By the time the NRL Grand Final came around, fans knew everything about each and every single one of the Raiders’ players. We knew where they went to school, their favourite other sports, their family and so on. As they surged towards the decider the Raiders had become the people’s team with the backing of a community.
Full-time in the grand final and the focus wasn’t so much on the Roosters winning back-to-back premierships, it was all about two controversial refereeing decisions. To put it in perspective, ‘6 again’ has entered the sporting lexicon, and is now used any time the number six comes in contact with anything Canberra-related, not just rugby league.
But let’s look at the entire Raiders story for 2019: the finals games leading up to the grand final, the Viking Clap at home and at the Olympic Stadium, the team’s performance in the decider and the ‘6 again’ controversy. These collectively make up the top Canberra sports story for 2019.
Former Manuka Oval groundsman Nathan Lyon bowled Australia to victory in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston taking six wickets on day five. Lyon went past the legendary Dennis Lillee in the Australian all-time wicket-taking list in the third test. Shane Warne and Glen McGrath are the only two Australians to have taken more wickets. What a performance from a cricketer who began his representative career with ACT Cricket’s under-17s side.
Also in the top six Canberra sports stories for 2019 is the UC Capitals WNBL triumph in front of a capacity crowd at the AIS Arena. This was their first title since the 2009/2010 season.
It was the UC Capitals eighth Championship, with co-captain Kelsey Griffin named Most Valuable Player, and later revealing that she had played the finals series with a painful toe injury.
Nick Kyrgios won his fifth career title in March this year, taking out the Mexican Open in Acapulco. In the final he was up against world number three Alexander Zverev. He had earlier won against Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka to make it into the final. This win demonstrates (once again) Kyrgios’s talent as a player. Nick went on to win the Washington Open in August, beating Daniil Medvedev, ranked number 10 in the world, in straight sets. This was an impressive and hard-fought win.
Unfortunately, these wins are overshadowed by his behaviour.
At the Cincinnati Masters in August, Kyrgios clashed with umpire Fergus Murphy. This resulted in a 16-week suspended ban imposed by the ATP in September following an investigation into his on-court behaviour.
With the focus on the Wallabies World Cup performance and the Israel Folau drama, it may have been easy to forget that the Brumbies were again Australia’s top-performing Super Rugby team and they did it without their most influential player, David Pocock. The Brumbies were only one game away from the Super Rugby Final before going down to the Jaguares in Argentina. Let’s hope the crowds return to Canberra Stadium in 2020.
Few remember the result of the AFL game between GWS and Hawthorn at Manuka Oval in August. But players and the 11,741 spectators will happily recall looking to the sky as the snow tumbled down in easily the coldest AFL game of the season.
And to round out the top six Canberra sports stories of 2019: Kelsey-Lee Barber’s performance in winning gold in the javelin at the World Track and Field titles in Doha.
It made up for the disappointment of 2016 when a back injury impacted Kelsey-Lee’s performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She now emerges as the favourite for gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
There are notable omissions here in my top six stories; there always will be when you consider the wealth of talent that our city produces. So please feel free to tell me your favourite sporting stories of 2019.