Johnstone: Parker carries weight of expectation

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2014
parker
CHAMP: New Zealand's heavyweight champion Joseph Parker has his eyes on the US big time.

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OPINION: A new year brings new challenges in New Zealand sport.

It will throw up some fresh faces and pressure will fall on some old shoulders.

Our centrespread highlights a busy 2014 calendar headed by the Commonwealth Games but with basketball, hockey, facing world championship pressure.

The year will start with increased hopes of some rare medals at the Winter Olympics and finish with the All Blacks northern tour that will define the shape of the 2015 World Cup defence.

Rugby league and football need to put disappointments behind them, and it will be fascinating to see who gets handed Kiwis' and All Whites' reins.

Can the Black Caps kick on from their promise against the West Indies when they host India shortly, and will they fire in the unpredictable arena of the Twenty20 World Cup in March?

There was plenty of upheaval across the local sporting scene last year, possibly none more so than in the rejuvenated professional boxing scene.

But it was a year when a couple of big reputations were dented and, in the case of David Tua, a career ended.

It's hard to see Shane Cameron doing anything other than following Tua when his head finally clears from the beating he took at the hands of American journeyman Brian Minto.

Suddenly a bustling heavyweight scene that promoters Duco Events were happy to over-indulge has been reduced to one fighter.

For me, Joseph Parker epitomises a lot of what this year is going to be about, a period where promising New Zealand athletes need to confirm themselves. There is some outstanding talent in this country which continues to punch above its weight in a variety of sports.

Parker has given us a hint of his potential, now he must carry the burden of being the country's leading fighter. In the brutal world of boxing, he's the last man standing right now.

World-class Kiwi fighters are few and far between. They usually don't even come at the rate of one per generation. We're fortunate that Parker is there to take the baton from the highly respected but frustrating Tua.

If you listen to the right people, he has the potential to crack the big time. He could be to boxing what Steve Adams has been to basketball - a rare talent who shines so brightly at such a young age.

Parker is just 21 but already 2014 looms as a bit of a moving year for him.

He's taken a few quick steps to set up his professional career, now he needs to make his mark against more worthy opponents and use his rare hand-speed and nifty footwork to turn some heads in places that matter - in other words, raise some attention in the United States where he seems destined to continue his tutelage under Kevin Barry in Las Vegas.

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It's the gambling capital of the world and we wait to see how the chips fall for Parker and his promoters.

Their gambles with resurrection fights for Tua and Cameron turned into disasters.

They need to be much more clever with their matchmaking for Parker.

It's a delicate balance between testing the man without damaging his growing reputation.

They need to put solid tests in front of him that will allow him to continue to grow.

In a year where we wait to see if the likes of young shot putter Jacko Gill and rugby star Ardie Savea have what it takes to make the next step in the senior ranks, Parker is under pressure to virtually carry a sport on his own.

That is a heavyweight assignment, indeed.

- Sunday News

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