What a year!
Sport, someone once noted, is “Shakespeare on steroids,” and let this year be the exemplar; the proof potion of the notion. It had drama, shocks, magnificence, unexpected plot twists, inspiration, perspiration, pathos, bathos, derring-do and ... outright tragedy. By and large it absorbed us and, at its best – like the Socceroos at the World Cup – witnessed that increasingly rare phenomenon of much of the nation leaning forward, at least a little, at much the same time.
No, it didn’t deliver a moment akin to the America’s Cup win of 1983, a forever-after reference point for most Australians who celebrated it. And it might have been a little light on for compelling characters arising to warm the cockles of our collective soul. But still, there were things we will long remember – not all of them good, but some were the good, the bad, the ugly, the tragic and the magic.
Thank you, sincerely, for your readership. Roll tape.
Ahem. That would be mine, written the day after the opening round of the NRL season:
I’m calling it now. Penrith will go back-to-back, and win their second successive NRL premiership this year.
Oh sure, sneer unpleasantly.
Trot out your “Kiss of Death” lines.
I don’t care, do you hear me? I just don’t care.
Did you see that match on Thursday evening? It wasn’t just that, missing five stars, including Nathan Cleary, Penrith beat rough contenders Manly 28-6. It was the 20 extra points they could have got! Had the ball bounced their way, and the ref been kinder, the Panthers could have put 50 points on Manly without blinking.
Penrith Panthers winning the 2022 grand final.Credit:Getty Images
And if they can do that to Manly, what will they do to other teams when Nathan Cleary et al get back? The Panthers were so damn dominant it was dull, and I do hope the season won’t be the same. I hope the likes of Souths or the Raiders can throw out a challenge, but right now I can’t see it.
Sneer, I said. Jeer! But remember, you heard it here first. Panthers will go two for two in 2022. And they did!
I penned these words in the wee hours of 5 March, about 30 minutes after the news broke that Australia had lost its most famous cricketer of the modern era:
When the days grow cold, and we grow old, what will we say of Shane Warne who – though the cricketing world still can’t quite believe it – has suddenly died, in Thailand, aged, just 52?
He was, first and foremost, an extraordinary cricketer, with no less than Wisden anointing him as one of the best five who ever played the game globally.
From his famed “ball of the century” in 1993 – the first ball he ever bowled in an Ashes series which, while whistling Waltzing Matilda, landed well outside leg-stump and took off Mike Gatting’s off-bail – through the next 700 wickets or so, he was simply mesmerising.
Warne, seemingly effortlessly, could do things with the cricket ball that other bowlers could not conceive, let alone execute. And he could do it in all conditions, against all comers and all nations for years on end, using the ancient and mysterious art of leg-spin many thought had been lost to the game. When the captain threw the ball to Warne, the batsmen would exchange glances – “Good luck, and keep in touch” – while the whole cricketing world leaned in. What was he going to produce this time? Mostly, it was the masterpieces of an artiste, balls that picked locks rather than oh so gauchely bashed doors down like the suddenly passé fast bowlers. Warne’s genius – an overused word in sport, but it was genuinely applicable to the blond Victorian – was not fleeting, it was enduring.
Vale Shane Warne. Credit:John Shakespeare
Spinner, sinner; unrelenting and unrepentant; he was as colourful as a rainbow by Pro Hart. It is the nature of elite and extravagantly talented cricketers and footballers to produce headlines. None – and I mean none – produced headlines like Warne for so many extraordinary things on and off the field for so many decades. For it wasn’t, of course, just his feats with the ball in hand that attracted attention. It was the scandals, the romances, the break-ups, the text-messages, the cutting comments about teammates, opponents and officials; the very tabloid nature of much of his life which meant he was a constant topic of debate, discussion, and dismay.
For the subtlety and nuance he mastered on the field were not reflected off the field, where he lived fast and furious, hard and obvious. He would say what he wanted to say to whoever, whenever he liked; do what he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it; live like he wanted to live, and let the devil take the hindmost.
Whatever his trials and tribulations, his brickbats and bouquets from we of the media, he was beloved by the Australian public and he loved them in turn. He was not “Shane Warne” to Bay 13, he was ever and always “Warnie!” and their enthusiasm and love for him simply never wavered with the passage of the years.
This columnist took more shots at him than most, on more subjects than most, and I can say with authority that nothing I ever wrote shifted the core cricket public against him a jot.
They adored him, no matter what.
There was something about his persona, about the way he lived his life, that pressed buttons in the Australian psyche, most particularly that of blokes, which made him completely bullet-proof in public regard.
We could write what we liked. Their reply never varied: “Warnie!” He seemed to live hard and fast – burning the candles at both ends and in the middle all at once – right to . . . the end.
And that is the most shocking part of all.
The end. For Shane Warne?
At 52! I still can’t quite believe it. No-one can.
TFF has written of the annual Murray Rose Malabar Magic Ocean Swim, the swimming event sponsored by the Rainbow Club, which conducts swimming lessons for children with a disability. It was due to be held in mid-March, only to be cancelled at the last minute, after a fatal shark attack at Little Bay. For many of those swimmers, the sudden loss of an event that was the highlight of their year was a tough blow. What to do?
Some kind folk from the Rainbow Club organised an alternative disabled swim event where the Rainbow Club kids joined in a group swim with the Sans Souci Sea Devils, at the Sans Souci pool. Yes, it was a last-minute organisation as the Sea Devils were coming off the back of their own two-day swim carnival which is their own annual fundraising event. But with perfect weather and a quiet pool, members from Hurstville Rainbow Club and Sutherland Rainbow Club swam side by side with their families, teachers and close to 40 Sea Devil members, parents and coaches. All went at their own pace, from the elite to first timer to those with a disability – finishing with warm applause to all – before the Sea Devils hosted them all to a well -earned BBQ breakfast.
At the same time the swimmer and ocean enthusiast who lost his life to the shark, Simon Nellist, was not forgotten, with members of the local Malabar community paddling out to make a circle of honour in his memory. Gotta love this city, particularly in tough times.
Comedian Pete Davidson as Novak Djokovic on Saturday Night Live: “People love to tear you off your pedestal just because you’re really rich or you’re the best at tennis or you go to a charity event with 200 kids even though you’re dripping with Covid . . .”
Novak Djokovic, to the BBC: “No one in that entire process of the Australian saga has asked me on my stance or my opinion on vaccination. No one. So I could not really express what I feel and where my stance is, neither in the legal process, neither outside.” Ummmm, I’m gonna go with, you’re broadly against the efficacy of vaccinations, and the importance of vaccine mandates. Did I get it right?
A surprisingly churlish Mitchell Johnson, after Justin Langer’s unseemly exit – to crickets from the cricketers: “Pat Cummins has been lauded as some type of cricketing saint since his elevation to the top job this summer. Cummins might have delivered with the ball during the Ashes series, but he has failed his first big test as captain pretty miserably.”
Naomi Osaka after getting knocked out of the Australian Open: “I’m not God. I can’t win every match.” God is too busy to play in any case, sorting out who should score goals, tries and basket, win gold medal and matches all over the sporting world.”
Murwillumbah pharmacist Skye Swift, who was trying to get through the floods of early March to start work at her pharmacy: “A guy took me on his tinnie across flooded cow paddocks towards Tumbulgum, so I got a hold of the [local jet ski rescuers] and said, ‘I’m in a tinnie, can a jetski meet me?’ He said keep an eye out, and . . . within a minute, a jetski turned up with Mick Fanning on it. I was stoked, I was grateful, I was a little bit chuffed it was Mick for a bit of sunlight around the day.”
Early in the season, Ricky Stuart was, as usual, upset with the judiciary: “It is the Canberra Raiders copping it up the arse again. That is a quote.” Charmed, we’re sure.
Victorian Sports Minister Martin Pakula the day after Shane Warne died: “We will be renaming the Great Southern Stand the S.K. Warne stand and we’ll be doing that as soon as we possibly can.”
Mike Gatting on Warne’s “ball of the century”: “I was on the wrong end of it possibly, but on the right end of it for cricket, because the man became the inspiration for many, many people and it is part of history. It’s a lovely part of history, and it’s lovely to be a part of it.”
Mike Gatting stands in disbelief after falling victim to Shane Warne’s “ball of the century” in 1993.Credit:Popperfoto
Roy Keane unimpressed with the young whipper-snappers in his former team, Manchester United: “Egos come into it, you leave egos at the front door, these guys are all about ‘how am I looking?’ ‘Are my boots nice?’ ‘Is my hair looking good?’ Play the game. You’re at Man United, we’re looking at the fans behind the goal and they know, they’re not daft, this team we’re supporting have given up.”
Waratahs coach Darren Coleman, before the season began, on his motivational methods: “I’m a dog trainer. If the dog does well, I give it a biscuit. If the dog does the wrong thing, I smack it on the arse.” Shades of the most famous sledge in Australian cricketing history . . .
LeBron James: “My last year will be played with my son. Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”
Ash Barty. The incumbent Wimbledon champion, went on to win her first Australian Open singles final – the first Australian female to do so in 42 years. And then retired!
The career of Dylan Alcott is celebrated on Rod Laver Arena.Credit:Getty
Dylan Alcott. Much like Bradman, did not get his fairytale finish, with World No.2 Sam Schroder beating him in the men’s singles quad wheelchair final. But, was announced as the Australian of the Year, and has done a great job since.
Daniil Medvedev. This year became the first player not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray to be number one ranked tennis player since February 2004.
Liz Mills. The Australian basketball coach oft featured by TFF has made sporting history one more time by becoming the first woman to coach a professional men’s team in Morocco, and the first female head coach in the Basketball Africa League.
Liz Mills with the Kenya national team.
Josh Giddey. Australia’s own, has been braining the NBA and right now looks to be heading for the kind of superstardom we had felt Ben Simmons was destined for.
RIP John Landy AC CVO MBE FTSE OLY. Legendary Australian athlete, Olympic medallist and former Victorian governor died in February at the age of 91.
RIP Johnny Raper. The rugby league legend – one of the original four Immortals – died in early Feb, aged 82, after a long battle with dementia.
RIP. Va’aiga Tuigamala, aka “Inga the winger”. Dual-code international died in February at the age of 52. Played for the All Blacks and played both league and union for Samoa.