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If not a gong, Makos deserved their moment

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 12:00 30/11/2013

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OPINION: Rugby wasn't the winner on the day. So where is the love for the Makos?

That is a question many people have been asking since the mighty Tasman Makos went home from Thursday's Nelson Sports Awards without a gong.

Finalists for Team of the Year and Coach of the Year (Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald), the championship-winning side left empty-handed. But this may have prompted a review of the awards format.

In a stellar season the Makos' records-tally hit double figures, including scoring the most points and tries in team history. With 22 players in a squad of 27 going on to play rugby at a higher level, that is the very definition of a successful organisation.

The team went from bottom of the pile in 2011 to top of the championship two years later. They did so while committed to a risk-reward game plan that lit up the field and put premiership teams to the sword.

Perhaps the most significant achievement of the Makos this season was the way they captured national attention. From week one of the ITM Cup competition, commentators, analysts and fans couldn't stop talking about Tasman.

As the Marty Banks appreciation club swelled in numbers and the competition wore on, the team didn't let down the burgeoning base of fans.

They won the championship in one of the most dramatic provincial finals in recent memory.

Everybody who follows rugby knows this story and nearly everybody with a pulse in Nelson knows the Makos are champions, yet there was simply no legitimate way to recognise them with an award.

Being a finalist is recognition in itself, but to miss out, after creating such drama and history this season, must have been anti-climactic and left a hollow feeling for the Tasman Rugby Union staff and players.

Yet the fact remains that the judging criteria was followed and the correct decisions were reached. The team and coach awards went to a lawn bowls outfit with international success. The bowlers deserved every one of their five major awards, not least the supreme award for the esteemed Jo Edwards.

Perhaps the failing was a lack of crystal ball-gazing. Heading into the awards it could have been flagged that while the region's representative rugby team had achieved something special, given criteria is weighted towards international competition, they were unlikely to win.

This is where awards that have popular appeal work so well. A Sporting Moment of the Year or a People's Choice award has the ability to cut through red tape and reward from the heart, not with a checklist.

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In 2011 the Halberg Awards introduced New Zealand's Favourite Sporting Moment, decided by public vote. The Sport Tasman Secondary School Sports Awards, held for the first time this year, introduced a popular vote. Their People's Choice award attracted 49,500 hits on Facebook and 8500 votes.

The Nelson Sports Awards canned a people's choice category about five years ago due to a lack of interest. Sport Tasman boss Nigel Muir now says that, since then, technology had "shifted significantly".

Muir said Sport Tasman will look at re-introducing an award similar in nature to the sporting moment or people's choice. This would take advantage of social media opportunities and leverage off popular successes to increase the scope of the awards and by extension the recognition of sporting success in the region.

It may be too late for the Makos this season, but if you walked down Trafalgar St and canvassed the masses, the Makos' championship win would be Nelson's favourite sporting moment, even if there was no official plaque.

Though there is always next season. Perhaps a premiership win will settle things.

- The Nelson Mail

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