The Roar
The Roar


Biggest sporting feuds of 2023: Petulant verbal sprays, nasty bust-ups and lingering hatred that refuses to die

30th November, 2023
Eddie Jones and Sir Clive Woodward. (Photo by Dave Rogers - World Rugby via Getty Images/World Rugby via Getty Images)
30th November, 2023
1704 Reads

With the end of the calendar year nearly upon us, The Roar is looking back at the sporting highlights, lowlights and moments that mattered for 2023 in Australia and beyond. 

After intense debate at Roar HQ, we’re kicking off with the biggest sporting feuds for the year, the rivalries which bubbled to the surface.

Some of them came out of the blue, some were continuations of deep-seated tensions that have been going on for a while.

Which were the best, which were the worst and what did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.

Hamish McLennan vs Peter V’landys

Back in March, Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan was talking tough after signing Roosters star Joseph Suaalii. “They squeal when we take one or two of them back. What a bunch of cry babies.” League talks about toughness but I reckon an arm wrestle at the pub would be harder than their scrums. Let’s have a competition between the two best sides and see who’s tougher.”

V’landys hit back by saying Suaalii was going to rugby to collect “easy money” and predicted he would get “terribly bored” and eventually come back to the NRL.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 10: Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter Vlandys speaks to the media during a NRL media opportunity at Rugby League Central on August 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)


“It’s hard to blame Joseph for going to rugby and considering it as his future when he is going to be paid twice the money for doing half the work.”

The pot shots kept coming but he who laughs last, laughs loudest. After McLennan was ousted, V’landys joked that Rugby Australia in future should have “ learnt bringing butter knives to a gun fight isn’t the best strategy”.

Merv Hughes vs Piers Morgan

One of these combatants is clearly punching out of their division, intelligence wise, but we can’t blame Piers for trying. 

Big Merv told the English cricket fans to “pull their heads in” and to apologise after sledging the Australian team during the Ashes, labelling Pat Cummins’ side as “cheats” after the Jonny Bairstow stumping incident.

“Throw up spirit of cricket and bad sportsmanship, that’s what happens when rules and laws go against your argument,” Hughes wrote on social media. “So pull your head in, apologise, and get on with life.”

Morgan tried to get Hughes onto his TV show by replying with: “We can’t get a single Australian cricketer or journalist to come on to defend yesterday’s outrage. Any takers? Or should I assume you’ve all realised it’s beyond defending.”


Merv replied privately but when Morgan kept baiting him on social media, the former Aussie fast bowler labelled the English antagonist an attention seeker and flog.

Mick Malthouse vs Craig Kelly

When Collingwood CEO Craig Kelly was invited to swing by the ABC commentary box for a chat during a late-season clash with Carlton at the MCG, there was just one problem.

Mick Malthouse got up and left rather than share a cramped box with the CEO because he holds a grudge against him for his role in the coach’s abrupt exit way back in 2011 when Kelly was Nathan Buckley’s manager.

Old Mick sure can hold a grudge. 

Candice Warner vs Mitchell Johnson


As a former ironwoman Candice Warner knows about the pressures of elite sport and she took aim at critics who said her husband David should no longer be in the Australian cricket team.

“If Dave doesn’t perform in that first Test, who do they bring in that’s better?”

This prompted Johnson to write in his column for The West Australian: “His form has not been up to scratch for a while now. Warner even had his wife Candice defending him in her panel role on the TV show The Back Page this week.

“Her loyalty might be admirable but it was all a bit weird and cringey.”

She was not happy with that and hit back with: “It doesn’t surprise me because he doesn’t have a lot to do with media anymore and I feel like the only way he gets a headline is by using David’s name. 

“Everyone takes his comments with a grain of salt. They don’t have a lot of merit.”

Candice Warner and David Warner pose after winning the Allan Border Medal during the 2017 Allan Border Medal at The Star on January 23, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Candice and David Warner. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)


Mikel Arteta vs VAR

The Arsenal manager has been one of the most strident critics of VAR which has been dividing opinion since its introduction four years ago.

He has called it “an absolute disgrace” and vowed to continue to his war on VAR even though he has been fined for misconduct.

“Errors are part of evolution. The trajectory is never going to be like this (as he gestured straight up). There are always going to bumps in the road and these things are necessary to improve the game in the right way.

“But we have to talk loudly. If you have a problem and you put it in your draw, the problem is in the draw and it’s going to stink at some point.”

Eugenie Bouchard and Dayana Yastremska

This rivalry popped up in Aprl when Bouchard posted on social media “There’s something about playing dopers in Madrid” after beating Yastremska in Spain, in reference to her previous drug ban. 


When they faced off again at the US Open in August, Yastremska was victorious and after screaming in delight following match point, she snubbed Bouchard by walking straight to the chair umpire and shaking hands rather than acknowledge her opponent.

Sam Mitchell vs Alastair Clarkson

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell and his predecessor at the Hawks have had a tempestuous relationship since Alastair Clarkson was moved on a year before the succession plan was supposed to take place.

Clarkson told a story to AFL academy prospects on Mitchell’s struggles in his early grand final appearances and the current coach was fuming back in May after words like selfish were used to describe him in the speech. 

And when reporters asked Mitchell whether Clarkson was going to turn up to the club’s 10-year reunion for the 2013 premiership team, he shot back “you can ask him”. 

They reportedly shared a few polite words at the reunion but will not be exchanging Christmas cards. 

Senior coach Alastair Clarkson of the Hawks

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Andrew Johns vs Matthew Johns

According to Matty, this feud has been on and off since they grew up together in Cessnock and Joey would often have periods when they were teammates when he barely spoke to his brother and Knights halves partner.

The latest flare-up happened on SEN Radio when Andrew was unhappy with Matty talking up Billy Slater’s coaching brilliance in Origin.

“Mate I’m sick of you rapping Queensland, that’s what I’m sick of,” Joey said before telling Matty to put his Maroons jersey on and then punching below the belt.

“Just because you played four games and lost four doesn’t mean you need to shitbag NSW.”

When Matty went on air the following week, Joey didn’t turn up and he said “my brother is completely off me”. And they haven’t appeared together since.


Maroons five-eighth Cameron Munster tried to make fun of the situation during a live TV interview with Joey when he asked “have you made up with your brother yet” but all he received in return was an icy glare.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 05: (L-R) Matthew Johns, Andrew Johns and Greg Alexander talk during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin training session at NSWRL Centre of Excellence Field on July 5, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones vs Sir Clive Woodward

Eddie Jones took no prisoners during his stint as England coach and took umbrage at Woodward’s sniping from the shadows.

“He hasn’t coached since 2005 and he’s the ‘world’s best coach.’ You’re the world’s best coach when you don’t coach. He’s consistently criticising. We had a bit of a thing when we were England and Australia coach, but his great gripe is that he wanted to be director of rugby at England.

“He wanted to oversee it and he never got that job. After the World Cup in 2019, he ran an internal campaign with the RFU to take that position and he did it behind my back and I thought it was quite sneaky and deceitful.”

Sir Clive took great delight in Jones’ Wallabies return going down in flames and his claim that Australia were building for the 2027 World Cup. 


“’I think when you become an international coach, it is about today, it’s not four years time. It’s a good job if you can get it, going around persuading people it’s not about today. 

“You are coaching the team and if you get beaten by 50 points, that’s where you are today. I think it is a cop-out. The moment you talk about a development team, you’re not going to win, so why are you are even in the tournament?

“The problem is administrators come in and they get hoodwinked by all this stuff … by people like Eddie Jones.”

Ian Chappell vs Sir Ian Botham

Now this feud goes back decades to 1977 when there was a barroom stoush in Melbourne when they were both Test cricketers.

Weirdly they were convinced to take part in a TV interview/standoff called The Longest Feud and Chappell stuck to his guns by saying Botham was “a coward and gutless” to his face.

When Botham asked why, he replied: “You stick an empty beer glass in a bloke’s face, that’s a cowardly act.”


Botham responded: “Why on earth would I need a glass?” and Chappell repeated “because you’re a coward”.

The English legend had clearly had enough by this point and warned his older rival “I’ll tell you what, in a minute I’ll show you what I can do if you keep on. A coward? I am many things but I’m not a coward.”

Matthew Hayden vs the Australian cricket team

The former legend doesn’t like the current side and the feelings are mutual.

Hayden is grumpy over his great mate Justin Langer being forced out as coach at the start of last year and was into them during the India tour in February with a flurry of stinging criticisms after they lost the first two Tests.

The low point was Hayden, wearing a bright pink cowboy hat and his commentator’s suit and tie, filming a segment on how to sweep using an actual broom on the Delhi pitch. 


“’What we have seen here is a disaster for Australia. They have gone way over the edge in terms of their aggressive play.

“What professional in life just hopes? You’ve got to have a method and you have to think on your feet.”

He even offered to become a coaching consultant to the team if Cricket Australia wanted to get him on board. The current players offered a polite no thanks on camera while using two very different words in private.

Kaylee McKeown vs Cate Campbell

Campbell earned the ire of the Americans and her Australian teammates after she ripped into the US team at the World Championships at Japan in July.

“I’ve never wanted to punch someone more,” Campbell said when asked about the Americans banging a loud cowbell when a swimmer left the team area to race while also calling them “sore losers”.

US breaststroker Lilly King hit back with “Sorry we aren’t so uptight we can’t cheer for our teammates as they walk out for events. See you in Paris” in reference to next year’s Olympics.


McKeown then added that Campbell was not “speaking on behalf of the whole Australian team”.

“She wasn’t in Japan, so for her to make those comments and not be there, it kind of makes us athletes, not look bad, but we don’t think what she said.”

Kaylee McKeown of Australia celebrates

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Kevin Durant vs Charles Barkley

There has been ongoing bad blood between the current Phoenix Suns superstar and the outspoken NBA legend.

The tension boiled over in March when Barkely, in a 60 Minutes interview, castigated Durant for being too sensitive to criticism.

“He’s very sensitive. Great player. He’s part of that generation who thinks he can’t be criticised. He’s never looked in the mirror and says, ‘Man, is that a fair criticism?’,” Barkley said.


True to form, Durant responded on Twitter with “This ain’t gettin tiring chuck? I’ll never respect the words that come out ya mouth fam just deal with it.”

Barkley had previously described KD as a “bus rider”, not a “bus driver”.

“He seems like a miserable person, man. I call him Mr. Miserable, he’s never going to be happy. Everybody’s given him everything on a silver platter.” 

Nick Kyrgios vs Stefanos Tsitsipas

This one came out of nowhere but after a foul-mouthed clash at Wimbledon in 2022, Tsitsipas called Kyrgios “evil” and “a bully”.

They kept taking pot shots in the ensuing months, then seemed to be buddies when they played doubles together but when the Break Point documentaries started coming out midway through the year, the stink was on again.


“He has brought that NBA basketball attitude to tennis,” the Greek star said. “I would describe it as an uneducated approach of playing tennis. But you know tennis is a gentleman’s sport, it’s all about respect. I feel he was trying to destroy my rhythm. He kept putting his towel in my box.

“There was zero respect coming out of my opponent that day. He kept pressing my buttons none stop – and of course I got annoyed. He just loves attention. And if he gets none of that, it is complete destruction.”

Funnily enough, Kyrgios laughed it off on Twitter by writing: “We’ve had some crazy battles and I know deep down you like my brand of tennis. We are all good.”

Harmanpreet Kaur vs umpires and Bangladesh

The Indian star has a fiery reputation and she took aim at both the umpires and the Bangaladeshi team after an ODI in July.

“Some pathetic umpiring was done, and we are really disappointed about some decisions given by the umpires,” she said after the game in which she had demolished the stumps with her bat after being given out.


On the post-match podium, Kaur taunted her opponents by saying: “Why are you only here? You haven’t tied the match. The umpires did it for you. Call them up! We better have a photo with them as well. Bring the umpires too.”

As well as a two-match ban, she received a fine of 75 per cent of her match fee.