It’s a strange thought that the men’s Irish rugby team could win more at New Zealand’s premier sporting awards than the All Blacks.
But after the finalists were announced for the 2019 Halberg Awards, that might just be the case.
Kiwi-born Irish coach Joe Schmidt has been named as a finalist for coach of the year, while not a single link to the All Blacks’ 15-player code could be seen across the six categories.
Schmidt masterminded his team’s second victory over the All Blacks in November last year, in a slightly disappointing year for Steve Hansen’s troops.
The All Blacks also lost to the Springboks in Wellington in September.
It’s the first time since 2007 that neither an All Blacks player, coach, or the team as a whole has made the final shortlist.
New Zealand Rugby’s hopes for taking home an award lay on the shoulders of the men’s and women’s sevens teams, who are both up for Team of the Year, as well as Allan Bunting and Clark Laidlaw, who are finalists alongside Schmidt for coach of the year.
The majority of the categories are dominated by wider codes, with the likes of Winter Olympics heroes Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous up for Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year respectively, and two of the four finalists in the Sportsman of the Year category being motorsport athletes.
The winners will be announced at an awards evening on February 21
Full list of finalists:
(Eligible for the supreme Halberg Award)
Joelle King (squash), Jonelle Price (equestrian), Lisa Carrington (canoe racing), Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (snowboarding).
Sportsman of the Year (Eligible for the supreme Halberg Award)
Nico Porteous (freeskiing), Scott Dixon (motorsport), Scott McLaughlin (motorsport), Tom Walsh (athletics)
Para Athlete/Team of the Year (Eligible for the supreme Halberg Award)
Adam Hall (Para alpine skiing), Corey Peters (Para alpine skiing), Scott Martlew (Para canoe racing), Sophie Pascoe (Para swimming).
Team of the Year (Eligible for the supreme Halberg Award)
All Blacks Sevens (rugby union), Black Ferns Sevens (rugby union), NZ Football Under 17 Women (football), NZ Women’s Kayaking Team (canoe racing), Black Sticks Women (hockey).
Coach of the Year
Allan Bunting (rugby union), Clark Laidlaw (rugby union), Gordon Walker (canoe racing), Joe Schmidt (rugby union), Leon Birnie (football).
Amelia Kerr (cricket), Anna Leat (football), Josh Armit (yachting), Lewis Clareburt (swimming), Maddison-Lee Wesche (athletics).