Sports can provide great and memorable moments, and in 2016 it provided plenty of those.
When you look across different sports, there were certainly some surprises and shocks.
Who would have thought the Cronulla Sharks would win their first premiership ever! It was certainly an up-and-down season, as they went on an unbeaten run of 16 games. This had many claiming that the Sharks had peaked too early.
It certainly looked that way as heading into the finals Cronulla had won only one of their last six games. Nonetheless they edged out the Raiders in Canberra, took on the Cowboys, who were brilliant the previous week, and made sure the Storm would not spoil their fairytale finish.
Sharks had Ben Barba revive his career (temporarily), Chad Townsend and James Maloney worked well in the halves together, and they had dynamic backs in Sosaia Feki, Ricky Leutele, Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird. Then you had Michael Ennis, Paul Gallen and Wade Graham playing with purpose, while Andrew Fifita was an absolute beast. Everything seemed to click.
Who remembers the North Melbourne Kangaroos starting 9-0 through the beginning of the season? They ended up being the biggest pretenders ever. The 2016 season was very interesting as the top seven were separated by only two wins.
The Western Bulldogs were not a team favoured to win the premiership at all, but they proved to be a fast, hungry and determined squad that would overcome all odds.
They had many quality players across the park, such as Jason Johannisen, who was electric from the halfback position, always making breaks and plays into open field. Tom Boyd had a breakout finals campaign, and the investment in him paid off.
The skill and quality of players like Jake Stringer, Marcus Bontompelli, Luke Dahlhaus and Tom Liberatore were able to provide special plays during situations that came out of nothing. Ultimately they had a great mix of youth and prime players along with vets who provided stability. With their quick pace they were able to run teams off the field.
It seemed like they caught a break with Nic Naitanui being injured for West Coast. They also overcame the test of GWS, who provided a similar style of play to the Bulldogs through their fast pace and their ability to outrun teams.
Ultimately they took down the experienced and savvy Swans, who honestly seemed like they ran out of gas in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. It was a neck-and-neck match, but in the end the Bulldogs outran the Swans and captured their second premiership, ending a 62-year drought.
LeBron James transformed from a villain of the NBA with Miami to a new hero with Cleveland. He deserves the utmost respect for leading the Cavs to their first-ever championship. The partnership with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love certainly helped but James put in the ultimate effort to overcome a great team in Golden State.
It was unacceptable to lose a 3-1 lead, but all credit to Cleveland for not giving up. There were many dramas, with Draymond Green’s suspension and Andrew Bogut’s injury, but this finals win will be remembered as a classic.
Now, Leicester City. Of all shocks and surprises, this must be the biggest one of all. For a while the title race came down to Leicester and Tottenham. While Spurs consistently stumbled, there was the perception that Leicester would ultimately come back down to earth.
The first half of last season saw Leicester as a potent attacking team led by Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. In many instances they would be trailing at halftime, but by fulltime Leicester somehow came back from behind to secure a win.
However, towards the second half of the season they never faltered. Not only was there attack deadly, but their defence became resilient, collecting clean sheet after clean sheet.
Leicester had an excellent supporting cast around Vardy and Mahrez. Marc Albrighton would be able to produce quality offence, Ngolo Kante was the stable glue player from midfield and the defence led by Kasper Schmeichel and Wes Morgan was resolute.
They also had players like Leonardo Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki backing up Vardy, who would often come on and provide an impact to contribute to a game-changing goal. Leicester did not associate themselves with draws – it looked like winning was all they knew. It was an amazing achievement from Leicester City.
Novak Djokovic had dominated the tennis scene for a long time. Meanwhile, it was perceived that Andy Murray was always the player to come second and be the runner-up no matter what. For all of Djokovic’s accomplishments, he was only 29 years old and it seemed like he still had much to accomplish, although he may be exiting his prime soon.
However, what he did in 2016 was incredible. He exceeded the career earnings of Roger Federer to become just about one of the most dominant players in recent history. Andy Murray, also 29, had always seemed a player who could not get over the hump against Djokovic.
Murray had not defeated Djokovic in a grand slam final since Wimbledon 2013, but the Scot won at the Championships in 2016 when the Serb was knocked out in the third round by Sam Querrey. Djokovic had been in a major slump since Wimbledon, and whether it was mental or physical, it had cost him the No. 1 position.
Murray had finally overtaken Djokovic to become the world No. 1, and he certainly worked very hard to earn it. Surprisingly, Milos Raonic has jumped up to be the world No. 3 at the time. He’s known for his fast serving but over time developed using short points to his advantage in ensuring that his opponent couldn’t settle into his rallies.
The 2016 season was also the year of the Rio Olympics, and for Australia it was a disappointing campaign. The Aussies were able to collect only eight gold medals, which was good for tenth place overall, and there were many performances considered let downs at the time.
Swimming could have been better. Basketball was certainly disappointing, as was hockey. Australia does not really have many strengths and certainties in a number of sports, and the lack of depth in athletics is certainly concerning.
When you look back at Steve Hooker; Sally Pearson, although she was injured; and Jarrad Tallent in the athletics department, they were able to secure medals in previous Olympics. However, we did not receive any athletics medals in 2016. Overall it was a poor campaign.
The 2016 year of sport was astonishing and certainly one of the icons of recent sporting history.