22 Dec 2017

2017: Highs and lows of the sporting year

9:07 pm on 22 December 2017

A Lion invasion, another America's Cup win and a Tongan uprising in Aotearoa - 2017 was all over the show in terms of sporting stories. Here's the great and not so great narratives of the year in sport, both here and overseas.

The Black Ferns

The Black Ferns Photo: Photosport NZ

The Black Ferns are legitimately the best team in the world

Our national women's side not only reclaimed the Rugby World Cup in August, but did it in a way that showcased the reasons why they deserve to be getting paid a lot more than what they're currently getting.

Then, last month, they added even more evidence to that by becoming the first women's side to be named World Team of the Year at World Rugby's annual awards.

It was just in time for the NRL and Rugby Australia to announce plans for women's competitions next season - so NZ Rugby should probably hurry up and centrally contract the Black Ferns before they go earn some money offshore.

Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis.

Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Black Caps kinda rip the Aussies off

A stinking hot Eden Park back in February was set to be the scene for a big win over Australia in the Chappell-Hadlee series.

The Black Caps racking up 286/7 and reduced the old enemy to 67/6 at one stage, however unheralded Marcus Stoinis strode to the crease and scored an incredible 146* off 117 balls to seemingly single-handedly win the game.

Unfortunately for Stoinis, his last wicket partner Josh Hazlewood managed to run himself out at the non-striker's end in the last over while needing only six runs to win.

The general consensus of the crowd leaving the ground was, perhaps for the first time in history, that the Aussies deserved to win - however, the knock helped Stoinis (who was a replacement player in side) gain a current ODI average of 86.25.

Members of the Detroit Lions take a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the start of a game at Ford Field in Detroit.

Members of the Detroit Lions take a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the start of a game at Ford Field in Detroit. Photo: AFP

Taking a stand by taking a knee

The biggest sports story off the field (even though it was technically on the field) worldwide was the national anthem protests held by NFL players in the US.

Originally started by now unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a protest against police violence against African-Americans, the movement grew massively after Donald Trump typically inflamed the situation by claiming that the 'sons of b***es kneeling for the anthem should be fired'.

The predominantly African-American players answered en masse, hitting the deck before games and causing serious resentment.

This was, mind you, among people completely missing the point and thinking the players were somehow disrespecting America's military.

The spineless NFL then swung into action, mostly to protect its commercial interests, and pressured teams into staying in the changing rooms to avoid anymore controversy.

Red and black is back

The Crusaders won their eighth Super Rugby title, nine years after their last one, and no one can accuse them of doing it easy.

Despite topping the highly competitive NZ Conference, the vagaries of the draw meant the Crusaders had to win a final at a packed Ellis Park against the Lions.

They did so, and gave Scott Robertson the honour of being the first ever rookie coach to pick up a title.

Meanwhile, the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup side waltzed to yet another title - beating Crusaders franchise partner Tasman in the final.

However, it's worth mentioning both the Crusaders and Canterbury copped one flogging each during their respective regular seasons: to the Hurricanes and Wellington.

The funeral for Sir Colin Meads in Te Kuiti.

Colin Meads' funeral. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Pinetree falls

The Colin Meads statue in Te Kuiti.

The statue of Colin meads, sculpted by Natalie Stamilla. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Sir Colin Meads, the man who literally embodied the All Blacks, died in August.

The no-nonsense farmer from Te Kuiti put together a career that spanned the 1950s, '60s and '70s - a time in which New Zealand society changed dramatically - but Meads' vigourous and occasionally ultra-violent playing style most definitely did not.

He was immortalised with a statue in his hometown, and his laconic legacy means no All Black since has dared give anything more than a mumbled soundbite when asked a question for the record.

Team New Zealand celebrate their victory as they now head into the finals. Louis Vuitton America's Cup Challenger Playoffs Finals, Day 3 , Day 3.

Team New Zealand celebrates their win in Bermuda Photo: ACEA 2017 / Gilles Martin-Raget

The Cup runneth over

The America's Cup was triumphantly snatched back from those dastardly rich Americans, who had humiliated Team New Zealand four years ago in San Francisco by winning eight races in a row.

This time, Grant Dalton and his crew took absolutely no chances on their sleek catamaran, burning around the Bermuda course for a 7-1 series win and cementing skipper Peter Burling as the new face of yachting.

The Auckland council managed to organise a parade straight away through the CBD, which seemed a little odd considering they seemed unable to organise any sort of fan event at all in South Auckland for the Rugby League World Cup.

Speaking of which...

Tongan rugby league fans have been loud and proud.

Tongan fans were loud and proud. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

Mate Ma'a Tonga

A loud, proud and red tidal wave hit the Rugby League World Cup, with games involving the star-studded Tongan side drawing huge crowds and helping the team to an unprecedented semifinal appearance.

While organisers would have been over the moon with the display of Tongan patriotism during the tournament, sadly the same can't be said of the police - who along with media were criticised for their seemingly heavy-handed approach to supporters taking to the streets of South Auckland.

Floyd Mayweather and Conor MacGregor

Floyd Mayweather and Conor MacGregor Photo: Photosport

Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor laugh all the way to the bank

What do you do when you owe the taxman $20 million? If you're Floyd 'Money' Mayweather, you hype up a fight with obnoxiously successful UFC fighter Conor McGregor to such levels that you earn 15 times that amount.

The fight, which featured a pro-wrestling-like buildup but without any of the charm or polished scripting (the two men basically threw racial, misogynistic and homophobic slurs at one another for three months), ended up being actually quite good to watch - to the surprise of nearly everyone.

Mayweather stopped a clearly gassed McGregor in the 10th round, and improved his pro record to 50-0. Neither man ruled out a rematch.

Warriors players wait for a Manly conversion

The Warriors Photo: Photosport

The Warriors and Kiwis hit rock bottom

Not seeing their team playing football is, sadly, an expected outcome every September for Warriors fans.

Again it was a year of frustration, compounded by yet another Shaun Johnson injury and the wasteful signing of Kieran Foran.

This year however, all NZ league fans got an extra bonus of disappointment in watching the Kiwis bomb out of the World Cup in the quarter finals, losing 4-2 to Fiji in a game that didn't even feature any tries.

Sonny Bill learns rugby union rules the hard way

It's hard being an SBW apologist sometimes.

Despite 2017 being arguably his most impressive overall in an All Black jersey it'll also be remembered for a couple of bonehead moments, one of which probably cost his team a series victory over the British & Irish Lions.

His old-school league-style shoulder charge on Anthony Watson in the second test in Wellington rightfully got him sent from the field, and turned the tide of a match that would be the All Blacks' first home loss in eight seasons.

Last month in Paris his batting dead of a French cross kick didn't have such serious ramifications, but did still cost a rare penalty try and a facepalm reaction from All Black fans.

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