Leader sports editor Andrew Parkinson has had a look back at some of his favourite stories from 2017. They are not ranked as the best or biggest stories of the year. Just a list of favourites.
Thank you to all the teams, players, coaches and administrators who have been so generous with their time this year. See you all again in 2018.
20 – Southern Districts Rebels Shute Shield winning streak
The frustrating wait for a premiership goes on. But it was some season for the Rebels. Souths overcame a slow start, blighted by injuries and player unavailability, to win an incredible nine matches in a row to storm into the finals. The run stretched two months from the start of June to August.
Unfortunately Souths fell at the first hurdle in the finals, going down 47-18 to Northern Suburbs in their elimination final at Forshaw Rugby Park.
19 – Rockdale City Suns NPL campaign
On paper Rockdale had one of the strongest teams in this season’s NPL 1 competition. Throw in the vast experience of player-coach Paul Reid and you could sense the Suns could have enjoyed a special end to their season.
But it wasn’t to be, with the Suns falling one match short of the grand final when they suffered a heart-breaking penalty shootout loss to Manly. While Sutherland had a tough year in first grade, their under-20s showed they have a bright future after winning both the premiership and grand final.
18 – Matt Jones returns for Australian Open
The Leader exclusively broke the news in October that Oyster Bay golfer Matt Jones was coming back from the US to play the 2017 Australian Open. It was great to see Jones back after he had to withdraw from defending his title in 2016.
Unfortunately a second title in three years wasn’t on the cards as Jones fell just short, tied for second. That result secured him a place in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie next year. But, with wife Melissa expecting their third child around the date of the July tournament, it is a tough choice Jones will have to make.
17 – Sutherland 2 Surf
Former St George athlete Bridey Delaney enjoyed the perfect homecoming, winning the PAYCE Sutherland 2 Surf at her first attempt. Delaney, who now lives in Newcastle, was the first female to complete the 11-kilometre journey in a time of 37 minutes and 20 seconds in perfect conditions on Sunday morning. Victoria’s Liam Adams won the men’s race.
This year we also tried something different and put together a short video. Thankfully the weather was kind.
16 – Austin Waugh first grade debut
It has been a big year for Austin Waugh. The 17-year-old made his first grade debut for Sutherland in September and led NSW Metro to the under-19s national championship.
The talented all-rounder, son of legendary Test captain Steve, has also been chosen in the Australian squad for the under-19s World Cup in January.
15 – St George Illawarra Dragons NRL season
Talk about a rollercoaster year.
The Dragons were incredible to start 2017. They looked fit and strong, they were steamrolling teams to sit top of the table after seven rounds. But injuries, representative selection and a bit of bad luck culminated in them missing the finals. Which will ramp up the pressure on the team and coach Paul McGregor. Given their impressive recruitment of Ben Hunt and James Graham to add to Gareth Widdop, Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan and others, you’d think they should be playing finals football in 2018. At least.
14 – Cronulla Sharks club champions
It was a funny year for the Sharks. The reigning premiers were good in patches but never really hit the heights of their premiership-winning season. As a club though it was a year to remember as they were crowned club champions thanks to another finals finish in first grade and their under-20s side winning the minor premiership. It was their first since 1995.
The young Sharks also created some history against the Wests Tigers in June. The young Sharks ran in 15 tries to one to score more points than minutes – the most ever scored in an NYC game – to win 84-6. Cronulla’s 78-point winning margin also equaled the biggest margin in a Holden Cup game in the competition’s 10-year history.
13 – Dragons sign Ben Hunt and James Graham
Sticking with rugby league, the signings of Ben Hunt and James Graham were a real shot in the arm for the club and their fans. Two internationals, among the best players in their positions in the competition, will greatly strengthen the Dragons in 2018.
It was a real sign of intent from the club. The question will be how quickly can Hunt make the team his own and strike up a partnership with Gareth Widdop?
12 – Sharks lose Jack Bird, sign Josh Dugan
I know my first reaction when it was announced Jack Bird was leaving Cronulla to join Brisbane was one of shock. The Sharks had given him his chance, he’d won the NRL rookie of the year award, he’d won a premiership. You thought he was the kind of player Cronulla would build their future around. When he left you immediately wondered how they’d replace him.
Replace him they did, with Shane Flanagan pulling off one of the signings of the season, signing Josh Dugan from bitter local rivals St George Illawarra. It’s not often you sign an incumbent Test and Origin player, less so from a local rival. It will be interesting to see how he settles in.
11 – Shane Flanagan press conference after Cronulla’s elimination
I thought at the time, and still believe now, that Flanagan didn’t do much wrong in his infamous press conference after Cronulla were controversially eliminated from the NRL finals by North Queensland.
Yes, Flanagan was emotional. But surely you can’t force coaches to appear at post-match press conferences then fine them heavily for the things they say. Especially when what was said wasn’t rude, there was no swearing and Flanagan didn’t bring into question the integrity of the officials.
Personally, I thought a number of key decisions went against Cronulla that afternoon. And those decisions were during vital, point-scoring moments that influenced the result.
But this was great theatre. A coach who cares for and loves his players, who thought they were wronged, who put every ounce of effort he could into a season with all the weight of expectation and pressure that comes with it, letting go of his frustration. It would be great to see more of it in the NRL.
See stories 10 to 1 online at theleader.com.au next week.