June 4, 2023

How phone call from Sir Graham got Black Ferns icon Smith to Halberg Awards

Sir Graham Henry and Wayne Smith.

Halberg Coach of the Year Wayne Smith almost didn’t make the awards ceremony on Wednesday and has revealed the phone call that changed his mind.

With Cyclone Gabrielle devastating communities throughout New Zealand, Waihi Beach resident Smith was forced to take the road less travelled to Auckland.

Upon realising he couldn’t take the usual route through the Karangahake Gorge, he had doubts he would make it, but for a conversation with former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry.

Smith needed little convincing from his former coach and knew he had to show up for the World Champion and Team of the Year Black Ferns.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it, Karangahake Gorge was closed, we were going to leave about midday and come up here through the Gorge,” he said. “Found out it was closed and had to go through Tauranga.

“I pondered for a moment if I would come or not, I rang sir Graham and said ‘Ted, I don’t think I will make it tonight’, and he said ‘you’ve got to make it, you’ve got to come, it’s going to be a special night for the girls’, so I’m happy.”

Sir Graham was right, it would prove to be another special night for the Black Ferns, with another two awards to go along with Coach and Team of the Year.

Joanah Ngan-Woo’s World Cup-winning lineout steal was voted as the Moment of the Year, while Black Ferns Sevens captain and World Cup winner Sarah Hirini was given the Sport NZ leadership award for her service to both union codes.

Smith paid tribute to his former team, as well as the late Sir Murray Halberg for not just his accomplishments as an athlete, but his impact outside of sport.

“I normally see them in rugby jerseys and shorts, smashing each other at training,” he said.

“They’re beautiful women, beautiful athletes, but beautiful people inside. I can’t speak highly enough of them, every time I see them, it gives me a real glow.

“I’m not really into awards in a team sport personally, but this one’s special for me. Because Sir Murray, [was] a great athlete, and a great competitor, but really it’s how he dedicated his life to making other lives better and that’s what counts.

“I know a lot of people are carrying on that work but his life was phenomenal and for parents like Trish and I with a boy with CP [cerebral paulsey], makes it doubly emotional for me.”

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