Liam Napier highlights the sporting events to circle on the 2019 calendar.
Black Ferns sevens:
Long overdue home debut for this magnificent team represents a starting point in regards to equality for the Hamilton sevens.
The Black Ferns sevens play France, China and England in a “Fast Four” tournament created as a bridging, appeasing ploy until a fully-fledged women’s event is established alongside the men.
Sooner the better on that front.
After five World Series titles and a memorable Commonwealth Games gold medal, this team was by far and away New Zealand’s leading rugby side of 2018.
Not just the brand they embrace, either, but the way they carry themselves continues to set standards.
The more we see of Portia Woodman, Michaela Blyde, Gayle Broughton, Kelly Brazier and Sarah Goss, the more they inspire.
Cricket World Cup:
Can the Black Caps shake their nearly men tag in this arena?
Six semifinals and one final have been entertaining, no doubt. But how good would it be to finally witness this group leap the final hurdle?
In many respects, it seems overdue.
Of course, it is a tough ask, but we are told to ‘dream big’ after all.
Memories of that epic Eden Park semifinal victory over the Proteas remain vivid. Oh how those who left during the rain must live with regret.
The less said about the anticlimax in Melbourne the better, though.
India, Australia and England run the cricket world and South Africa should have a much better record at major tournaments.
Conditions in England and Wales should suit the Black Caps, certainly in-form swing kings Tim Southee and Trent Boult, and present minimal surprises for many of our batsman with county experience.
The 10-team format, with test playing nations Ireland and Afghanistan controversially omitted to allow a pure round robin where the top four progress, should also hold no fears as consistency will be rewarded.
The expected returns of David Warner and Steve Smith could prove a major distraction for Australia, especially how the latter navigates his non-captaincy part.
The Black Caps are by no means the complete package but they have been building for some time.
Not even Mike Hesson’s shock resignation has slowed momentum.
They have the strike, steadiness and firepower to challenge in this arena.
With everyone fit, there is no reason they can’t go all the way.
Netball World Cup:
D-day for the Silver Ferns and Noeline Taurua is fast approaching after the annus horribilis that was 2018.
Eight wins from 21 tests and a disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign, where they failed to medal for the first time, was an embarrassing return for the Ferns.
Sure the standard of international netball is improving but that does not necessitate such a nadir.
Janine Southby was never going to survive the Games review and so the back half of the year offered Taurua seven tests – five against Australia – to assess what needs to change.
Every new coach gets time to stamp their mark. Two wins – one each over Australia and South Africa – drove Taurua to shake the cage ahead of the World Cup in Liverpool.
Taurua has rekindled her Waikato connect, the title-winning days at the Magic, with Laura Langman and Casey Kopua welcomed back and Katrina Rore a brutal causality after being the face of the horrid Games campaign.
Curiously, though, the Ferns attack has struggled and there are only three shooters in the latest squad.
Taurua’s injection of new talent comes at the defensive end in Karin Burger and Erena Mikaere, with both to be tested in the northern Quad Series in January.
That tournament should give Taurua a firm idea of who fits the style and tactics she wants to embrace but she then faces the difficult balancing act of returning to lead the Sunshine Coast, where she won successive titles, while simultaneously plotting the Ferns’ revival.
Just as Southby was judged on the Games failure so, too, does the success of Taurua’s tenure rest on performance at the World Cup in July.
Women’s football World Cup:
The Football Ferns will be bidding to build on the success of the under 17 team and inspire the next generation by emerging from their pool for the first time, in their fifth attempt.
What an achievement it was for the age-group team to reach the semifinals in Uruguay, upsetting the hosts, Japan and Canada to finish third and claim a maiden New Zealand medal at any Fifa world tournament.
After qualifying with a breezing 8-0 win over Fiji to win the Oceania Nations Cup, France in June and July now presents the senior side with the chance to create further history.
Reaching the knockout stages would be a great way to make one-time national coach and director of football Andreas Heraf eat his words.
It will not be easy, though. New Zealand, ranked 19th in the world, face a difficult pool alongside Canada (fifth), Cameroon (46th) and the Netherlands (seventh).
The USA will, meanwhile, chase a fourth crown.
Rugby World Cup:
Prepare yourself for the most competitive edition of the professional era. It will, therefore, take a special, resilient team to walk away with the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan.
This one will be hard earned.
The All Blacks and Ireland head the list of contenders but, on their day, South Africa, England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, France and Argentina all have claims to at least reach the last four.
From there, anything is possible.
Japan and Fiji are also more than capable of turning permutations on their head.
With six tier one test coaches and many senior players poised to walk away or switch sides, the rugby landscape will dramatically alter post this tournament.
Legacies are on the line. Who will hold their nerve?
Shouldn’t take Parker long to be right back in the mixer, providing he keeps winning of course.
Challenging for a belt of significance could be a much longer road, though, possibly 18 months to two years even.
Champions don’t fight often. Three paydays each year is usually more than enough.
Dillian Whyte is Parker’s prime target; the perfect springboard if the result of their first, dramatic bout can be reversed.
But with Whyte eyeing a rematch with Anthony Joshua, Parker may instead have to settle for a Dereck Chisora type opponent – a risky but marketable fight and one the Kiwi heavyweight would back himself to win.
Alexander Flores was what it was; a confidence-building comeback. After a year in which Parker quickly tumbled from challenging the best to well down the rankings, ending 2018 with a dominant KO was all that mattered.
Despite two defeats and the loss of his WBO title, Parker’s positioning in the UK remains strong. The US not so much.
Respected publication the Ring Magazine ranked him seventh among the world’s leading heavyweights behind Joshua, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Luis Ortiz, Whyte and Alexander Povetkin; ahead of Jarrell Miller, Adam Kownacki and Kubrat Pulev.
The road back is far from straightforward but that list alone suggests he remains relevant.
Boxing at the elite level is about relationships and profile. Parker and David Higgins, tight with Eddie Hearn, still have both boxes ticked.
Should he plot the right, patient path back, Parker and his team must prove lessons and adjustments have been absorbed as the last time there was no plan B when it mattered most.
Johnson or no Johnson, top eight should always be baseline expectation for this team. I get the NRL is uber competitive week-to-week but finishing mid-table does not denote cause for celebration in any league.
Every, single season we should demand the Warriors at least make the eight. Minimum. And then not stumble out week one.
Expectations around this one nation club must be lifted.
Stephen Kearney has made progress but could now quickly find his team in a storm if results don’t continue in a similar vein.
The narrative of Johnson’s exit remains in the balance, split by conflicting voices.
The sense is it was the right call in order to raise collective standards and the Warriors will, in time, be better off.
Time, though, is rarely afforded to anyone in pro sport. Better make the eight, then.
Seems we’ve been on a revolving cycle of mediocrity, from a format perspective at least, for far too long now.
Too greedy with expansion. Too many scheduling injustices. Too hard to follow. Too many matches lacking interest and a dearth of surprise results. Something has to change – fast.
Super Rugby’s future is expected to be decided at a Sanzaar board meeting in March, with the Sunwolves under threat and reverting to some form of traditional round robin favoured from 2021.
Read into that what you will. When Sanzaar gets around the table, anything can happen.
This year four New Zealand teams are again likely to set standards with the Crusaders again expected to be standard- bearers.
Longer term this competition needs some real meaning to it all. It needs Australia to pull finger and mount a much more genuine challenge.
It isn’t easy surviving financially south of the equator. South Africa alone has 350 to 400 professionals playing abroad. That many is unhealthy, near wiping out a core of valuable, experienced talent.
Kiwi derbies; games under the Dunedin roof are always worth watching but, in recent times, that can’t be said for the majority.
Super Rugby’s natural skill, style and tempo makes it supremely attractive.
But it needs to be more than superficial.
Athletic World Championships:
Doha will, no doubt, bring the heat from September 27 to October 6 and New Zealand could be bringing it in the women’s pole vault with the possibility of a two-pronged attack.
Eliza McCartney, the Commonwealth Games silver and Olympic bronze medalist, will be seeking to extend her third highest outdoor leap on record.
Teenage prodigy Olivia McTaggart cleared 4.45m and probably needs another 10cm to double the Kiwi vaulting contingent.
Dame Valerie Adams’ second baby is due in April and so the turnaround may be too rushed but she could make an appearance after stating her intent to reach Tokyo, 2020, and chase third Olympic gold.
Tom Walsh set standards in 2018 with his Commonwealth Games gold, world indoor and Diamond League final crowns. Timaru’s favourite son will be keen to continue momentum as he builds towards Tokyo.
Nick Willis may send the legs around again and, in Bolt-less world, will another global star emerge?