Infotainment Factory: The sports stories that shook 2018

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Thursday, 20 December 2018

The sports stories that shook 2018


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For so many reasons, 2018 was a year that changed the way we look at sport in Australia.

Chief among them was the ball-tampering scandal that shook the world of cricket to the core and forced introspection among the big decision makers across our major sports.

It was a line in the sand moment for Australia’s sports loving public – a clear message was sent; ‘winning at any cost is not what we want, nor are we willing to accept it any longer’.

For Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft the cost was immense.

The walls came crashing down around them. In Smith’s case the fall was monumental; from captain of his country and the ‘best since Bradman’ to a childlike sobbing mess, consoled by his father, who didn’t know what had hit him.

This was the image of the biggest sports story, not just in 2018 but perhaps the last decade. It transcended sport and became the biggest thing at that moment in politics and pop culture.

Almost nine months later, the story rolls on with Bancroft nearing the end of his ban and Smith re-entering public life with an ad, a press conference and a training session with the BBL side he used to captain, the Sydney Sixers.

Between now and then it has taken many scalps, from the captain to the coach to the high performance manager, to the CEO and the chairman.

Justin Langer and Tim Paine’s new Australian side bears the scars and they play cricket differently as a result.

At the time the story broke on March 24, legendary former Test skipper Mark Taylor was on Cricket Australia’s board. He knew then it was huge, even if the snowball effects and the earth-shattering fallout were impossible to predict.

“I knew at the time the guys had made a terrible mistake, and that’s where I still stand today,” Taylor told Wide World of Sports as he looked back on the saga.

“With hindsight the one year sanctions (for Warner and Smith) were right, they’re certainly harsh, but fair, and the good news for the game is that hopefully all of this will draw a line in the sand.

“It needed it, someone had to be a leader in this regard, and sometimes you’ve got to set the tone in a tough situation, and that’s what happened here, because ball-tampering has now turned to culture and overall player behaviour.

“In a way it’s a good thing, because hopefully a line has been drawn, and not just for Australia.

“Hopefully cricket around the world will be better for what happened in South Africa.”

No doubt cricket has changed forever because of the events of that day.

The ball-tampering story is unrivalled as the biggest in Australian sport for 2018, but looking back at the year that was, there were many others that rate a mention as well.

Serena’s almighty tantrum

Playing on one of world sport’s biggest stages, the biggest name in women’s tennis hijacked the US Open when she was handed a code violation for ‘coaching’ and absolutely lost it at the umpire.

This was much bigger than the usual strop and Williams chose to make it much broader than a simple, if controversial, umpiring decision when she went on a tirade that bought into equality for women and her values as a mother.

Her grandstanding overshadowed the result and overwhelmed her opponent Naomi Osaka, who had just become a first-time grand slam winner and never really had her achievement celebrated as it should have been.

The story rolled on for weeks and months with Australia unwittingly becoming an ugly part of the narrative when Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight faced a firestorm for his portrayal, which was considered by some to be racist.

Like the ball-tampering story, this moment in the US Open final had far-reaching consequences for the sport, with rule changes debated and some of the biggest names in the game taking new positions on equality.

The Boomers and ‘basketbrawl’

A genuine show stopping brawl that breaks into a professional sporting contest has always been and will always be big news.

But this was on another level.

Coaches were involved, chairs were thrown and players feared for their lives as Australia’s clash with the Philippines careered out of control.

It became so dangerous that the match had to be abandoned and diplomacy between the two nations was taken to the edge.

The images were shocking and barbaric and the story rolled on for days and weeks as heavy sanctions were imposed and players were forced to seek counselling for the emotional distress it caused them.

McGregor v Khabib: UFC becomes the circus

From the press conference to the weigh in to the octagon, this fight, with the UFC’s biggest name, Conor McGregor, returning to the UFC for the first time since his money-grabbing switch to boxing for a fight of a lifetime against Floyd Mayweather, was always on the edge.

When Khabib Nurmagomedov finished it with a brutal choke-out it descended into anarchy as the Dagestani fighter, wounded by McGregor’s carry on in the lead-up, jumped out of the octagon and into the crowd to continue the fight with the Irishman’s entourage.

Once again, this was a story that shocked the world and had far-reaching ramifications, with the controversial combat promotion forced to defend itself for allowing some incredibly inflammatory words and actions to light a fire under the big money bout.

Horn sends Mundine into retirement

For many years Anthony Mundine struggled to live up to his words with his actions.

And after an extraordinary sporting career that took him from rugby league into the boxing ring and spanned the best part of two and a half decades, time was finally up for one of our greatest athletes shortly after stepping into the ring with Jeff Horn.

For Horn, this fight was a big pay cheque as much as it was a chance to re-establish himself as a genuine world championship contender after he was humbled by Terence Crawford.

For Mundine it was one last chance to entertain the masses with his unique ability to hype a fight in the pre-promotion. It was also an opportunity to go out on his terms, having competed with a genuine boxing star who is still in his prime.

Sadly, he was unable to deliver on that second hope but he certainly pulled a crowd with a full house at Suncorp Stadium, big pay per view numbers and insane digital traffic.

Gaff punch rocks the AFL

Not since Barry Hall’s infamous KO of Brent Staker had an AFL player caused such a stir with a punch.

Coming into the West Coast Eagles’ Round 20 match with local rivals Fremantle, Andrew Gaff had put together a career-year.

He was in the running for the Brownlow Medal and was the leading midfielder in a side that was positioned well for a premiership tilt after starting the year as favourites for the wooden spoon in the eyes of some pundits, Robert Walls being the most notable.

In one moment of madness those dreams went up in smoke for Gaff as he swung wildly at young star Andrew Brayshaw, knocking him out and breaking his jaw much to the dismay of his teammates and opponents, not to mention a shocked crowd and TV audience.

Condemnation was swift and unanimous and a traumatised Gaff was forced to watch on from the sidelines after copping an eight-week suspension as his teammates rebounded from the adversity to lift the premiership cup two months later.

Conquering Cahill’s fourth World Cup and retirement

The FIFA World Cup is arguably the biggest sporting event there is, so it had to make this list in one way or another.

No doubt France’s victory and Croatia’s stunning role as the giant killers were both worthy nominations but as this is an Australian-led list, we had to go for Cahill.

From the time he burst into World Cup folklore with his match-winning 2006 double against Japan after coming on as a second half substitute, Cahill has been the face of the Socceroos on their long campaigns ending on football’s biggest stage.

For many it was controversial selections that cost the ageing forward his place as the focal point of the side, as Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk put an emphasis on mobility for his attacking players.

So it wasn’t until the final throes of the third game that Cahill finally got on the field for his fourth World Cup – and despite one good chance he was unable to get a trademark goal.

Still, just getting on the field at four World Cups is a massive achievement and it was only right and proper that the favourite son of Australian football was given one last chance to say goodbye to his loyal fans with a farewell game on home soil last month.

Sam Kerr the global phenom

While the Socceroos were unable to make a big impact on the world stage in 2018, their female counterparts had another sensational year, with the Matildas taking some big scalps and Sam Kerr establishing herself as arguably the best player in the world.

That status was recognised in America when she won the Espy for Best International Women’s Soccer Player and finished fifth in the voting for the first ever female Ballon d’Or.

Not only is she one of the best strikers in the world, Kerr is an outstanding ambassador for Australia and women’s sport and she now sits alongside Ellyse Perry as a marketing powerhouse and an idol to young girls across the country.

Greenberg lays down law as Flanagan, Pascoe deregistered

It only happened this week but NRL boss Todd Greenberg’s line in the sand moment for club officials who break rules to gain a competitive advantage is a huge story that has plenty of legs in it yet.

Having won a premiership just two years ago, Shane Flanagan is among the most highly rated coaches in the competition and his career is now in tatters.

Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe may never be involved in rugby league again, although his club looks set to go to war with the NRL and Greenberg over the heavy sanctions handed down to them based on an ambassadorial role that was offered to club legend Robbie Farah.

It’s a story that will roll on for months and may end up defining the legacy of Greenberg as he takes a heavy-handed approach in an attempt to stop clubs from being tempted to circumvent the salary cap.

Will Power’s history-making Indy 500 win

The Indy 500 is arguably the most iconic race in motorsport, having been established way back in 1911.

No wonder then star Aussie driver Will Power couldn’t contain himself when he made history this year by becoming the first Australian ever to win it.

“Finally. Finally. Finally,” he kept saying after realising his dream as a 37-year-old veteran of the sport.

Power had twice won the Indy Car series but would not have considered his career complete had he never managed to conquer the most iconic track in the sport.

Dan Ricciardo might be the Aussie more commonly associated with flying the flag for motorsport in this country, but this year the honours go to Power.

OTHER NOTABLE STORIES

They don’t quite make our top 10, but we can’t let them go without mention.

  • Roger Federer seals GOAT status with 20th Grand Slam title at Australian Open
  • Craig Lowndes wins a stunning seventh Bathurst 1000
  • AFL legend Cyril Rioli announces shock retirement at age 20

For so many reasons, 2018 was a year that changed the way we look at sport in Australia.

Chief among them was the ball-tampering scandal that shook the world of cricket to the core and forced introspection among the big decision makers across our major sports.

It was a line in the sand moment for Australia’s sports loving public – a clear message was sent; ‘winning at any cost is not what we want, nor are we willing to accept it any longer’.

For Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft the cost was immense.

The walls came crashing down around them. In Smith’s case the fall was monumental; from captain of his country and the ‘best since Bradman’ to a childlike sobbing mess, consoled by his father, who didn’t know what had hit him.

This was the image of the biggest sports story, not just in 2018 but perhaps the last decade. It transcended sport and became the biggest thing at that moment in politics and pop culture.

Almost nine months later, the story rolls on with Bancroft nearing the end of his ban and Smith re-entering public life with an ad, a press conference and a training session with the BBL side he used to captain, the Sydney Sixers.

Between now and then it has taken many scalps, from the captain to the coach to the high performance manager, to the CEO and the chairman.

Justin Langer and Tim Paine’s new Australian side bears the scars and they play cricket differently as a result.

At the time the story broke on March 24, legendary former Test skipper Mark Taylor was on Cricket Australia’s board. He knew then it was huge, even if the snowball effects and the earth-shattering fallout were impossible to predict.

“I knew at the time the guys had made a terrible mistake, and that’s where I still stand today,” Taylor told Wide World of Sports as he looked back on the saga.

“With hindsight the one year sanctions (for Warner and Smith) were right, they’re certainly harsh, but fair, and the good news for the game is that hopefully all of this will draw a line in the sand.

“It needed it, someone had to be a leader in this regard, and sometimes you’ve got to set the tone in a tough situation, and that’s what happened here, because ball-tampering has now turned to culture and overall player behaviour.

“In a way it’s a good thing, because hopefully a line has been drawn, and not just for Australia.

“Hopefully cricket around the world will be better for what happened in South Africa.”

No doubt cricket has changed forever because of the events of that day.

The ball-tampering story is unrivalled as the biggest in Australian sport for 2018, but looking back at the year that was, there were many others that rate a mention as well.

Serena’s almighty tantrum

Playing on one of world sport’s biggest stages, the biggest name in women’s tennis hijacked the US Open when she was handed a code violation for ‘coaching’ and absolutely lost it at the umpire.

This was much bigger than the usual strop and Williams chose to make it much broader than a simple, if controversial, umpiring decision when she went on a tirade that bought into equality for women and her values as a mother.

Her grandstanding overshadowed the result and overwhelmed her opponent Naomi Osaka, who had just become a first-time grand slam winner and never really had her achievement celebrated as it should have been.

The story rolled on for weeks and months with Australia unwittingly becoming an ugly part of the narrative when Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight faced a firestorm for his portrayal, which was considered by some to be racist.

Like the ball-tampering story, this moment in the US Open final had far-reaching consequences for the sport, with rule changes debated and some of the biggest names in the game taking new positions on equality.

The Boomers and ‘basketbrawl’

A genuine show stopping brawl that breaks into a professional sporting contest has always been and will always be big news.

But this was on another level.

Coaches were involved, chairs were thrown and players feared for their lives as Australia’s clash with the Philippines careered out of control.

It became so dangerous that the match had to be abandoned and diplomacy between the two nations was taken to the edge.

The images were shocking and barbaric and the story rolled on for days and weeks as heavy sanctions were imposed and players were forced to seek counselling for the emotional distress it caused them.

McGregor v Khabib: UFC becomes the circus

From the press conference to the weigh in to the octagon, this fight, with the UFC’s biggest name, Conor McGregor, returning to the UFC for the first time since his money-grabbing switch to boxing for a fight of a lifetime against Floyd Mayweather, was always on the edge.

When Khabib Nurmagomedov finished it with a brutal choke-out it descended into anarchy as the Dagestani fighter, wounded by McGregor’s carry on in the lead-up, jumped out of the octagon and into the crowd to continue the fight with the Irishman’s entourage.

Once again, this was a story that shocked the world and had far-reaching ramifications, with the controversial combat promotion forced to defend itself for allowing some incredibly inflammatory words and actions to light a fire under the big money bout.

Horn sends Mundine into retirement

For many years Anthony Mundine struggled to live up to his words with his actions.

And after an extraordinary sporting career that took him from rugby league into the boxing ring and spanned the best part of two and a half decades, time was finally up for one of our greatest athletes shortly after stepping into the ring with Jeff Horn.

For Horn, this fight was a big pay cheque as much as it was a chance to re-establish himself as a genuine world championship contender after he was humbled by Terence Crawford.

For Mundine it was one last chance to entertain the masses with his unique ability to hype a fight in the pre-promotion. It was also an opportunity to go out on his terms, having competed with a genuine boxing star who is still in his prime.

Sadly, he was unable to deliver on that second hope but he certainly pulled a crowd with a full house at Suncorp Stadium, big pay per view numbers and insane digital traffic.

Gaff punch rocks the AFL

Not since Barry Hall’s infamous KO of Brent Staker had an AFL player caused such a stir with a punch.

Coming into the West Coast Eagles’ Round 20 match with local rivals Fremantle, Andrew Gaff had put together a career-year.

He was in the running for the Brownlow Medal and was the leading midfielder in a side that was positioned well for a premiership tilt after starting the year as favourites for the wooden spoon in the eyes of some pundits, Robert Walls being the most notable.

In one moment of madness those dreams went up in smoke for Gaff as he swung wildly at young star Andrew Brayshaw, knocking him out and breaking his jaw much to the dismay of his teammates and opponents, not to mention a shocked crowd and TV audience.

Condemnation was swift and unanimous and a traumatised Gaff was forced to watch on from the sidelines after copping an eight-week suspension as his teammates rebounded from the adversity to lift the premiership cup two months later.

Conquering Cahill’s fourth World Cup and retirement

The FIFA World Cup is arguably the biggest sporting event there is, so it had to make this list in one way or another.

No doubt France’s victory and Croatia’s stunning role as the giant killers were both worthy nominations but as this is an Australian-led list, we had to go for Cahill.

From the time he burst into World Cup folklore with his match-winning 2006 double against Japan after coming on as a second half substitute, Cahill has been the face of the Socceroos on their long campaigns ending on football’s biggest stage.

For many it was controversial selections that cost the ageing forward his place as the focal point of the side, as Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk put an emphasis on mobility for his attacking players.

So it wasn’t until the final throes of the third game that Cahill finally got on the field for his fourth World Cup – and despite one good chance he was unable to get a trademark goal.

Still, just getting on the field at four World Cups is a massive achievement and it was only right and proper that the favourite son of Australian football was given one last chance to say goodbye to his loyal fans with a farewell game on home soil last month.

Sam Kerr the global phenom

While the Socceroos were unable to make a big impact on the world stage in 2018, their female counterparts had another sensational year, with the Matildas taking some big scalps and Sam Kerr establishing herself as arguably the best player in the world.

That status was recognised in America when she won the Espy for Best International Women’s Soccer Player and finished fifth in the voting for the first ever female Ballon d’Or.

Not only is she one of the best strikers in the world, Kerr is an outstanding ambassador for Australia and women’s sport and she now sits alongside Ellyse Perry as a marketing powerhouse and an idol to young girls across the country.

Greenberg lays down law as Flanagan, Pascoe deregistered

It only happened this week but NRL boss Todd Greenberg’s line in the sand moment for club officials who break rules to gain a competitive advantage is a huge story that has plenty of legs in it yet.

Having won a premiership just two years ago, Shane Flanagan is among the most highly rated coaches in the competition and his career is now in tatters.

Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe may never be involved in rugby league again, although his club looks set to go to war with the NRL and Greenberg over the heavy sanctions handed down to them based on an ambassadorial role that was offered to club legend Robbie Farah.

It’s a story that will roll on for months and may end up defining the legacy of Greenberg as he takes a heavy-handed approach in an attempt to stop clubs from being tempted to circumvent the salary cap.

Will Power’s history-making Indy 500 win

The Indy 500 is arguably the most iconic race in motorsport, having been established way back in 1911.

No wonder then star Aussie driver Will Power couldn’t contain himself when he made history this year by becoming the first Australian ever to win it.

“Finally. Finally. Finally,” he kept saying after realising his dream as a 37-year-old veteran of the sport.

Power had twice won the Indy Car series but would not have considered his career complete had he never managed to conquer the most iconic track in the sport.

Dan Ricciardo might be the Aussie more commonly associated with flying the flag for motorsport in this country, but this year the honours go to Power.

OTHER NOTABLE STORIES

They don’t quite make our top 10, but we can’t let them go without mention.

  • Roger Federer seals GOAT status with 20th Grand Slam title at Australian Open
  • Craig Lowndes wins a stunning seventh Bathurst 1000
  • AFL legend Cyril Rioli announces shock retirement at age 20
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