The year they closed the doors

JONATHAN MCKEOWN, WAYNE MARTIN AND PETE MCNAE
Last updated 13:00 31/12/2013

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The sporting scene this year in Nelson was filled with triumphant summits and disastrous fissures.

Events occurring just days ago have altered the sporting landscape immeasurably, with the ability to host major indoor sporting events and local leagues severely hamstrung.

The low points came suddenly as a flash flood washed through Saxton Stadium in April, leaving the region's premier participation stadium unusable, displacing many sports codes and competitions for almost six months.

The Nelson City Council and Sport Tasman worked quickly to replace the destroyed "floating" hardwood floor in time for the highly successful South Island Masters Games in October. Yet, just three months later, sport was dealt another, more lasting blow.

The potential for another natural disaster forced the closure of the region's major indoor spectator arena, the Trafalgar Centre, earlier this month. Engineering reports found the risk to life was high, should a moderate earthquake occur when the centre was in use.

It is now unclear if Nelson will still host an international boxing bout and trans-Tasman netball championship match, previously booked at the centre. The city council will look to move the Nelson Giants temporarily to Saxton Stadium. It remains unclear if the Trafalgar Centre will be reinforced or torn down, and the timeframe for that decision has not yet been set.

While some events may be lost, Nelson's emergence as an international sporting venue won't lose too much steam. In 2013, Nelson won the hosting rights to three games at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup and the Black Caps-West Indies one day international at Saxton Oval. The New Zealand Warriors and Crusaders also made commitments to bring pre-season games to Nelson.

GREAT SEASON FOR MAKOS

The Tasman Makos' gripping 26-25 ITM Cup championship final win over Hawke's Bay at Trafalgar Park added the final sheen to a record-breaking season in which Tasman set 10 new individual or team milestones for the province and equalled another.

First five-eighth Marty Banks was responsible for five of them, as well as sharing the individual point scoring title with Otago's Hayden Parker, on 170 points.

Besides winning 10 of their 12 games, Tasman also beat all four teams to have held the Ranfurly Shield this season, including a solid 40-20 win over current holders and last year's promoted championship team, Counties-Manukau. Counties were also one of three premiership teams beaten by Tasman this season, with the Makos' 64-28 win over Waikato at Trafalgar Park the union's new record high score.

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There was an awkward fifth-round loss to North Harbour, who finished bottom of the championship division, which, other than a loss to eventual premiership champions Canterbury, represented the low point of Tasman's season. But it sparked a positive response from the side and a seven-game winning streak that helped bring their season to its dramatic climax.

More accolades would follow, with loose forwards Shane Christie and Liam Squire and lock Joe Wheeler subsequently selected for the Maori All Blacks' two-match tour to North America.

The Nelson College First XV had their chance at Press Cup secondary schools glory when they met Marlborough Boys' College in the final at Blenheim's Lansdowne Park in August. Marlborough proved too clinical, eventually winning 15-11 despite a strong second half fightback by Nelson.

Two Nelson College players were later recognised for their season's efforts with selection in national schoolboys teams. Prop Tom Hill was named in the top New Zealand Schools team, while team-mate and midfielder Finn Hart-Strawbridge and Waimea College utility back Fletcher Matthews were both included in the New Zealand Schools Barbarians side.

PLENTY TO CHEER

There was plenty to cheer for two of the region's big spectator drawcard sports, basketball and speedway.

After a dire 2012, the Fico Finance Nelson Giants returned to their rightful spot in the national basketball league playoffs, driven by new coach Liam Flynn, who joined the side from Australia. Although they lost the NBL final to Southland, three players; Mika Vukona, Josh Bloxham and debutant Brook Ruscoe, were tabbed for the Tall Blacks with Vukona shining as captain.

In January, Nelson speedway hosted the plum meeting on the sport's calendar, the New Zealand Home Loans NZ superstock championships. Almost 80 drivers performed in baking heat before capacity crowds on two nights, Palmerston North's Shane Penn following his father Bryce as a national champion. Two young Nelson drivers, Dale McKenzie and Thomas Stanaway, completed the podium.

Lawn bowls again featured prominently on the sporting calendar, with Black Jack Jo Edwards predictably among the accolades.

She made her initial statement on the international scene in April by winning her fourth World Cup crown from five attempts in Australia.

In an intense, albeit successful, week at the Warilla club, south of Sydney, she remained unbeaten to beat Guernsey's Alison Merrion 3-8 8-3 3-2 in the final to avenge her loss to her in last year's decider.

Further success would follow in August when Edwards again remained unbeaten to win Australia's prestigious Golden Nuggets tournament, following on from a previous win in 2011.

Edwards' success culminated in her winning the Sportswoman and overall Sportsperson of the Year crowns at this year's Nelson Sports Awards.

Motueka netballer Shannon Francois shot like a bolt into the Silver Ferns. Despite limited court time with the Steel during the trans-Tasman competition, New Zealand coach Waimarama Taumaunu enlisted the mid court player for the Australian leg of the 2013 Constellation Cup fixtures and the successful Ferns Fastnet team.

Former Waimea College student Zoe Walker nailed down a starting spot in the Mainland Tactix, playing in both games as trans-Tasman netball competition matches came to Nelson for the first time. The defender marked Irene van Dyke in March's season opener against the WaiBOP Magic and Catherine Cox against the West Coast Fever in May.

The court time propelled Walker into the New Zealand under-21 side where she starred in New Zealand's world youth championship triumph in Scotland.

At home a Welsh international featured as a strong Jacks OPD side won back-to-back premier grade titles.

BOXING RE-EMERGES

Boxing - a sport in which Nelson excelled in the late 1970s and 80s - was re-energised. The Fight4Victory charity boxing event, organised by Paul Hampton and Barry Galbraith, set off a chain of events that led to an international heavyweight bout being scheduled for 2014.

National interest in Nelson as a venue saw New Zealand heavyweight champion Joseph Parker in Nelson twice, followed by internationally ranked heavyweights Alexander Ustinov and Brian Minto, along with Shane Cameron. Marcus Jones, 15, won the gold medal and national title in the 63kg junior division at the New Zealand Youth Boxing Championships.

Nelson volleyball players kept up their high national standards with the Nelson Pines defending their national club volleyball championship title in Auckland. The Pines were clinical in their final against Harbour Raiders, taking out the match 25-18 25-19 25-20.

Nelson made a return to national football league competition as the Nelson Falcons flew on to the scene in January, playing in the national youth league. The fledgling franchise impressed with an unbeaten record at home.

Nelson's top young female players, Emily Jensen and Geena Gross, won the women's national title with the Mainland Pride, while they represented New Zealand at the under-20 and under-17 level, respectively. Nelson Suburbs Mainland Premier League team finished runner-up after an unbeaten mid-season run.

Nelson's Brook Robertson helped put rowing on the map when the 19-year-old oarsman helped the New Zealand men's eight to a stunning gold medal at the under-23 world rowing championships in Austria in August.

The New Zealand crew's effort in beating title favourites, the United States, over the 2km Linz course in searing 36 degree Celsius heat was a demanding examination of the crew's physical and mental endurance.

Seven Nelsonians were involved with New Zealand teams at August's world underwater hockey championships in Eger, Hungary, where New Zealand teams won four golds and two silver medals - the first time all six teams had reached the finals.

Alex Coombs-King coached the New Zealand under-23 women's team to their second consecutive gold medal, with Sarah Preston and Christie Whitehead both members of the successful squad. Former Nelson competitor Annabel Eberlein, now based in Dunedin, was also in the lineup but didn't play in the final.

Coombs-King's team achieved a perfect record, winning all 10 of their games and scoring a staggering 92 goals while conceding only three.

Also among the Nelson contingent were Coombs-King's husband, Warwick King, who coached the silver-medal winning New Zealand boys' under-19 team which included Nelson player Justin Sturrock. King's team lost 1-0 to Colombia in their final, only their second loss in 14 games, including two draws.

Alice Bailey was also part of the New Zealand girls' under-19 team that beat Colombia 5-2 for the gold medal, although she didn't play in the final.

MULTISPORTS

Nelson's world class multisports athletes signalled their intentions early in the year when Sophie Hart won her second women's one-day Coast to Coast title in February. Hart's winning 12hr 36min 19sec slog across the South Island from Kumara Beach on the West Coast to Sumner Beach about 243km away saw her beat defending champion and fellow Nelsonian Elina Ussher by more than 35 minutes.

In November, Ussher's husband, Richard distanced himself over the final half-marathon run to record a comfortable win in the Rolf Prima Half Ironman near Ashburton.

Ussher completed the 21.1km run in a breezy 1hr 14min 18sec to beat home New Zealand under-23 elite triathlete Mike Phillips by about four minutes. Ussher's winning time of 3hr 55min 33sec also included an opening 24min 56sec 1.9km swim and a 2hr 14min 51sec 90km cycle.

Three weeks later, Ussher combined forces with the man who'd beaten him for February's Coast to Coast title, Wanaka's Braden Currie, to win the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge.

Competing as Team discovertasmania.com, the two Kiwi powerhouses put close to three hours on their nearest rivals to win the five-day adventure race, involving kayaking, mountainbiking and trekking, in 19hr 59min. They finished more than two hours and 42 minutes ahead of second-placed Team Pure Tasmania's Alex Hunt and Mark Hinder in 22hr 41min 30sec.

Rally driver Ben Hunt made the switch from two-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive at the start of the season, and was crowned national junior champion. Racing in the open division, Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn won their maiden overall rally victory at the Daybreaker Rally, in Manawatu in June, finished runner-up twice and third twice in the New Zealand Rally Championship.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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