Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No pain, no gain.
This must surely have been the motto of former world 5000m record holder and Commonwealth games gold medallist Anne Audain. Never one to sit back and let others do all the pace making, Audain could regularly been seen at the front of the pack in her heyday.
This was never more the case than in 1982 at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane where in the 3000m she went to the front from the opening gun and at no stage relinquished her place at the head of the field. It didn’t seem to concern her that Englishwoman Wendy Smith decided to sit right behind her and with only one hundred and fifty metres to go, make her move. Audain simply responded by powering away from her foe to a coveted gold medal, leaving Smith faltering in her wake.
Then there was the time in early 1982 that she ran solo at Mt Smart stadium to a world record over 5000 metres. None of the pace making that the modern day stars have to contribute to their efforts to eclipse records. Just good old fashioned guts and determination on the part of Audain in her quest for world domination. Her nearest rival being at least one lap down on her, while all she had for competition was an unforgiving time clock ticking down on her chances of rewriting the record books. After 15m13s, the lady from Auckland who was born with deformed feet had become a world record holder, as well as a soon to be gold medallist.
All the more remarkable for someone that as a girl had trouble with the usually simple act of walking let alone being able to run. It was only at the age of thirteen, after having had reconstructive surgery on her feet that she was able to walk correctly. Within three years, she was quite the runner and had qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics. A future star was born. It was to be the first of six Olympics that Auckland school teacher qualified for. The next year she finished a very credible ninth placing at the world cross country championships at the tender age of seventeen.
During the second half of the seventies, Audain continued to perform consistently, competing at numerous world cross country champs for New Zealand and also in the 1500m at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
However, it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that Audain would truly make headlines, both for her running talent as well as the stand she made in accepting prize money. Having won the Cascade runoff in Portland, Oregon in 1981, she was banned from the sport for having taken the money.
It was a stand that changed the face of athletics, paving the way for athletes in the years since to make their living from the sport, and still be able to compete for their countries at major events such as the Olympics and World Champs. There are a plethora of professional runners that owe a lot to the likes of Audain for bringing the sport out of the dark ages, allowing today’s athletes to compete openly as professionals.
After battling the IAAF and IOC, she was eventually reinstated in early 1982 and went on to record tremendous success in what was to become her signature year.
Not only did Audain claim the above mentioned world record and gold medal, she went on a winning spree on the American road racing circuit that took her through the year unbeaten and ranked number one in the world in road racing.
Despite 1982 being her most successful in terms of winning, it certainly didn’t stop her continuing on as a force in the sport over the next nine years.
In 1988, being thirty-three, she finished 11th in the 10000m at the Seoul Olympics and was ranked number four in the world in road racing. So, despite the standard having improved hugely, she was still in her element knocking out wins to become the winningest Kiwi , as she was to become known in the States. Such was the extent of Audain’s talent that she was able to compete with distinction-still winning- right through until her retirement in 1991 at the age of thirty-six.
What was exceptional was that she finished in the top three in her races ninety percent of the time. This was true consistency that takes real talent to achieve at a professional level.
What really sticks in the mind was her fearless attitude of running from the front. She could have so easily gone for the softer option of letting others do the pace making. But, it just didn’t appear to be in her psyche. There were no short cuts for Audain and this attitude, perhaps, comes from the fact that she knew what it was like to suffer, to not be able to even walk properly.
In 1995, Audain became an American citizen where she has lived for the past fifteen years. Regardless of where she now presides, Audain is a New Zealander that we as a country can be truly proud of. A trailblazer that didn’t let anything, not least some set in their ways old administrators, get in the way of achieving her dreams. Audain’s steely determination was very much to the detriment of her rivals, it has to be said.
Perhaps she should have forgone the operation on her feet all those years may have given those rivals a chance.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

All good things come to an end, they say.
And it did today for the New Zealand Warriors as they went down to the South Sydney Rabbitohs 38-28 at the Sydney Football Stadium. After a run of five wins, try as they might, they simply couldn’t muster up another win. Though, they did come close, as with eight minutes to go, trailing by ten, they hit the comeback road full of renewed vigour with a try to Lewis Brown, who had darted out of dummy half to dot down five metres to the side of the right upright. With the conversion to James Maloney, they were back to within four points of South’s.
Having seemed flat physically for much of the second half, they ratcheted up the intensity, making ground through the middle of the ruck at will. South’s had had trouble for much of the match containing the Warriors go forward through the centre of the park and once again it was paying dividends for the visitors. With only four minutes remaining on the clock, they were hard on attack within metres of South’s goal line. It seemed a mere formality for the Warriors to score the match winning play. Until that is, Michael Luck, was penalised for a deliberate forward pass. It was so close, but, yet, so far, for the Warriors.
Until that late comeback, it could very much be said that this had been a game of two halves. The first being slowly but surely won by the Warriors. After forty minutes they were ten points to the good, having scored four tries to South’s two, leading 20-10. A fair effort, it has to be said, considering they were at one stage on the receiving end of a 4-0 penalty count to South’s.
Despite this, they were, like the last eight minutes, grabbing territory up the middle of the ruck with consummate ease. None more so than fullback Lance Hohaia. He continues to amaze each and every week with his ability to make ground through heavy traffic. Not only that, for such a small man in a big man’s game, he never ceases to stun with the strength that he shows in bending the back of the South Sydney defensive line, not to mention breaking it at times.
If you thought you were getting your money’s worth having seen six tries scored in the first half, then you must have been in paradise by the end of the second half, having seen another six scored. This time, though, it was South’s contributing to the majority of the attacking fare. And they badly needed too. For, with a ten point deficit at the break, their final’s chances were in peril. A loss here and they would have been in the unhealthy position of having to win at least four, maybe even five of their last six matches.
While the Warrior’s run of tough defensive efforts appeared to be catching up with them, South’s bounded along to go on a try scoring spree, putting to bed any notion that there could be an attacking recession affecting them.
A try each early in the second half to Futuli Talinoa and Beau Faloon set in motion a momentum swing in South’s favour. They were finding the scenery down their left side attack very much to their liking as they constantly raided the Warriors right side defence.
Of their five second half tries, four of them were scored in the left corner. Worrying signs for the Warriors, but, then, much better to find one has a problem six weeks out from the finals than to discover it in the pressure cooker of finals intensity football.
South’s, no doubt, were mightily excited to discover this weakness in their foe as the piled on another two tries, one of which was down the left side again, in the 57th and 66th minutes, to go out to a 32-22 lead.
Then, unfortunately for them, they hit the wall, as the Warriors started to finish the stronger of the two.
It wasn’t meant to be, though. A loss, while obviously not high on their agenda of desirable occurrences to achieve in life, may well benefit them more in the long run while reminding them of the need to refocus on the coming weeks matches.
And for South’s, they hang on and live to fight another day... just.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The New Zealand Warriors are fast becoming the NRL’s team of the verb. Action aplenty with this lot, there is. Which allowed them for the fifth week in a row to secure a victory, this time over the Melbourne Storm 13-6 at Mt Smart Stadium tonight.
And like last week against Penrith, the Warriors men of action put in another brave defensive effort. This time, though, they had to contend with Melbourne’s heavily powered artillery in the form of Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
Michael Luck was again on a mission to tackle himself to a standstill. But, it wasn’t just him. The whole side were there for each other. On many an occasion, with two already committed to the tackle, a third would come into help his mates finish off the opposing player and put him to the ground. Constantly tiring stuff, but it all helped their side slow the opposition down, allowing the Warriors to set their defensive line again. It’s those extra little efforts that count.
Unlike last week they didn’t have to contend with an out of kilter penalty count. Instead, this time it was some extremely dubious calls from the referees in regards to knock-on’s from the Storm. What was worse was that one of them led to the tackle count being restarted and the Storm’s only try.
Defence in rugby league is said by many to be an attitude. The Warriors were all attitude as they regularly swatted off raids from Melbourne. And the Storm came at them with all they had. Some had thought that the weeks off field dramas over the Doloitte report’s finding on Melbourne’s salary cap rort may affect their performance. Fortunately that wasn’t to be as they turned up with their A-game on hand and proceeded, particularly in the second half, to fire their wide range of attacking options at the Warriors. To their credit, the home side took it all and didn’t panic.
Melbourne tried all their usual tricks, but to no avail. There were the inside passes to Billy Slater from Cronk, chip kicks for Slater from Cronk. They attempted to go wide to give superstar Inglis room to weave his considerable magic. On other occasions they put bombs up that looked to have exploration of the solar system as their ultimate goal.
Whatever they threw at the Warriors, the locals took the medicine and hung tough...again. It didn’t look like it was going to be a battle of two heavy weight teams at the beginning, though. It only took the Warriors fifteen minutes to leap out to a 12-0 lead. After a fourth minute penalty to James Maloney to put his side ahead 2-0, in the ninth minute Maloney had put up a 5th tackle kick which Slater lost control of and Kevin Locke, after regathering, sent the steedon out wide to their left side attack for Manu Vatuvei to dive over in the left corner.
Maloney couldn’t convert, but not to worry, as in the 15th minute the Warriors did score a converted try. This time it was Jerome Ropati who retrieved the loose ball after an Aaron Heremia bomb.
The Warriors, with a twelve point lead, and having had the better of the match thus far, looked to be heading for a comfortable win.
But, this Melbourne outfit weren’t about to give up that easily. They may not be able to accrue competition points for this season, but they sure can have a mighty fine time of ruining other team’s semi-final’s hopes.
Gradually they set about trying this on with the Warriors. With the locals having over sixty percent of possession in the first half, Melbourne set about limiting any added damage the Warriors might pertain to do to the score board.
Down 4-1 in the penalty count after thirty minutes, Melbourne suddenly got two penalties within two minutes. And that is where momentum started to change in their favour. It may have taken them twenty-six minutes, but finally the Warriors defence cracked, allowing Slater to dive over from dummy half to touchdown five metres from the right upright.
With the conversion to Smith, the Warriors had only a six point lead and the game was on tender hooks. However, this Warriors side is made of the right stuff. One in, all in, for this lot. So they set about defending their line with their new found steely determination that hasn’t always been present in this club’s fifteen year history. And it is all they could do. For they did not have copious amounts of possession to thrill the raucous 15,000 strong crowd with attacking grandeur.
Instead they had to patiently wait until the 78th minute to use one of their rare forays into Melbourne’s holy ground to give Maloney an opportunity to slot over a field goal and seal the win. Which he duly executed with the precision and calmness of a seasoned pro, not the twenty match novice that he is.
He furiously pumped his fist as the ball sailed between the uprights, showing just how much it meant to him to help his team win a rugged encounter between two dynamic teams.
A fist pump of someone that was part of an outfit that is in sync with each other in search of a common goal; premiership glory.

Friday, July 16, 2010

After last week’s stupendous defensive effort against Penrith, will the New Zealand Warriors back up on Saturday evening against the Melbourne Storm and prove they are the real deal.
Well, boys, what do you say? Are you a premiership contender or just another top eight hopeful? Do feel free to animate to those hardcore supporters that have stuck by the club through thick and thin over the years that it is the former. But remember, just because you have won three on the trot is not an acceptable excuse to lower your guard by way of over confidence. Forget the fact that Melbourne has had more dramas over the last couple of days. That could make them even more dangerous, potentially.
You must all have been tired after your heroics last weekend. No one could possibly blame you for that. After all, you completed sixty more tackles than your opposition. And you were hammered with an eleven to three penalty count against you. Yet, you hung tough and managed to pull off an unlikely victory. It was certainly stirring stuff. You have a right to feel aggrieved at the penalty count. Certainly your coach Ivan Cleary thought so, having gone to lengths to put an official complaint in with the NRL. Quite right of him, too.
Just think, if you handled what was thrown up against you last week, then you have every right to believe you have the goods to play like that every week.
You younger guys in the team have helped hold the fort mightily in the absence of some of your more experienced injured teammates. You must have thought that this NRL gig was pretty damn cool after what happened last week. But, just because you have four star players in the form of Brent Tate, Brett Seymour, Lance Hohaia and Kevin Locke coming back into the team is not a valid reason to slacken off mentally or physically.
So, do go out there and prove to everyone that you can handle the weekly grind of first grade football. Show us all that you have that something special about you.
It’s likely to be inclement weather conditions, which means having the long kicking game of Seymour to help play good percentage football will help your cause considerably. A good chase helps there, doesn’t it? Also a good sign of great teams is that the week after a great win, they back up the next week by doing the small things right. This means things such as a good kick and chase. No slipping, boys.
Your form is most definitely on an upward arc, so the crowds will come to support you (despite some small minded official that deemed it sensible to have an Warriors match on at exactly the same time as our other major sporting team in the All Blacks; surely someone from one of the codes could have had the foresight to avoid such a clash).
Teams have gone on to win premierships off the back of performances such as yours against Penrith.
So here’s your chance to back up this week against a tough opponent and prove that the winds are a blowing your way in 2010.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stand up you New Zealand Warriors, take a bow and be immensely proud of a defensive effort that was as stunning as it was courageous. To spend the entire second half on the back foot defending against the competition’s second placed team in the form of the Penrith Panthers was a mighty effort.
Your opposition threw everything at you, including the kitchen sink. They tried to bomb you often and you defused them with aplomb. They tried to get around the edges of your defence by putting the ball through the hands, but you held your ground. They offloaded in the tackle more and more as the match progressed, but you stood firm, winning 12-6.
Time and time again, with only a 12-6 lead at half-time, you defended your try line with the tenacity of a team desperate to be part of finals football. You threw your bodies at the invading Panthers with no thought for your own safety, nor did you stop to entertain the prospect that any of you may have no energy left after having made fifty more tackles than the home side. And that’s what made it even more remarkable; you were playing away in front of a hostile crowd, as well as being on the receiving end of an 11-3 penalty count.
By the 70th minute you were all out on your feet. Understandable, really. Yet, to a man, you kept throwing every last bit of physical exertion you had left to use into the cause. Just when it looked like a Penrith attacker was going to score the match equalling try, one of you, sometimes more, would come from nowhere with a steely determination to prevent losing the lead that you had so zealously protected.
Whether it was the experienced campaigner in Michael Luck making his fifty-seven tackles or Sione Lousi in only his third game for the Warriors, you all had the desire to stand alongside your mates and play for each other.
When you did get a few scraps to attack with, you were too tired to do anything meaningful in that attack. But, that’s okay, we all understand. And you still gave it your all, even if it only meant gaining three metres before being pummelled by a swarm of Penrith tacklers. There was Ian Henderson in the dying stages of the game, combative as ever, finding some energy from we don’t know where, making a few valuable metres here and there. It must have come from within. For how else could the seventeen of you withstand such an onslaught?
Some people don’t think you will make the top eight. But, then a lot of those same folk didn’t think you could beat Penrith today. Keep this up and there will be plenty of them with egg on their face. Hey, play like this and you might even make the top four. If you are going to show this kind of form each week from here on in, no doubt you will be right up there in the finals mix come mid September.
Not only did you show your strong mental fortitude on defence, but in the first half you displayed the ability to take heed of a superb game plan from your coach Ivan Cleary, and then put it into practice. You spent the good majority of the opening stanza going straight up the middle of the park with quick play the balls helping your worthy cause.
You only made two errors for the entire first forty minutes. That combined with the aforementioned tactics worked a treat. It gave Lewis Brown an opportunity in the 13th minute to bust the defensive line of Penrith, run twenty metres before passing to James Maloney to finish the movement off by dotting down under the crossbar. A marvellous effort.
Even better came along nine minutes later when stand-off Issac John put up a high kick on the last tackle and Manu Vatuvei chased through, retrieved the ball on the full and dived over in the left corner.
So you have attacking options there, too. Your last tackle kicking option in Maloney had a splendid time as well, finding space on all of his kicks in the first half. Which, backed up a by a vibrant chase from teammates gave Penrith fullback and danger man Lachlan Coote little room to operate.
It had looked at half-time, what with you having dominated for a good proportion of the half and only having a six point lead that Penrith would have a psychological advantage going into the second half, particularly as they scored only two minutes out from the break. But in the end it was you that were the tougher.
So, I bet there is a fair amount of self-belief in you now, isn’t there? There should be.
You have earned the right to go into the last eight rounds of the normal season, while knowing it is always going to be tough, that you have what it takes to give this competition a thoroughly good shake up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

This is the piece I enjoyed writing the most since I started this blog, so I have decided to put it up again today. It is about Irene Van Dyke, one of our true sporting champions in New Zealand. It is always very enjoyable when one has the chance to write about someone in a positive light.
As from next week there will be a similar type of article about one of our great sportspeople -past or present- every second week.

The Rugby season got underway several weeks ago and will soon be joined by Rugby league and Netball. So what better time to celebrate some of our champions of the winter. Those that inspire us all, for whatever the reason. Whether it is for their attacking brilliance, maybe their leadership skills or perhaps someone whose personality as well as their sporting prowess draws the sporting public to them.
One such person is Irene Van Dyke. The South African born goal shooting star with the golden smile and a winning personality to match her superstar status as the world’s best goal-shooter has got it all. Not only does she have a wonderful gift as a match-winner but no matter how much pressure she is put under she goes about her business with that infectious smile permanently planted on her visage. How infuriating for her opposition it must be that no matter how much they attack her, they are still unable to combat her genius, not to mention having to see that smile still firmly planted on her dial.
For as much as they physically pummel Van Dyke in an attempt to unsettle her, she continues to shoot at over ninety percent. And she does it with a smile. It must be oh so tempting for Van Dyke to give it back in retaliation. Most of us would surely resort to such antics. But not Van Dyke. She simply just lets her playing ability do the talking for her. The fact that she doesn’t retaliate shows just how good she is and what personal standards she maintains.
That she has been without peer now for twenty years speaks volumes for her playing ability. Not only that, but she clearly is an extremely dedicated lady to keep at her chosen sport at this high level for twenty years. And she shows no sign of slowing down, whether it is physically or mentally. And mentally, there are very few in any sports that are a match for this supreme sporting being.
Nudge, budge, you name it, Van Dyke’s opposition have tried with all their might to put her off her A game, yet she handles the pressure with supreme ease. Her rivals could plant a bomb as the goal defence and Van Dyke would still somehow find a way to shoot at ninety-five percent. Maybe send her back to South Africa, would do the job. But then, other than those few rivals, this country would be up in arms, so much is Van Dyke loved and cherished by the New Zealand public. You can’t blame them really can you? I mean, who wouldn’t like a 6ft3in blond Amazonian chick with a stupendous personality?
And she has clearly dedicated herself to the cause of the Silver Ferns, and, even more so, to being a great member of our society. Van Dyke could have easily come to New Zealand to achieve her netballing ambitions, and then taken off back to South Africa to live. But not for Van Dyke to do things by half measures. Instead she threw herself into becoming a proud Kiwi and, luckily for New Zealand, she has stated her intention to continue living in New Zealand long term.
Van Dyke goes about playing her chosen sport with the brilliance that comes from being a genius but, also, and more importantly, she does it all with great humility.
Irene Van Dyke, you are a true champion.
For that, all of New Zealand salutes you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It’s the weekend. What better way to spend the day than to go to a game of rugby league.
When you arrive, do feel free to congregate at the ticket sales kiosk, indulging in harmless banter with opposition fans regarding how ineffective their team’s player’s talent is. Also, feel free to loudly announce to all and sundry that you hold those same player’s in as high esteem as what you do Hitler himself, not to mention his foreign policy of the early 1940’s.
Once inside the arena, if it is a wet day, please do your utmost to stroll along with your umbrella up, not looking where you are going. This has the advantage that you can take out as many innocent pedestrians as possible. Such good sport, isn’t it? I mean, how inconsiderate of those innocents to expect to use the footpath as well you. You’re right, complete vermin, the lot of them. And surely the good folk from St John’s have so little to do with their time that they would deeply appreciate your tremendous efforts in injuring as many pedestrians as possible, hence allowing to test the skills that they learnt in their training.
So you have managed to negotiate your way to the merchandise stand, then. Good for you. This is a splendid place to purchase items that can be used as weapons to make your fellow spectators day at the league a complete and utter misery. A magnificent choice for you would be to buy a team flag to support your team with.
Ahh, I see you have found your way to the food and beverage facilities. Nothing quite like some chips and a hot dog on a cold day is there? Yes, I see you agree, Sir. But please do not handle those hot dogs with so much uncontrolled glee. Your wife certainly is looking somewhat surprised!
Anyway, it seems that you have located your seats. It’s still early and the Warriors under 20’s are playing Parramatta. The home side is giving their opponents a sound thrashing. But don’t let this stop you from giving a running commentary on the faults of your local side for the entire eighty minutes of play. After all, they are only leading by twenty points. Go on, show that strong moral fibre that you so clearly possess, by announcing in as loud and obnoxious manner as you are capable of, that these young players are dickheads whenever they do what you would never be capable of: making an error. But it’s okay, don’t worry, they are only trying their hardest. And you certainly appreciate that fact, don’t you.
Finally, the main game starts, the crowd is building up, but, despite this, please do your best to take up more than one seat, even though you don’t seem to have a particularly big frame. And as the Warriors are on attack, don’t mind leaning over the person seated next to you towards the end of the field your team is heading towards. They wouldn’t possibly mind. This is also an ideal occasion for you to spill your food or drink over them, as well. Don’t worry what they think of this though, as I’m sure they will be forever grateful to you offering them food. Wouldn’t want them to starve, now would you.
As the game twists and turns it ways through various scenarios, Big Manu Vatuvei charges for the try line. Please note that this is an extremely suitable time to stand up (even though you can see the action perfectly clearly sitting down) so that anyone beside you or behind you cannot see what is happening. Even better if you wave your flag around as well so as to obscure the view of others even more. Hey, they only paid $45 per ticket. Why the hell could they possible ever be expecting to see some of the game for that kind of money, I will never know.
The Warriors are doing a demolition job on the Parramatta Eels, but don’t let that stop you from abusing the referees. They are Australian and couldn’t possibly referee the match fairly. Never mind that your team may have a ten to five lead in the penalty count. You’re right, bloody cheats the lot of them.
And don’t just stop with the referees. After all, there are twenty-six players on the field as well that deserve nothing better than to be called c---suckers(it actually happened last Sunday). What’s more, take no notice of the fact there are young children at the ground that have come along with the parents to enjoy the game. But then you are doing those children a favour by teaching them a second language, aren’t you. After all, everyone should be bi-lingual. How thoughtful of you.
With the Warriors having won, everyone, I’m sure, will be forever grateful that you were on your best behaviour and the rest of us no doubt are exceedingly happy that you have had a thoroughly enjoyable day out at the rugby league.