Silver Ferns’ triumph was truly memorable

Otago Spirit players and staff celebrate beating Hawke’s Bay Tui in the FarahPalmer Cup...
Otago Spirit players and staff celebrate beating Hawke’s Bay Tui in the FarahPalmer Cup Championship Final at Forsyth Barr Stadium in October. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
So 2019 draws to an end and that brings the traditional looking back. There were some great accomplishments in the past 12 months, as reported by the Otago Daily Times.

Steve Hepburn

Three favourite moments

Colours get up

Wander down to Kettle Park on a nice Saturday afternoon and a new-look Zingari-Richmond rolls up and puts one over the mighty Dunedin Sharks. The Colours hit rucks and make space in the backline. Riding on the back of a great display by new boy Shea Tucker, Zingari did it all to get the victory. Sadly, like the year before, it was the only win of the year, and Tucker ended up playing for the Cornish Pirates in England by the end of the year.

Spirit wins Farah Palmer Cup championship

Now we can all be prejudiced about women’s rugby but it has made vast strides in recent years and watching the Otago Spirit this year was a breath of fresh air. None of that boring one-off-runners rubbish from this side. The ball went wide at every chance and culminated in a tight win over Hawke’s Bay in the Championship final.

Naki goes down

Never liked Taranaki and when it came to town there was a real threat the side was going to take the Ranfurly Shield. But Otago got home thanks to fantastic performances from Vilimoni Koroi and Jona Nareki, and pulled away in the second half.

 

Best game

Otago v Hawke’s Bay

Most sides failed at McLean Park against a robotic Hawke’s Bay side this season, but Otago went up there and gave it a real good crack in its semifinal. Scoring two tries in the first 10 minutes, the visiting team stood up to the Magpies and at fulltime the sides could not be separated.

Hawke’s Bay managed to finish just ahead and win 44-39 in extra time in a thrilling contest. The Otago players ran themselves into the ground and gave the home team a real contest. It was no surprise when Hawke’s Bay could not get up and win the final the following week.

 

Best newcomer

Tiger Woods

This is being cheeky. But the way most went on when he won the Masters it was the greatest comeback in history. A guy who came out of the blue to win. He never went away. Sure he had injuries and other issues but in the 10 years since driving into the fire hydrant, he played a lot of golf. It was hardly a comeback.

 

Best local

Jona Nareki

It is going to be very interesting to see how he goes at the next level. For Otago he was sensational, having the ability to score tries at will. Given some space, he was so hard to stop. Apparently his brother is arriving in Dunedin next year. If he is anywhere near as good as Jona then look out.

 

Best national

Anton Lienert-Brown

Never seemed to play a bad game and moved ahead of all the other midfielders around the country. Has a good step and runs good lines. Hard to believe when he was young he could not make the top under-14 side at his school.

 

Best international

Ben Stokes

One hates to write it about a bloke who managed to take the glory away from the Black Caps but Stokes had a top year. The innings to win the World Cup and then the wonderful century which got the team home in the Ashes test at Headingly shine like beacons. Did not do much when he was in New Zealand at the end of the year but was probably a bit tired.

 

Black Caps or Silver Ferns for the Halberg?

The Ferns just get it after no-one gave them a chance at the World Cup. But the stars aligned for them — which has not been fully acknowledged — and they did the job. Felt sorry for Janine Southby, who was very unfairly thrown under the bus by too many.

 

How many gold medals will New Zealand win at the Olympics?

Five gold medals, most on the water. Burling and Tuke should do well and Lisa Carrington should do the job again. Some of the women’s rowers as well. The sevens sides appear to be tracking well but the game is a lottery. May have limited success at the velodrome or athletics track but let’s hope not.

 

Jeff Cheshire

Three favourite moments

Eva and Erika

Within two weeks of each other, Eva Hofmans and Erika Fairweather returned to Dunedin as world champions. Hofmans claimed gold in the quadruple sculls at the junior world rowing championships, just two years after taking up the sport. Fairweather followed by taking gold in the 200m freestyle at the junior world swimming championships. That came not long after her debut appearance at the full world championships, at just 15. Keep an eye on these two.

World Cup wonders

Very few gave the Silver Ferns a chance. Getting on the podium even looked unlikely for a while there. But when they got to Liverpool everything clicked. It won a tense semifinal against the home side, before claiming a one-goal victory in a thrilling final against Australia. Not many would have picked netball to be the one World Cup of New Zealand’s big three — alongside rugby and the cricket — the country would win this year.

Special silver

For a long time, Anna Grimaldi was not sure if she would get back to athletics. A broken foot left the 2016 Paralympic gold medallist out for 18 months. But she finally made her comeback in December last year. A return to form followed and in October she left for the para-athletics world championships. A few weeks later she was wearing a silver medal from the T47 long jump.

 

Best game

Magic v Saints

It was as good a game as Dunedin basketball has seen in years. Nothing separated either the Magic or Saints the whole way in the men’s club final. The intensity was high and both sides showed their quality right throughout. It took a late free throw and a superb piece of last-second defence to get the Magic an 89-88 win in a thriller.

 

Best newcomer

Rosie Elliott

The 21-year-old sprinter clocked a 11.68sec 100m and 23.59sec 200m, the latter an Otago record. That left her second and fourth on the national rankings respectively. More impressively, it leaves her as the 11th-fastest 200m female in New Zealand history, as well as the 17th-fastest in the 100m. Not bad for someone who had only been back running for less than 12 months after four years off.

 

Erika Fairweather celebrates qualifying for the Fina World Championships as a result of winning...
Erika Fairweather celebrates qualifying for the Fina World Championships as a result of winning gold in the women’s 400m freestyle at the national open championships in Auckland in June. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Best local

Erika Fairweather

A junior world champion in a sport every sporting power in the world takes seriously and pours resource into. Her performance in the 200m freestyle in Budapest was phenomenal. But that was just the peak of a brilliant year. She also finished in the top 20 of both the 200m and 400m freestyle at the senior world championships — racing against her idol, Katie Ledecky, in the process. Honourable mentions to snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, runner Caden Shields, Silver Fern Gina Crampton and Tall Fern Zoe Richards.

 

Best national

Chris Wood

Really does not get the level of recognition he should. The Kiwi striker is a genuine goal-scorer who consistently performs for Burnley in the English Premier League. In the 2019 calendar year, he has scored 15 goals in the league. That is more than Harry Kane, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, and only two fewer than Raheem Sterling. Is he New Zealand’s best player since Wynton Rufer? Also a shout out to Sarpreet Singh, who is primed for big things in the not too distant future.

 

Best international

Liverpool

The best football team in Europe — as the Champions League title confirms. Lost just one English Premier League game in the calendar year. Desperately unlucky not to win the league last season, but 17 games into this one it has 16 wins and is well on track to claim that elusive premiership. It is hard to name a more dominant player or team from 2019.

 

Black Caps or Silver Ferns for the Halberg?

Silver Ferns. The Black Caps were amazing, but the Silver Ferns won — and did so after being written off by virtually everyone.

 

How many gold medals will New Zealand win at the Olympics?

Four with Peter Burling and Blair Tuke being the stars.

 

Adrian Seconi

Three favourite moments

She did it

A more deserving champion than Courtney Duncan you will not meet. The tenacious Palmerston flyer finally did it. It took her four years but this time not even a rogue photographer could stop her claiming the Women's Motocross World Championship. Lovely warm welcome home at the airport too.

Unbelievable

Did the Silver Ferns really win the World Cup? Never saw that coming. That seemed the least likely World Cup we would lift this year. Great back story, too. From chump to champ.

Bouncer barrage

Not a fan of endless short-pitched bowling. Am a fan of Neil Wagner. The two go hand in hand. It is a dilemma but the former Otago seamer has made a habit of nabbing five-wicket bags on the last day. His five for 44 against England at Mount Maunganui was a triumph of bloody-mindedness. You have to love his energy if not his method.

 

Best game

Cricket World Cup final

That match had everything — everything but a winner. And just like a good roller-coaster ride, you felt sick at the end of it. The boundary countback was an absurdity. The ICC changed the rules soon after. Not bitter. Not bitter one bit. It was magic entertainment. Worth the all-nighter. Still not bitter.

 

Best newcomer

Bianca who?

Bianca Andreescu — the teenage tennis player who became the first Canadian to win a grand slam title with victory in the US Open. What a year for her. And she started it with a wonderful performance at the ASB Classic. She beat top players Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams on her run to the final.

 

Best local

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

She was nominated for an Espy award following a stellar season and the 18-year-old negotiated the evening in high heels without incident. A fab effort right there. But the snowboard queen gets the nod for her efforts on the slopes, not the red carpet. She claimed gold at the world championships, gold and silver at the X Games and gold at the United States Open.

 

Best national

A tie

We love ties. Brutal. Barbaric. Beastly. A bloody business. Mixed martial arts is not for the squeamish. It is not for me, either. But you have to admire Israel Adesanya, though. He defeated New Zealand-born Australian Robert Whittaker in October to unify the UFC middleweight title and is undefeated in 18 MMA fights. And Black Caps paceman Lockie Ferguson was tremendous during the Cricket World Cup. He took 21 wickets at an average of 19.47 and economy rate of 4.88. Kane Williamson was named player of the tournament but Ferguson was instrumental in the Black Caps’ superb run.

 

Best international

Marathon man

The just-under two hour television advertisement for the Nike ZoomX Vapourfly Next% was quite extraordinary stuff. The bloke wearing those runners, Eliud Kipchoge, cannot be human. To dip under two hours for the marathon defies imagination. Someone cut those fancy shoes in half on social media and there was no hidden jet-powered engine. How can that be?

 

Black Caps or Silver Ferns for the Halberg?

Too close to call. Let’s call it a tie and have them share the title.

Nobody expected the Silver Ferns to storm through and win World Cup, though. They stunned defending champion Australia 52-51 in the final. After their dreadful Commonwealth Games campaign, it was quite comeback. They get the Halberg on a countback.

 

How many gold medals will New Zealand win at the Olympics?

Five? Four? Something like that. Canoe champ Lisa Carrington will probably grab one or two to add to her collection. A gold for Tom Walsh in the shot put would be awfully popular as well. Sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are warm favourites.

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