Sporting Review of the Year 2009
What will be your abiding memory of the Australian sporting year? Maybe you started 2009 at the New Year's Test in Sydney, when the crowd at the SCG stood as one when the South African captain Graeme Smith walked from the pavilion in a plaster-cast in a valiant, if unsuccessful, attempt to save the match. Perhaps you were at the Oval, when, after five-and-a-half hours at the crease, Michael Hussey was deceived by the off-spinner, Graeme Swann, thus handing England the Ashes. Perhaps you were even lucky enough to watch Tiger Woods play in Melbourne in the days when his poise and precision were the focus rather than his wayward drives. Perhaps you were watching your flat-screen plasma when the disgraced rugby league star, Matty Johns, fronted up before the Channel Nine cameras.
As with most sporting years, Australian fans have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly. And as ever, the fastest, highest and strongest have ended up vying for column space with the most drunken, the most violent and the most boorish. Fittingly enough, at this year's Walkley Awards for journalism, the sports reporting award went to the Four Corners, ABC's flagship investigative news programme, which explored a series of sex scandals in rugby league.
It neatly makes the point, for in 2009 Australian sport witnessed more shock than awe. Its front page stories were arguably more noteworthy than its back page stories - which is all the more maddening since Australia boasts some fine, fine sportswriters.
For all that, there was much to enjoy on the field of play. In rugby league, the coach Craig Bellamy led the Melbourne Storm to deserved success, but could not do the same for New South Wales in the State of Origin, which has arguably become the biggest annual sporting event on the calendar.
Aussie Rules Football produced the almost all-conquering St Kilda, which won a club record 19 consecutive matches but could not extend their winning streak all the way to the grand final, where Geelong took the honours.
In rugby union, there was an imposing win for the Wallabies against the Springboks in Brisbane, and the emergence that night of Will Genia, a George Gregan-like scrum half.
In cricket, Ricky Ponting and his new look band of brothers celebrated an overseas victory in South Africa and hoisted again the Champions Trophy.
But Australian sport was beset in 2009 by something which outsiders do not commonly associate with Australian sport: chronic inconsistency.
So the same cricket team that won in South Africa could not smother a fairly average England outfit during the Ashes. The same rugby team that beat the world champions in Brisbane could not even beat Scotland at Murrayfield. Even the normally all-conquering Kangaroos, the national rugby league team, could only draw with New Zealand in October, having lost to them in the World Cup final in 2008.
Surely the most consistent team of the year was the Socceroos, who qualified for the World Cup without any of the usual dramas and managed to hold Holland to a 0-0 draw - even if the oft-heard criticism of the Australians is that their game plan is to stop opponents playing great football rather than striving for it themselves. Next year, in the World Cup, they will face their ultimate test, in a talent-packed first round group which includes Germany, Serbia and Africa's main torchbearer, Ghana.
In the ongoing battle of the codes, Aussie Rules has ended on a high, by firming up its plans to expand into Western Sydney and the Gold Coast. Rugby league will be reflecting on a year of on-field brilliance and, for some players, off-field madness. And rugby union is in the doldrums, with even the game's most ardent fans questioning whether they want to part with money to watch 80 minutes of aerial ping-pong and place-kicking.
The individual performance of the year? I'll long remember the try scored by Fuifui Moimoi of the Parramatta Eels in the NRL grand final, when he crossed the line at dazzling speed even though half of the Melbourne Storm seemed to be hanging from his back. Then there is the poll-vaulter Steve Hooker, a gold medallists in Beijing, who won the world championships in Berlin, despite tearing his abductor muscle only the week before. And what of the boxer Danny Green's 122-second win over the legendary Roy Jones Jr - a night when all of Australia surely went green.