The Cronulla Sharks may have just one premiership in 2016 but don’t be fooled to think they are void of talent as they have produced many great players.
The majority of team-sports competitions have been run and won for the year of 2016. We’ve seen some great stories, but which was the best?
Denver Broncos, NFL champions
This was a strange one. 39-year old quarterback Peyton Manning was rather terrible in his last year, and the Broncos reeled off their playoff wins with barely any offence at all. Their Super Bowl win, 24-10 over Carolina Panthers, was achieved via a pittance of offensive yard gain.
Still, their last stand to beat New England in the AFC Conference final was an awesome do-or-die moment.
Dominance of their competition: 7/10. Incredible defence that won in spite of their offence.
Feelgood factor: 7/10. Not a freewheeling style of play, but at least Peyton finally got a second ring in his last match, albeit without really deserving it.
Leicester City, English Premier League champions
This is too much. A team of scragglers who had almost flunked the Premier League in 2014-15, interwove together as a team featuring a motley combination of early-season 2-2 comebacks and late-season scratchy 1-0 wins, winning the EPL and streaking away in the end.
How the hell did this happen? I would label this the greatest sporting miracle of all time given the financial imbalances involved in European football. Watching them in their iconic 3-1 win against Manchester City, some of their individual passing and errors were of a lower-league level. But they were a collective and covered for each other. Riyad Mahrez was majestic, and cost less than half a million pounds. Take that, #Pogback.
The miracle is perversely confirmed by the exact same players (minus one) going back to being middling only a few months later.
Dominance of competition: 5/10. Each match against even the lowest opposition was always a desperate slog, which makes the consistency of results even more extraordinary. There were times towards the end where Tottenham seemed much more fluid, much ‘better’. But Leicester were just tougher, and a mere three losses can’t be sniffed at.
Feelgood factor: 11/10.
Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League champions
Don’t get me started on Real bloody Madrid. They were mediocre for most of the season, played no good teams at all until the UCL final and when it’s down to one game any idiot can win a penalty shootout.
Pluses: Cristiano Ronaldo’s two goals in a minute (and later a third to win) to retrieve a 0-2 deficit against Wolfsburg was classical.
Dominance of comp: 6/10, which is the minimum mark for a team of Real’s financial clout.
Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA champions
The city of Cleveland hadn’t won anything in any sport since 1948 and they did it with their golden child LeBron James returning home and asking for forgiveness. Iconic.
They also did it by defeating Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who had lost barely a game all season and were being compared to the 90s Bulls for single-season dominance. Cleveland were murdered in their first two Finals matches yet were the first team to ever win the Finals from a 1-3 deficit. LeBron was superman and maligned players like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving came through.
Dominance of comp: Who the hell knows, given all the skilled teams are in the Western Conference. 8/10?
Feelgood factor: 9/10, depending on your feelings on LeBron.
Chile, Copa America champions both 2015 and 2016
Chile may be a lesson for the Western Bulldogs. They took 99 years to win an emotional, nervy first South American title and assuredly repeated only one year later in the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
Interestingly, both finals were identical: hard-fought 0-0 draws with Argentina followed by winning two separate penalty shootouts. History seldom repeats as cleanly as that.
Dominance of comp: 7.5/10. Started slowly but then beat Mexico 7-0! Hanging on in the first half of the final against Argentina, however.
Feelgood factor: 6/10. Feelbad factor for Lionel Messi: a million.
Portugal, Euro 2016 champions
I called them “The worst Portugal team in 20 years.” This was a completely random tournament win based on the luck of the draw. Portugal won only three of seven matches against some cherry-picked opposition.
Even so, to beat the host nation France in the final with their most iconic player ruled out injured is a pretty inspiring set of facts, as long as you didn’t look at their style of play.
Cristiano Ronaldo was a tool as usual and was only intermittently effective but also had some surprisingly inspiring moments as a leader – specifically his “You hit them well. If we lose, f- it” exhortation for Joao Moutinho to take a penalty.
Dominance of comp: 3/10. They scraped through every match.
Feelgood factor: 4/10. High for the inspiring win in the final. Low for every other match. Higher if you’re a fan of Portugal’s history.
Western Bulldogs, AFL premiers
An injury-hit year looked to have stifled a young team full of promise. Things looked dead when they had to go to Perth for the first final. Twenty-three days later, here we are.
We’ve never seen anything like this in the AFL. A drought bursting group who won four games in a row all against the betting. It’s identically unprecedented to the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who peeled off four wins over the New York Yankees when a single loss would have prolonged the century-long wait.
Add that the Western Bulldogs club was on its knees less than two years ago and the tear-jerker of coach Luke Beveridge ceding his podium and medal to injured captain Bob Murphy and you have the greatest AFL story of all time, but I’m biased.
The game style was exciting, the kids are young and still on the up and the ride has been overwhelming.
Dominance of comp: 8/10. Yes they came seventh but it was an unlucky, high, 15-7 seventh. Arguably a 10/10 rolling juggernaut by the end.
Feelgood factor: I love you guys. 11/10.
Cronulla Sharks, NRL premiers
Look, I’m a Melbourne boy who knows bugger all about both rugby codes. Every few years I sit down for the Storm grand finals out of pure chauvinism.
I do understand that Sharks vs. Storm was sunshine vs robots. Sunshine won.
Dominance of comp: Any help from rugby peeps?
Feelgood factor: There have been grumblings about certain aspects of the Sharks, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. First Premiership, 10/10.
So it’s been a year of the unbelievable in multiple competitions. Although I’m a Bulldog, I must admit that the sheer financial impossibility makes Leicester City the greatest winner of the year, and ever.