An irreverent look at sporting year in review
It's not always about winning titles and mercilessly crushing your opposition. There's also a lighter side to sport. After all, sport is nothing if not "the winner on the day". So without further ado, here's stuff.co.nz's unscientific, off-the-cuff, straight from the hip list of irreverent sports awards for 2013.
BIGGEST LETDOWN: TEAM NEW ZEALAND
Sitting on match-point for what seemed like weeks but unable to complete the deal, this America's Cup meltdown stands out as the ultimate disappointment in a New Zealand sporting year that had a few. Dean Barker's crew stunned everyone by leaping out to an 8-1 lead in San Francisco but then all that hard work and millions of dollars amounted to nothing as they allowed Oracle to storm back to retain the Auld Mug. A transfixed nation appeared as stunned as the Kiwi crew, left wondering how it all went so horribly wrong. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: The Black Caps drawing tests with England at Eden Park and the West Indies in Dunedin from winning positions.
NAUGHTY BOY AWARD: MANU TUILAGI
It was meant to be a proud moment . . . The British & Irish Lions standing outside No 10 Downing St with British PM David Cameron to celebrate a rare test series win in Australia. Then Manu Tuilagi introduced a bit of Samoan humour, reaching his long arm behind Cameron's head and producing two fingers to give a bunny ear effect on the nation's leader. A subsequent apology couldn't make a priceless photograph disappear. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: It hasn't been a great year for New Zealand rugby league prop Russell Packer, starting with his on-field toilet problems against the Broncos in Brisbane.
PINOCCHIO AWARD: LANCE ARMSTRONG
After years of furiously rubbishing claims that he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admitted he'd been doped up to the eyeballs in a stage-managed interview with talk show queen Oprah Winfrey. But while it might have been the long-awaited mea culpa, Armstrong's lack of remorse was notable. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez once again found himself embroiled in a doping scandal after being linked to an anti-aging clinic in Florida. He denied taking human growth hormone (HGH) but in August was suspended for 211 regular-season games for violating Major League Baseball's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
BIGGEST FIZZER: KIWIS
While the All Whites' woeful World Cup qualifying attempt deserves a mention here, as does Brendon McCullum's disappointing first year as the Black Caps captain, the Kiwis' appalling display against the Kangaroos in the World Cup final will go down as their worst performance against their arch-rivals since being humiliated 58-0 in 2007 and couldn't have come at a worse time. After weeks of talking up their forward pack, the Kiwis' big boppers went missing in action and never looked like even scoring a try. To make matters worse, we were forced to watch the horror show in the early hours of the morning. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: Has there ever been a more frustrating New Zealand sportsperson than David Tua? An incredibly talented fighter with one of the greatest left hooks in history, Tua's career ended with barely a whimper after a limp, unspectacular display against Belarusian Alexander Ustinov at Hamilton's Claudelands Arena. He deserved a better swansong.
BEST FANS: BARMY ARMY
It's been a triple treat for the Barmy Army in 2013. Two Ashes series in the one year punctuated by a British & Irish Lions tour of Australia that actually brought a test series victory. And throughout it all their fanatical supporters delivered their unique humour as well as appreciation for their opponents. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: The Warriors' faithful deserve a pat on the back for … um … being faithful. New coach Matthew Elliott couldn't fix the age-old problems of inconsistency but the hard-core fans continued to fill a fair few seats at Mt Smart Stadium.
FOND FAREWELL: SACHIN TENDULKAR
The headline in the Times of India said it all: "God Bye". After playing his 200th test match, undoubtedly the greatest Indian cricketer to ever take the field, Sachin Tendulkar, was finally bowing out at the ripe old age of 40. From all over the cricketing world, former and current players paid their respects, saluting the diminutive blaster for his superlative performances. Steve Waugh described him as "the Don Bradman of our time". But in the end, Tendulkar's figures spoke for themselves – 34,000 runs in international cricket, including 100 centuries. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: In recent years, evergreen Black Caps bowler Chris Martin would get frustrated whenever the prospect of retirement was raised with him. But this year, at 38, New Zealand's third-highest test wicket-taker with 233 scalps finally called time on his career. He was never pretty with the bat, but knew what to do with the ball in hand.
UNSUNG HERO: STEVE WILLIAMS
OK, OK, so it can sometimes be a bit tiresome how we, as Kiwis, automatically search for a New Zealand connection whenever someone, anyone, does something impressive on the world stage. But the way Aussie golfer Adam Scott has performed this year with Kiwi caddy Steve Williams on his bag is well and truly worth crowing about. As well as becoming the first Aussie to win the Masters, Scott, who is closing in on Tiger Woods' No 1 ranking, pocketed more than A$6 million, won three other tournaments and made every single cut. All the while, Williams, the man who helped Woods rise to great heights, was with him out on the fairways. Clearly, the old petrol head is more than just a glorified bag handler. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR While coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith have been lauded for turning the Chiefs into a Super Rugby powerhouse, forwards coach Tom Coventry never gets his rightful share of the limelight.
THE PHOENIX AWARD: JIMMY SPITHILL
This one goes to Oracle and skipper Jimmy Spithill with daylight coming a distant second. After trailing 8-1 in the America's Cup, everyone but the brash, precocious Spithill and his crew had written the Oracle boat off. Thousands of miles away from San Francisco in Auckland, fans turned out in their droves to watch the action on big screens and will Team New Zealand home. Instead, it was Spithill who conjured up some magic – some might say of the black variety – and victory from the jaws of defeat was secured. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: The current Australian cricket team is a disgrace, they said. They're not fit enough to wear the baggy green of their predecessors, they argued. And then they were again, silencing the critics with an emphatic, aggressive start to the current Ashes series.
OUT OF THE BLUE: ASHTON AGAR
As far as test cricket debuts go, few have impressed more than Australian spinner Ashton Agar, whose performance with the bat during the Ashes series in England earlier in the year was undoubtedly out of the blue. Coming in last and with his side reeling on 117-9 at Trent Bridge, Agar struck an incredible 98 – the highest score by a No. 11 batsman – and also nabbed two wickets. He went on to play his second test later in the series at Lord's, failed to set the world alight and hasn't been seen in the baggy green since. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: A newspaper report in early December dropped a bombshell that three former New Zealand cricketers were being investigated by the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption Unit, shattering illusions in this part of the world that corruption is a "subcontinent problem".
BIGGEST BLOODBATH: MARK HUNT
In world sport, it doesn't get much more brutal than inside the UFC's octagon. Not many mixed martial artists have shed more blood in the cage this year than Kiwi heavyweight Mark Hunt. His five-round draw against Antonio ‘Big Foot' Silva featured more claret than a Tarantino flick, while his loss to Cain Velasquez was just as bloody. Hunt's a tough bloke – and that's why we at the Sunday News love him. Close but no cigar: It was billed as the ‘Battle of Eden' and no combatant came away from the All Blacks vs Springboks test in Auckland this year with more war wounds than flanker Sam Cane. His bloodied dome made the front page of plenty of papers following the match, which announced his arrival as the true heir apparent to legendary No. 7 Richie McCaw.
THE ‘REALITY BITES' AWARD: MATHEW SINCLAIR
With more than 13,000 first-class runs and 18 years of loyal service, there's few cricketers who have given as much to the New Zealand game as Mathew ‘Skippy' Sinclair. That makes it even more heart-breaking that after the former test opener retired in July, he went into the Napier WINZ office to apply for the dole. "It has been very hard to look for some sort of meaningful employment," Sinclair said at the time. Plenty of orchard work down in the Bay, Skippy. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: Reality has bit hard yet again for Iron Mike Tyson this year. The former world heavyweight champion has a new autobiography out – a superb read by the way – revealing his scarcely believable life. Drugs have been a big part of things, and at one point this year he preached how he had been living straight and clean. But it was all a lie: Tyson admitted at a boxing bout only a few months ago, that he would struggle to go more than a few days without partying or doing blow. You've gotta think it's gonna end badly for the champ.
WORST OUTFIT: JOHN KIRWAN
We struggle with Blues coach John Kirwan's choice of attire on game day. The former All Black winger will deck himself out in a fine Italian silk suit – but accompany it with a pair of joggers. Surely Kirwan's got a pair of Armani loafers in his wardrobe? CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: As far as golfing fashion faux pas go, John Daly is the gift that keeps on giving. He's varied his on-course attire from Stars and Stripes pants to a bizarre black and red tiger get-up – and all in between. The fans love him – but it's unclear how his fashion brand – Loud Mouth Clothing – is going.
SOREST LOSER: RICKI HERBERT
It was a massacre, pure and simple. The All Whites were destroyed 5-1 in Mexico City, and their World Cup dreams were in tatters. Then coach Ricki Herbert came out and told Kiwi journalists: "I saved New Zealand football." Wait, what? Mate, what about the job at hand? Sure, you took New Zealand to the 2010 World Cup, but what about the old ‘judge me on my last result' thing. Ricki, you're having a laugh. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: This was a dummy spit of epic proportions. After Counties lost 22-20 to Auckland this year, coach Tana Umaga bailed up referee Glen Jackson in the tunnel, before forcing his way into the official's changing room. It was a totally unprofessional display from Umaga and a big knock on his young coaching career. His apology came a week later, after Counties had won the Shield off Hawke's Bay. The weak-wristed response from the NZRU was almost as embarrassing as Tana's gaffe.
THE ‘SMALL WHITE LOLLY' MOMENT: THE HEARTLAND CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
It takes a big moment to put a hillbilly town like Ashburton on the map. But rugby did just that earlier this year, with a kick-off in the Mid Canterbury vs North Otago Meads Cup Final. A North Otago restart was caught by gale force winds howling into the ground, forcing the ball back over their own in-goal! Footage of the bizarre occurrence went worldwide. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: Everything Sonny Bill Williams touches usually turns to gold. That wasn't the case at the Rugby League World Cup in the northern hemisphere this year. Not only did SBW's Kiwis have a shocker in the final against Australia, but the big second rower made the bloopers reel with a bungled try against Samoa. He'd made it into the in-goal, but fell over with the ball in hand and stepped into touch.
THE ‘JOHN KEY' HANDSHAKE AWARD: STEVE ADAMS
Rotorua basketballer Steve Adams has been the toast of New Zealand sport this year after being drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder and looking a good fit in the NBA since his debut. Adams is your typically hard-case Kiwi character – as shown when Clippers centre Byron Mullens left him hanging on a post-game handshake last month. Adams shrugged his shoulders – and gave himself his own bro-shake. Classic. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: They say to carry spite in your heart is to prevent yourself from growing as an individual. Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll obviously never heard that one. The legendary international appeared to snub All Black skipper Richie McCaw's hand following Ireland's heartbreaking 24-22 to New Zealand in Dublin last month. Was that Lions' spear tackle moment still on his mind? Let it go, BOD.
BEST STREAKER: WATI HOLMWOOD
Pants down this has to be the Nelson man who shot to fame after streaking in the final minutes of the State of Origin decider in Sydney. Wearing nothing but joggers, Holmwood's 90-metre nude run cost him two months behind bars for "wilful and obscene exposure". The most astonishing part of this tale was the striking spray tan he sported, from the tip of his bald melon to his feet. Holmwood, who suffers depression and social anxiety, is no stranger to streaking, having previously been caught at a Kurrajong campsite in 2012 and at a Warriors v Tigers match at Leichhardt Oval in 2011. His family have since disowned him."They won't talk to me anymore. I had a few beers, but I was always going to do it." CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: It's not often a female gets her kit off on a sporting field. So we'll leave Kimberly Webster to explain why she streaked at the President's Cup. "I wanted to add a little excitement to golf because everyone seemed kind of depressed. The top streakers of all time were all men, so I decided I wanted to change that . . . It was golf – it's quiet and boring."
BEST WAG: ZOE MARSHALL
Benji's missus is a beauty; a high-profile television host, reporter, newspaper columnist and the author of a motivational online blog. In her debut column in February, titled "lessons from a footballer's wife", she wrote: "Last month I married Wests Tigers player Benji Marshall and, being the traditional sort, I've taken his name. but just because I married a footballer doesn't mean I'm a WAG. I'm so much more than a wife, although I take that role seriously, too." CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: Google Sasha Dindayal. You won't be disappointed. San Diego NFL star Antonio Gates is punching well above his weight.
GREAT ESCAPE: ALL BLACKS
Hard to go past the All Blacks' incredible composure in Dublin. Everyone, except those 15 men on the pitch, had seemingly given away the perfect season. Fourteen phases later and two minutes after full-time, Dane Coles delivered Ryan Crotty a magic offload, only for Aaron Cruden to need two bites at knocking over the match-winning conversion. What a way to end an unbeaten season. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: For 80-odd minutes the Kiwis were outclassed by England. Then Shaun Johnson did what he does best. The English will forever regret rushing the mercurial halfback. Give Johnson a sniff and his step and pace will burn you, every time. Unfortunately, that was the Kiwis' final. They failed to show the following week.
Six Wallabies players being banned for mid-week boozing in Edinburgh was not startling news. For too long this Australian team has been led by arrogant self-serving amigos. Ewen McKenzie should be applauded for his hard line stance, but there's some way to go before his men realise no-one is bigger than the team. CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: Talk about a laughing stock. The English cricket team gave Australians ideal sledging material when their 82-page catering demands were leaked ahead of the Ashes. On the menu were nearly 200 different types of foods and beverages, ranging from "mini mushroom and spinach bhajis" to "quinoa with roasted butternut squash".