Sporting highlights of 2018 and what 2019 might hold

All Black hooker Codie Taylor fend off Ireland lock Devin Toner in Dublin in November. Photo:...
All Black hooker Codie Taylor fend off Ireland lock Devin Toner in Dublin in November. Photo: Getty Images
The Otago Daily Times takes a look back at the sporting year - the highlights and who did things well. It also has a punt on how our national teams will do in the year ahead. 


Three favourite moments

Ranfurly Shield win in Hamilton

A trip to Hamilton is never too high on the bucket list. It was not like five years ago when the 56-year drought ended but it was still special when Otago hung on to beat Waikato.

Otago started like a house on fire and managed to hold on as it scrambled well in defence and got the calls which went its way. Never downplay those calls but you make your own luck.

The team was ecstatic and plenty of fans came out of woodwork. It was not the outright thrill of the 2013 victory but still pretty darn nice.

Otago's last-gasp semifinal win over Hawke's Bay

A week later and Otago had to face Hawke's Bay in a tough semifinal. Otago was just getting over its shield hangover and was still in bed when the game kicked off and Hawke's Bay was two tries up in a matter of minutes.

But slowly Otago came back into the game and one could argue the side timed its run to perfection. With time all but up on the clock, it got a penalty and Josh Ioane knocked it over to win the game.

It was not the greatest game of rugby ever played but had plenty of drama in it.

Highlanders beating Hurricanes

The Highlanders just kept on winning under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium and probably the best performance from the side came when it tipped over the Hurricanes at the start of June.

This was a quality Hurricanes side which had stars all over the paddock. The Highlanders led just 8-7 at the halftime break but pulled away in the second half to win 30-14.

Aaron Smith outplayed TJ Perenara while a try by speedy winger Waisake Naholo with 10 minutes left was the straw which broke the back of the Hurricanes' spirit.

University's Calvin Vari (left) and Harbour's Christian Schaaf shake hands at the end of the...
University's Calvin Vari (left) and Harbour's Christian Schaaf shake hands at the end of the premier club rugby final in July. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Best game

Ryder Cup: Sure it was on at night over here and played half a world away, involving a lot of millionaires, but it was still compelling viewing. There were the antics of Tommy Fleetwood and his playing partner Francesco Molinari as they bowled all in front of them. Poor old Tiger struggling to get going and just the sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm of the players, who play by themselves every week, now being part of a team event. Funny how you did not mind the bias of the crowd in France. It would have been a different story if it were stateside and it was the Americans yelling.

Best newcomer

This is very hard to do these days in the oval ball game as anyone who is even slightly good is viewed as the next big thing only to be replaced by the next big thing in a couple of years. Highlanders loose forward Shannon Frizell came from nowhere to make the All Blacks and has plenty of potential. Injury scuttled his end of year tour and we will wait and see how he will go next year.

Best local

Otago lost its first two games of the Mitre 10 Cup and there appeared little hope of a successful season. But then Michael Collins came back in to the team and the side was more or less transformed. Collins has grown a lot in the past three years and he was a big reason of why Otago made it all the way to the championship final. Just a shame it ran out of juice so early in that final 80 minutes of the season.

Best national

There was plenty to like about hooker Codie Taylor in the All Blacks this year. Taylor was rather lucky to make the All Blacks three years ago but after 18 months of trying to find his feet, he really bloomed this year. Good thrower, solid defender and fast around the paddock.

It may be very tough for a now fit Dan Coles to muscle his way back into the starting line-up with the way Taylor has played in the past couple of years. But one would not bet against Coles.

Best international

Having won the World Cup, which was the major sporting contest in 2018, a Frenchman has to come to the party. Not that sulker Paul Pogba who is not much better than a League Two club player when he goes back to domestic football, but Antonie Griezmann was class as he helped France win the big one, 20 years after France last won the big prize.

World Cup predictions

All Blacks: You have to be confident but not as good as say two years ago. Much is going to depend on injuries, form, weather, referees, opposition, selection, tactics ... better placed than any other team there but still paper thin margins at this level.

Black Caps: Will be competitive but England at home is going to be difficult. But if the Black Caps play to their potential they could go deep into this tournament and in a one-off game who knows? But unlikely.

Silver Ferns: A bridge too far for this mob. Not enough world-class players and will actually do well to even get a medal. Could be turned around but too much of an ocean liner to get back on track this quickly.

Wanaka's Zoi Sadowski Synnott celebrates during the victory ceremony after claiming bronze medal...
Wanaka's Zoi Sadowski Synnott celebrates during the victory ceremony after claiming bronze medal in the women's big air competition at the PyeongChang WInter Olympics. Photo: Getty Images

Three favourite moments

Otago's one-day campaign

Was a highlight mostly because it came as such a surprise. No-one was really expecting much from the Volts. A series of departures during the off-season stripped the team of some star-power. But the side showed a lot of hunger and fight to win seven of its 10 round-robin games. Otago lost the final to Wellington but, even in defeat, the team showed its character to rally from 57 for seven to post 234 for eight.

Another club again

Thank you University-Grange for providing a counter narrative. Cricket has been in steady decline at the grass-roots level for 30 odd years, so it was a welcome relief when the club returned to the senior grade this season following a four year absence. It is also a case study of what is possible when a small group relentlessly pursues a goal.

Title at last

Harbour collected its first senior banner since forming 26 years ago, but had to share it with University. It was an epic club rugby final. After 100 minutes of rugby the score was tied 30-30. About 3000 people showed up to Forsyth Barr Stadium to watch the match. That is a big crowd when you consider fewer the 5000 showed up to watch Otago beat Hawke's Bay in the championship semifinal. Club rugby might be struggling to attract players in the same numbers but it still holds an appeal.

Best game

Perhaps the most stunning one-day innings ever witnessed in New Zealand and it played out in front of a capacity crowd at the University of Otago Oval in March.

England smashed 335 for nine but Ross Taylor, who was injured for a good portion of the innings, clouted 17 fours and six sixes in his unbeaten 181 to help the Black Caps secure a five-wicket win in the last over.

He was so broken afterwards he needed a ride on the drinks cart to get to the press conference and was forced to miss the decider.

So lucky to see that game live. Too many twists for comfort when you are filing to a deadline, though.

Best newcomer

Former seam bowler turned domestic spin wizard Ajaz Patel got an unexpected call up for the test side when Todd Astle was ruled out with injury. Then in his first test he took five for 59 to help seal a dramatic four-run win against Pakistan in Dubai. Special mention for former Otago player Will Somerville who took four for 75 in his debut bowling stint and showed some tenacity with the bat.

Best local

Wanaka teenager Zoi Sadowski-Synnott became the first New Zealander to win a medal at the Winter Olympics since Annelise Coberger claimed silver in 1992. She nailed a switch backside 900 with a stalefish grab to win bronze in Pyeongchang in February. A few hours later, another teenager from Wanaka, Nico Porteous, won bronze in the men's ski halfpipe. He put down an ``insane'' run in his second attempt. A little earlier he has been so nervous he was vomiting. It was probably all that stale fish.

Best national

The queen of the court Joelle King has had a tremendous year. Two gold medals and a bronze at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. She won her first Platinum Professional Squash Association title in Hong Kong and has climbed to number four in the world rankings. Not bad considering she came close to giving the game away last last year.

Best international

Anthony Joshua has not done enough to make this list. He had just the two fights this year but he dispatched our man Joseph Parker and collected another belt. One more major strap and he will have the lot. That will be a mega fight against either Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder - that is assuming their rematch for the WBC title goes ahead and it looks like it will. Joshua v Fury or Joshua v Wilder will stop the planet. It would arguably be the biggest heavyweight bout since Tyson v Holyfield.

World Cup Predictions

All Blacks: The All Blacks will run over most teams but will need to sort out a better game plan to deal with the rush defence if they want to make it three in a row. May we suggest a first five-eighth from Canterbury who appears better equipped at pivot. Beaten finalists.

Black Caps: The Black Caps have to be a chance. Colin Munro is every bit as destructive as Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are world class. Strike bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee ought to enjoy the conditions. Beaten semifinalists.

Silver Ferns: The Silver Ferns have no chance. Bronze medal at best. Lacking a quality shooter.

The SOuthern Steel parades through the streets of Invercargill in August after a successful year....
The SOuthern Steel parades through the streets of Invercargill in August after a successful year. Photo: Gregor Richardson

Three favourite moments

Stealing the title

A delayed flight left me cutting it fine as I boosted up the highway from Wellington to Palmerston North. I made it to the ANZ Premiership final with 15 minutes to spare after a stressful few hours. Needless to say an empty stomach and a score of 21-10 in favour of the Central Pulse had me in a relatively bad mood midway through the second quarter. Then came the most amazing comeback. No-one - including the team itself - could believe what had just happened as the Southern Steel snatched a 54-53 win. That certainly improved the mood and the hunger disappeared as the adrenaline kicked in.

Ben's breakout

Queenstown's Ben McLachlan was only a 50/50 chance of making the Australian Open draw. But after sneaking in he and doubles partner Jan-Lennard Struff went on a dream run all the way to the semifinals. A quarterfinal at Wimbledon followed in one of the great years for an Otago tennis player.

Technically brilliant

It is hard to believe they were underdogs. Dunedin Technical's women were a class above as they netted four first half goals in the Kate Sheppard Cup final to beat Auckland's Forrest Hill Milford 4-2. Mikaela Hunt headed in twice, while Shontelle Smith was named player of the final. After a remarkable 12 months of women's football in the south, this was the peak moment.

Best game

Steel v Pulse

ANZ Premiership final

The trip was memorable, but the game was also brilliant. The Pulse were rampant early and had the Steel rattled. It jumped out to an 11-goal lead and held off every attempted comeback. The Steel trailed 53-47 with less than four minutes to go when Jennifer O'Connell scored six consecutive goals. That left Te Paea Selby-Rickit to put the Steel ahead for the first time in the game - with 25 seconds to play - and pull off the most unlikely win.

Best newcomer

Courtney Elliott: The 19-year-old did not even have an ANZ Premiership contract until the week the season started. She quickly earned her way into the Steel's starting line-up and was a constant force in the defensive circle. Plucked intercepts out of nowhere and proved disruptive to even the competition's best shooters.

Best local achiever

Oli Chignell: At just 20 years old the Otago runner claimed senior men's national titles in the 5000m, cross country and road race. That says it all, really.

Best national achiever

Tom Walsh: Threw 22.67m to jump to sixth on the global all-time men's shot put rankings. Followed that up by claiming Commonwealth Games gold a few weeks later.

Best international achiever

Kylian Mbappe: One of the stars of the football World Cup-winning French team at just 19 years old. Joined Pele as one of only two players to score in a World Cup final as a teenager.

World Cup predictions

All Blacks: They still have to be favourites, but the gap is paper-thin. Ireland is a real threat and several others are capable of knocking them off. If they can find a counter to the suffocating defence, they should have too much. That's a big `if' though.

Black Caps: The semifinals are always a logical bet here - so let's stick with that.

Silver Ferns: It might be too soon to expect this side to be making the final, although on their day they can beat anyone. An Australia v England final looks likely, the Silver Ferns coming in behind in third.


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