COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the 2020 sports calendar with events cancelled, delayed, rule changes, condensed matches and hubs to ensure sports goes ahead. This has meant some success windows have opened while others have potentially closed.
NRL: Penrith Panthers
Many pundits predicted the top 6 from last year to remain unchanged. The Roosters looked just as strong, the Storm are always there about, the Raiders just missed in 2019, the Eels roster looked well balanced, Manly had guns in the right positions and Souths had recruited Latrell Mitchell to form a formidable spine.
At the start of the season the Panthers had the least amount of NRL games experience and were “young” across the board. They finished 10th last year but could they make the jump into the top echelon in 2020? With one round to play they are the minor premiers and the only other two times they’ve done this they kicked on to be premiers in 1991 and 2003.
No doubt big winners of the “six again” rule change and confidence is sky high. Nathan Cleary played rep footy before he really deserved it (based on his gun goal kicking and Mitchell Pearce’s failure in my opinion) but he has shone this year. Personally it’s Cleary’s halves partner, Jarome Luai who has made them a premiership threat with 17 try assists (=3rd) 15 line break assists (6th) and 7 tries. The question mark that remains now is do they have the big game experience to match the Roosters and Storm?
AFL: Brisbane Lions
Finished equal top last year only missing out to Geelong based on percentage before losing in straight sets to both the grand finalists by less than a kick. Have backed up that good form to again finish top 2. With Victoria being Australia’s COVID-19 hotspot, it means the Lions won’t have to travel to the MCG where they have failed to win in a long time. They’ve earned the right to home finals and now if they can get the two wins (kicking straight will help) they get to play the big dance at the lions den - the Gabba.
Tour De France: Richie Porte
So long the Tasmanian has been considered unlucky - crashes, poor team, not prepared to be team leader or just one bad day. At 35 his best days as a GC rider looked gone. The most famous grand tour was postponed and many big names didn’t compete. With Porte’s wife pregnant he considered not riding but she encouraged him to ride but with a condition “Just don’t be at the back of the peloton”.
Well he hasn’t disappointed with a 3rd place finish in the overall classification. Only Cadel Evans, with a win and two 2nds has done better for Australia.
Tennis: Dominic Thiem
Roger and Rafa decided to stay home and Novak had a meltdown so Thiem took his chance and won his maiden grand slam, the US Open. A well deserved win though, becoming the first player in over 70 years to come back from two sets down to win the final.
*hypothetical as we honestly don’t know
After such a promising 2019 under coach Des all the ingredients looked in place for a deep run into the finals, and no this isn’t just me a biased fan talking either. Beating the Roosters in round 2, a controversial loss against the Eels and beating the Raiders meant they were 4-2 to start the season.
Then Tommy Turbo limped off and Manly’s season bombed. Other key players such as Dylan Walker and Moses Suli had serious injuries while key forwards AFB, Tapau, Sironen and Thompson all missed games. There’s been several big losses and they’ve missed the 8 by some way. 2021 doesn’t read much better with AFB, who was voted by the players as the game’s best prop, wanting out, key players DCE and Taupau both a year older and question marks will be how the injured stars return. I’ll still remain optimistic but on paper at the start of 2020 many expected bigger things of the Sea Eagles.
AFL: Hawthorn and GWS
The Hawks were the dominant team for a decade with a three-peat from 2013-2015, to go with their 2008 premiership. Always considered the team to beat. Master coach Clarko was a master of the trade table and when they just missed in 2019 for 9th, there was a feeling that with a fit Tom Mitchell in 2020 they could bounce back quickly. This was not the case and 15th in 2020 with their old list means it will be a proper rebuild for the Hawks.
GWS were in the grand final last year but have failed to make the 8 this year. Similar to Manly in the NRL, their top talent is elite but it puts a strain on the rest of the salary cap. Likely to lose some talented players (again...) and they seem to be a club forever treading water.
Olympics: The Boomers men’s basketball team
There has been some near misses over the years with unlucky 4ths at Olympics and World Champs. With a record number of playing in the NBA, lead by All-defensive team first team star Ben Simmons, the team looked to have a well balanced line up. Simmons, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes and Patty Mills are all still performing on a regular basis, while Thon Maker, Jonah Bolden and Dante Exum all have their moments.
Matthew Dellavedova and Andrew Bogut are past their best but can still play a role and have plenty of big game experiences. The Tokyo Olympics of 2020, it looked like the stars would align. Unfortunately the games have been delayed 12 months and the big question is if the bodies of many of the players will hold up. Simmons will be in his prime for the following Olympics but the majority of the other names will certainly be retired or past their best.