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The unofficial NZ Rugby awards for 2022

Fans greet Black Ferns in Auckland

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Photo: RNZ / Veronica Schmidt

Opinion – The NZ Rugby awards take place on Thursday night in Auckland. Of all the times they’ve been handed out, the 2022 edition is one of the easier to predict, given that the Black Ferns not only won their World Cup on home soil, but did it in dramatic and record-breaking fashion. They will dominate the awards, as will coach Wayne Smith, but there are a few other gongs to be given out to really tell the story of a pretty unique year for rugby in Aotearoa.

Best game

Easy one, the World Cup final at Eden Park not only managed to go down to the last play, but also completed arguably the most compelling story arc for a national side ever. The Black Ferns and England combined for a thrilling test of punch and counter punch in front of a full house, giving the women’s game something very solid to build on as they enter an era of proper professionalism.

Most obvious beneficiary of investment

You could really say this about the entire Black Ferns team but it was typified by their captain Ruahei Demant. No player has improved as much as the woman who eventually lifted the trophy, due to the focus she could put on her own game.

Personality of the year

Ruby Tui is the most popular rugby player in NZ and probably most popular celebrity too. She knows she is a brand, knows how to sell, and is the only one who can lead Eden Park in a singalong.

Headache of the year

The one All Black who finished the year the strongest was Dalton Papali’i, but really his form through Super Rugby meant that there were going to be serious questions about who would be playing openside going into the World Cup. Sam Cane’s place as captain is now seriously under the microscope, which will be a test of Ian Foster’s long-established loyalty to his senior players.

Best transformation

Papali’i’s image flip from clean-cut St Kents boy to bleach-haired, gold toothed and dirty mustachioed Bond villain has been incredible.

Good luck award

The other success stories for the All Blacks have been the emergence of a solid front row, plus Jordie Barrett’s dominance at second five. But really, this was more accident rather than design, with Ethan de Groot originally dropped and only brought back because Ofa Tu’ungafasi got injured. Then Quinn Tupaea getting his leg sawn off by Darcy Swain in Melbourne meant Barrett moved into 12 basically because it was only him and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck left.

Bad luck award

Strong case for Tuivasa-Sheck, because at least if he stayed with the Warriors he would have got to actually play some footy, but really it has to go to Pita Gus Sowakula. You get the feeling now that he was only picked because the All Blacks needed someone to replace Ethan Blackadder, but to go from playing test rugby in July to not even being in the top 12 loose forwards in the country by October and being linked to a move to France in December is astounding.

Biggest handling error

“We could have done better in recent weeks” by Mark Robinson around how Ian Foster’s employment status was handled would have to rank as one of the most massive understatements ever.

What if award

Bernard Foley and Marcus Smith. If Foley had just kicked the ball out in Melbourne the All Black loss record this season moves to five. If Smith had kicked the conversion of Will Stuart’s first try at Twickenham, then it’s six and equal with 1949 as the most losses in an All Black test season.

Best press conference

Any of the ones involving Ruby Tui.

Worst press conference

Special mention to Akira Ioane loudly sighing when being asked a question before the Eden Park Bledisloe test, but really there is one clear winner in this category. The Sunday after the series loss to Ireland saw the now infamous no show by Foster or anyone else from the All Blacks after that simply unacceptable result, with the media haplessly waiting outside on a cold Wellington morning. The story quickly overtook the loss as the big issue of the week (maybe that was the intention all along), but it effectively pulled the curtain back on the fraught All Black relationship with the media – specifically the way they treat those assigned to cover them like something they’ve scraped off the bottom of their shoe.

Potential Academy Award

Obviously not to be given out right now, but the Black Ferns’ story of redemption really deserves its own movie. Seriously, if they are going to make one about Stephen Donald then a screenplay about the women’s World Cup win should be commissioned straight away. It has everything you want in a sports movie: the old coach answering an SOS call, the team having to overcome the ominous and seemingly unstoppable English, the expectations of a nation, and Sir Graham Henry and Ruby Tui as the odd couple comic relief. More funding for the arts and promotion of women’s sport, double whammy for NZ On Air. You’re welcome.

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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