Could Aussie Ashby be among Halberg winners?

Glenn Ashby (right) lifts the America's Cup with Peter Burling. Photo: Getty Images
Glenn Ashby (right) lifts the America's Cup with Peter Burling. Photo: Getty Images
Not even Aussie Glenn Ashby's presence as Team New Zealand skipper should prevent the America's Cup winners staking a strong claim for Halberg Award honours this year.

Emirates Team NZ became the first team to successfully challenge twice for the Auld Mug, when they dispatched defenders Oracle Team USA 7-1 match off Bermuda, reclaiming the trophy they last held in 2003.

The achievement stamps them as early favourites for the national sporting awards, usually scheduled early each year. In a non-Olympic year, with no Rugby World Cup on the horizon, it would take something pretty special to head off the yachties.

The All Blacks are perennial contenders, while rowing pair Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler have already set a world best over 2000 metres, with world championships still looming.

Perhaps the Kiwis (rugby league), Black Sox (softball) or White Ferns (cricket) might contend, with victory at their respective world tournaments this year. But all three have enjoyed previous success and none have ever garnered Team-of-the-Year honours, so don't hold your breath.

Motorsporters Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley deserve consideration for their Le Mans 24-hour victory.

Individually, Andrew Nicholson (equestrian) Michael Venus (tennis), George Bennett (cycling), Lisa Carrington (canoeing) and Robbie Manson (rowing) might emerge as candidates for the supreme award.

By contrast, Halberg judges love America's Cup sailing.

Team New Zealand have twice been named outstanding team - in 1995, when they lifted the trophy off Stars & Stripes, and 2000, when they defended it against Prada Challenge. They took out the supreme award in 1995, but lost out to Olympic rowing champion Rob Waddell five years later.

Ironically, Waddell would soon join Team NZ as a grinder.

Heck, the judges even considered Russell Coutts for Sportsman of the Year, after he jumped ship and helped the Swiss Alinghi syndicate steal the Cup in 2003.

But multi-national teams haven't fared particularly well at the Halbergs in the past and, for some, Ashby's heritage might seem a deal-breaker, especially given the influential role he plays with Team NZ.

The New Zealand Breakers would feel especially hard done-by, after their three straight Australian National Basketball League titles and four in five years failed to yield even one appearance among team of the year finalists.

Coached by Aussies Andre Lemanis and Dean Vickerman, with a smattering of import players, the Auckland-based club always seemed to suffer from their foreign influence, but their issues may go much deeper.

Under Halberg guidelines, teams must either represent a NZ national sports organisation or be registered as a "New Zealand entity". The Breakers are clearly not a national representative team, but they were also not registered as a New Zealand club during their early championship years.

They now enjoy "associate" membership of Basketball New Zealand, but essentially, they are an New Zealand-based Australian club, as are the New Zealand Warriors (league) and Wellington Phoenix (football).

And that's how Auckland City FC, despite their Spanish coach and roster stacked with foreigners, could make the 2014 Team of the Year final.

Emirates Team NZ are the representative team of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, so they are a New Zealand entity.

If Ashby has taken out permanent residency, unnecessary under non-existent America's Cup nationality rules, he may even qualify for Sportsman of the Year, but it's more likely that consideration will be given to homegrown helmsman Peter Burling.

Remember, Burling and sidekick Blair Tuke were last year's Halberg Team of the Year, after winning Olympic gold in Rio.

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