The 2017 year was a great one for Aussie sport. Although not quite the groundbreaking, history-making year that 2016 was, the individual achievements of the last 12 months were nonetheless tremendous in their own rights.
With 2018 now kicking off, a list of which athletes were on top for 2017 was a decent way to recap 2017. For this list I have selected what I think are the highest achievers of the year. World champions, record-breaking title winners, best-and-fairest medalists and the biggest upset this century for the boxing world – this list has it all.
10. Billy Slater – NRL
Once again Billy Slater has proved that he is one of the best players in the history of the game. Making his comeback after missing the 2016 season, Slater looked like he never left, leading the attack for the Storm in yet another premiership season.
Playing as the ever-reliable fullback he dominated in State of Origin Game 2 and 3 despite missing out on Game 1 and was also part of Australia’s world cup domination.
Slater became only the second man in the history of the game to win the Clive Churchill Medal, and he gave an emotionally charged acceptance speech after just narrowly edging out Cameron Smith for the award. I look forward to seeing Slater again in 2018.
9. Ellyse Perry – Cricket
The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Award winner for 2017 as the ICC women’s cricketer of the year certainly gets a mention on my list. Some of you were a little upset that I left her out of my top eight crossover athletes list back in 2016, but I certainly was not leaving her out this time.
Among her achievements for the year are an amazing 217 runs scored against England in a Test match at North Sydney Oval. She smashed runs in the Women’s Big Bash League. Perry has definitely been one of the standouts for 2017 and earns a spot on my list.
8. Erin Phillips – AFL Women’s
In the first ever season of the AFL Women’s Adelaide Crows co-captain Erin Phillips not only led her club to the first ever premiership but was named the best and fairest for the season.
Only three days after her best-on-ground performance in the Crows win over the Brisbane Lions Phillps added the best and fairest medal to her trophy room. Erin ended with 14 votes, four ahead of the nearest competition, after she averaged 20 disposals a game and notched up ten goals for the season.
7. Sally Pearson – Athletics
After tragically tearing her hamstring in 2016 and therefore missing out on the Rio Olympics, Pearson is the comeback queen of 2017. At the world championships in London Pearson ran the 100 metres hurdles in a time of 12.59 seconds to claim the gold medal.
Pearson was named the Australian Institute of Sport’s female athlete of the year for her achievement and is looking towards the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in April.
6. Tyler Wright – Surfing
Tyler Wright had a massive 2016 and went back to back in 2017, winning the Women’s Surfing League for the second time. Narrowly edging out fellow Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons to claim the title, a second championship brings her career achievements to 13 tournament wins and two world championships – and of course the highest accolade: a spot on my list of top ten best athletes of 2017.
5. Jamie Whincup – Supercars
Whincup could not have waited any longer to earn his seventh record-making Supercars championship, taking the title fight to the last lap of the last race of the year to seal the deal over New Zealand’s Scott McLaughlin in what could have been a Hollywood movie finish. Come to think of it, it’s very similar to the ending in the movie Rush.
With the Newcastle victory under his belt Whincup was able to be the first driver to win a seventh championship and become the most dominate Supercars racer in the history of the sport. With victories in Townsville, Sydney, Auckland and Newcastle Whincup took his career win tally to a record 108. The most dominant man in the sport deserves his place on my list.
4. Steve Smith – Cricket
After the disaster of 2016 with the pay dispute saga and the embarrassment of losing to Bangladesh, cricket in this country was looking pretty bad. But this year Smith became the best captain to lead the team since Steve Waugh.
He has turned everything around in 12 months. Starting with the tour of South Africa, Australia dominated and got things back on track. Smith led by example both with the bat and on the field.
A couple of player changes and the Aussies are back on top for 2017. But the biggest prize of the year was regaining the Ashes. With a 3-0 victory to reclaim the prize the Aussies have not looked this good for the better part of a decade, and 2018 looks even better for Smith and Australian cricket.
3. Dustin Martin – AFL
Martin’s 2017 was nothing short of a sporting miracle, with the triple threat achieved. A premiership, a Norm Smith Medal and a Brownlow all in the same season, a feat that no other man in the history of the game has achieved.
Leading the yellow and black attack to give the club its first flag in 37 years despite his off-field family dramas, Martin was able to dominate the season like no other and make a year likely never to be repeated.
2. Jeff Horn – Boxing
What a difference 12 months can make. This time last year no-one had ever heard of Jeff Horn, yet now he’s Australia’s poster boy for boxing. Many have said that Horn pulled off the upset of the year; I say it was the upset of the century and second only to Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson in 1990.
Horn did the near impossible and defeated an 11-time, eight-division boxing great in Manny Pacquiao in front of a record home Suncorp Stadium crowd for the WBO Welterweight World Title.
Horn got the decision after 12 rounds of action and came back after nearly being knocked out in the ninth round. Better still, Horn was able to defend his title last month against Gary Corcoran, ensuring that it was no fluke against Pacquiao and setting up a potential megafight against Terence Crawford in April. Horn has had a great 2017 and now looks towards an even bigger 2018.
1. Cameron Smith – NRL
If anybody reading this can tell me that there is a better athlete out there than Cameron Smith for 2017 or in general, then I’ll be all ears.
Smith has achieved in one year what many could not achieve in an entire career. In just last season alone he broke Jason Taylor’s goals record (942), Darren Lockyer’s games record (355) and captained his club to the most dominant season it’s ever had.
He also added another well-deserved premiership to the trophy cabinet, won the Dally M Medal again, captained Queensland to another victory and captained Australia to a world cup in dominant fashion.
I’m pretty certain that no player has ever done that in one year, making Smith the greatest athlete of 2017 and perhaps the best athlete Australia has at the moment. Certainly he’s in the top three of all time. There are only two other athletes in Australian history who are better: Rod Laver and Donald Bradman.
Smith is the most disciplined athlete this country has seen in a long time. He’s had no scandals, he trains like a crazy person and he’s a humble man – a perfect example of how all athletes should conduct themselves and my number one. I can’t wait to see what he does in 2018.
Those are my top ten athletes for 2017. Do you agree with them? Who was your favourite athlete for 2017?