Agnew: Classy Halberg finalists

Rowing men’s pair Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (pictured) are one of the worthy favourites to take the top team prize as well as the overall award, Ivan Agnew says. Photo / Wikimedia Commons.

Once again New Zealanders can rejoice at the calibre of their amazing sports stars judging from those named as Halberg Award finalists.

That the All Blacks could not make the final four for the team prize, after winning a record consecutive 18 tier-one tests before their historic first loss to Ireland in Chicago, will irk some rugby diehards.

However few would argue that Olympic champion sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (men’s 49er) and oarsmen Hamish Bond and Eric Murray (men’s pair) are worthy favourites to take the top team prize as well as the overall award.

Burling and Tuke not only maintained their incredible form since finishing second at the 2012 London Olympics, but finished an incredible 45 points clear of their nearest challengers.

But for over eagerness in registering two false starts, women’s 47 sailors Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie would have repeated their London gold. That they scored silver speaks volumes for their incredible ability.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Aleh after Powrie recently announced her retirement.

Meanwhile Bond has decided to give rowing a temporary break and concentrate on cycling in which he finished a remarkable third in the national road time trial.

As the first New Zealand-born boxer to win a world professional heavyweight championship, Joseph Parker has a chance of winning the Halberg Sportsman title from popular Olympic single sculls champion Mahe Drysdale and bronze medallist athletes Tom Walsh (shot put) and Nick Willis (1500m).

However, although a worthy finalist, his chances of beating double Olympic champion Drysdale in particular could be hurt because the heavyweight crown is not unified with British boxer Anthony Joshua and American Deontay Wilder holding other versions of the crown.

Such was the standard of competition that dazzling International Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett failed to gain a nomination.

Having emulated Drysdale’s feat by backing up gold in London with the same colour in Rio, Lisa Carrington should pip fellow canoeist Luuka Jones, Dame Valerie Adams (shot put) and Lydia Ko (golf), who all struck silver, for the women’s award.

Just failing to make it against such a talented field was delightful Olympic bronze medallist pole vaulter Elisa McCartney.

Particularly difficult will be deciding between the Paralympic medals won by swim star Sophie Pascoe and humorous bolt-out-of- the-blue track sprinter Liam Malone, who has emerged as a real character.

Once again, rugby’s Steve Hansen has been nominated for the coach award, this time alongside other worthy candidates Gordon Walker (canoeing), Hamish Willcox (yachting) and Jeremy McColl (athletics).

Meanwhile young Black Caps captain Kane Williamson’s timely century for the Basin Reserve cricket test win against gallant Bangladesh has him in a tight race with Ross Taylor to emulate Martin Crowe’s NZ test record 17 centuries.

Williamson’s latest effort took his tally to 15, one short of veteran Taylor, whose 60 in partnership with his skipper earned his team a win that seemed so remote after Bangladesh notched a first innings 595-8 declared.

What put the icing on the cake was Williamson’s latest heroics took his test average past 50.

Equally pleasing was opening batsman Tom Latham’s man of the match first innings 177 which allowed his team to get within striking distance of the tourists total.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author