6 Nov 2020

Warriors: The team that survived needs some Halberg love

4:41 pm on 6 November 2020

Opinion - As if democratic processes lately weren't giving us enough headaches, the Halberg Awards decided to annoy everyone as well.

Adam Pompey scores. Cronulla Sharks v Vodafone Warriors. NRL Rugby League, Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney, NSW

Adam Pompey scores for the Warriors in match against Sharks. Photo: Photosport

News broke this week that instead of having its usual annual awards to recognise 2020's outstanding sportspeople, they will instead be doing awards to honour the best athletes of the last decade.

To their credit that wasn't actually a bad idea had they said it back in, say, June.

Remember, when the prospect of any sport at all was still as locked down as everything else. But now? Perhaps it's escaped the organisers of the Halbergs but since the first lockdown ended in New Zealand, professional sport has found a way to not just carry on but complete its major competitions. With one glaring exception, of course, and it's that giant hole in the calendar that makes this decision such a bad look.

The Halbergs have long been seen as the preserve of Olympic sports, most notably ones that involve sitting down and going fast in boats. Every four-year cycle would see the gongs go, without fail, to gold medalists. This makes perfect sense, providing a brief respite from the spirited debate around comparing sports and athletes for one supreme award because everyone had a pretty good idea of where it would be going.

But there has always been the perception that Olympic sports get preferential treatment overall - half of the Supreme Awards have been given to Olympic athletes this century alone.

However, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were dead in the water a long time ago.

Whether they'll even take place next year is still looking like a long shot, given the plethora of challenges like travel restrictions, funding cuts and just how on earth many athletes are going to even qualify for their events.

So, while that is sad, we can forget about it for now and focus on what actually has been achieved this year.

One story in particular best symbolises the effort made to get sport running again despite the unprecedented events we've all been through, and while they didn't win anything, the NZ Warriors deserve an accolade.

For years, 25 in fact, the Warriors have been an up and down ride that never quite hit the top but have very much ploughed their way through the absolute bottom of the NRL.

They did it the hardest way possible this year though, as they transported their entire operation to Australia, leaving Mt Smart laying dormant. The team spent six months on the road, many away from their families and unsure if they'd even be able to get back into New Zealand given the constantly fluctuating pandemic situation.

It wasn't a story of unbelievable success that a Hollywood screenwriter would look for.

They copped a couple of floggings. Stephen Kearney was sacked. Blake Green was dumped.

For most of us 2020 isn't about winning though, on or off the field. It's about surviving and that's what the Warriors did.

They picked up help from other clubs. They scored one of the tries of the season and received standing ovations from Australian crowds. They made it through and crucially made sure the NRL actually went ahead at all, because without them the competition wouldn't have been able to secure its broadcast deal.

This is why they deserve national recognition - in the year that smashed an Olympics to bits the Warriors found a way (special mention to the Phoenix too, who managed to finish third in the A-League and spent two months offshore).

That's not even mentioning the multitude of other stories of achievement in the truncated sporting year: Scott Dixon, Scott McLaughlin, Israel Adesanya and (forgive me as a Wellingtonian as I choke back some pride as I admit this) the Crusaders to name a few.

The annoying thing is that earlier this year, which seems like a lifetime ago now, the Halbergs actually managed to make most people happy by recognising Adesanya's breakthrough in 2019 and the redemption of the Silver Ferns.

Admittedly, it does seem a bit strange to be quibbling about sports awards when everything else is going on, but here's a chance to show a bit of love to a team that went through the wringer and came out the other side.

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