Chiefs deserved more at rugby awards

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 08:44 16/12/2012
Chiefs
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

NO ACCOLADES: The Chiefs ended their Super Rugby title drought in 2012 but were largely overlooked at the New Zealand rugby awards on Friday night.

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Snubbed. There's no other way to put it.

OPINION: The Chiefs' maiden Super Rugby title - New Zealand's first for four years - was controversially overlooked at the annual rugby awards on Friday night.

Dave Rennie's men received zilch for their remarkable transformation this season. Not a bean.

Co-captain Liam Messam's recognition as Maori player of the year, over Highlanders and All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith, was the only, tenuous morsel for the champion franchise.  

Despite having nominations for Super Rugby player - Aaron Cruden and co-captain Craig Clarke - team and coach of the year, the Chiefs walked away empty handed.

While the All Blacks had a quality season with only one disastrous loss at Twickenham and the Brisbane draw in 14 tests, many feel the Chiefs deserved, at the very least, the team of the year gong.

Sky commentator Ken Laban, former Warriors captain Steve Price and Sonny Bill Williams all voiced their disbelief at the skewed judging on Twitter. And they are not alone.

Let's put the Chiefs' achievement in perspective, as the awards should not be a default setting to honour the national side's success.

Rennie took over a team on the rocks in his first year as Super Rugby head honcho. Last year the Chiefs finished 10th - dead last in the New Zealand conference with 10 losses.

After 16 years of frustration, despondent fans deserted the perennial underachievers. Those same supporters returned after a franchise record nine-match unbeaten run and witnessed a thumping 37-6 over the Sharks in the final. That's a hiding in anyone's books.

Rennie, piped for coach of the year by Steve Hansen, didn't shy away from hard selection decisions to reach that point, turfing out some long-serving players and injecting 13 new faces.

At the start of this season we had barely heard of All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, or big prop Ben Tameifuna. And what about Sam Cane's continued progression; Tawera Kerr-Barlow's emergence and Messam's rebirth?

Sure, Wayne Smith and forwards guru Tom Coventry played no small part, but Rennie had the nous, vision and grounded nature to form those complimentary, challenging messages around him.

Hansen avoided the dreaded World Cup hangover, displayed innovation, honesty, impressive man-management skills and secured the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship trophies in his first year in charge. Comparatively, however, he had the cream of the crop.

Then there's Conrad Smith's Super Rugby player of the year accolade. The inspirational, rookie Hurricanes captain inspired a raw group of players many expected to fall flat.

Without taking anything away from Mr Consistent, there is a school of thought the best player should come from the best team. On that rationale, Cruden was exceedingly unlucky.

Also, polarising second-five Williams has since gone to the NRL, but there's no denying he was one of, if not the, Chiefs' best and should have been nominated.

While these awards are arbitrary and will never please everyone, surely the Chiefs deserve more than a thanks for coming; the equitant of a participation certificate.

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