Great expectations in sport for 2014
SPORTS fans are no doubt looking forward to another year packed with drama, inspiration and heartbreak.
Can New South Wales break their eight-year State-of-Origin drought, will Sonny Bill Williams lead the Roosters to another NRL premiership and can former Hawthorn superstar Buddy Franklin lead Sydney to another AFL flag?
Throw in the Sochi Winter Olympics, FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and 2014 promises to offer sports fans more excitement than ever.
The APN SPORTS BUREAU has put together its wishlist for the year.
NUMBER 1 At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, Australia had its most successful Games with gold medals for Torah Bright and Lydia Lassila and a silver for Dale Begg-Smith. I am hoping for another great result when the Games begin in Sochi, Russia in February. World champ Anna Segal is a big chance in freestyle skiing as too is Russ Henshaw. Holly Crawford has enjoyed her own success in the pipe since finishing eighth in Vancouver and is a chance of a medal alongside Bright. In the men's halfpipe, 2011 World Champion Nate Johnstone is also a big chance, while teenagers Scotty James and Kent Callister are also doing well. Alex "Chumpy" Pullin is one of the favourites in snowboard cross, while Olympic champion Lassila has made an impressive return to competition after having time off and becoming a mum since her Vancouver triumph.
NUMBER 2 It has been an extremely long time between drinks for England at the football World Cup - 1966 was its one and only win and that came on home soil. The last time England played in Brazil at a finals tournament was in 1950 when a team including Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Billy Wright lost 1-0 to the US in Belo Horizonte and failed to make it to the knockout stages. This time round my wish is the team at least makes it to the knockout stages, although a group that includes Uruguay and Italy will be tough to get through. My ultimate wish is England wins the World Cup - though I am not holding my breath - and Australia makes it to the last 16 from its "group of death".
NUMBER 3 It was fantastic to see Adam Scott finally fulfil his potential and win his first major - the Masters - last year. The Queenslander became the first Australian to pull on the famous green jacket, but it would be even better if he was to become the first Australian to be the world No.1 golfer since another Queenslander, Greg Norman, last held that position on January 10, 1998. Norman was top of the pile for 331 days in the 1980s and '90s, second only to Tiger Woods for the number of days at the top. Scott is second behind Woods going into the New Year.
- PHIL DILLON
NUMBER 4 "Winning back the Ashes is not the end, it's the beginning," said victorious Aussie captain Michael Clarke after his side regained the urn by winning the third Test at the WACA. But will this new beginning continue in South Africa in February? Australian cricket fans will hope so because losing every Test away from home in 2013 (4-0 in India and 3-0 in England) doesn't make for good reading. I don't think this is one of the great Australian teams, despite Glenn McGrath's assertion the bowling attack is the best he has seen. I'd love to see it being competitive in the Republic, but it's going have its work cut out.
- RICHARD HARVEY
NUMBER 5 Bold plans to win back the Bledisloe Cup from the world champion All Blacks are bound to be put in place again this year, but will it happen? The Wallabies are a work in progress under new coach Ewen McKenzie, but New Zealand just can't keep winning forever ... surely? The men wearing the famous black jerseys won all 14 Tests they played last season, including beating the Wallabies three out of three. As much as I'd like to see the Wallabies regain bragging rights, I'd have to say the big urn appears destined to stay in New Zealand's iron grip for a 12th straight year.
NUMBER 6 Nothing quite sets hearts racing like the Ryder Cup and those three pulsating days of competition between the best golfers in Europe and the USA every second September. This year the event will be staged at Gleneagles in Scotland and the US is still hurting from Europe's stunning 14½ points to 13½ triumph, dubbed the Miracle of Medinah at Chicago's Medinah Country Club, in 2012. The Americans believed they'd won the Cup, and so did I, after they had a four-point lead heading into the final day. The comeback against all odds remains the most incredible sporting event I have witnessed. I have no doubt this year will be just as exciting - but please, Europe, don't leave it so late this time.
NUMBER 7 Does it get any better, or closer, than the past two rugby league State of Origin series? The 2012 and 2013 showdowns had everything - even an unwelcome streaker in the dying seconds of last year's decider. The Blues appear to be gaining on the Maroons all over the park, except for one area - the halves. Despite their eight-match winning streak, Queensland coach Mal Meninga never seems short of ways to motivate his troops. With two games to be played at the Suncorp Stadium this year, fans will be hoping for two more classic encounters in Brisbane - much like game three of 2012 which was decided by a Cooper Cronk field goal.
NUMBER 8 Surely Australia can finally claim its rightful place on top of the Twenty20 standings at this year's World T20 championship. It is the only major trophy now that eludes this proud cricketing nation, with its best result being a loss to England in the 2010 final. On the back of a resounding Ashes triumph against the Old Enemy this summer, and another highly-entertaining Big Bash League competition, let's hope the men in gold can raise more silverware when the tournament is held in Bangladesh in March/April.
- JOSH SPASARO
NUMBER 9 Will 2014 be the year AFL new boys the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants start to stamp their authority on the competition? Having the pick of the best young players in the country for the past four years will inevitably see both clubs become powerhouses. While the Giants may have to wait for another year or so, this could be the year the Suns not only make the finals, but perhaps even give the top four a shake. I'd like to see that.
NUMBER 10 Once the most dominant country in world tennis - Australia has wallowed in mediocrity in recent years, Sam Stosur's win in the 2011 US Open aside. Could this be the year we finally see Generation Next give us hope of a return to the glory days? Ipswich teenager Ashleigh Barty looks a star of the future and has already claimed some big scalps. The 17-year-old has all the shots, and more importantly, the killer instinct needed to get to the top. Her male counterparts Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis also show enormous promise. It would be fantastic if 2014 could be the year Bernard Tomic finally turns his ability into results.
- GORDON CLARK