 Class sailor extraordinaires and stars of that ad on telly where they laugh at the dude at the docks who slips on the ice. Good fun all round.