Canberra's biggest 10 sport stories of 2017: Lealiifano's comeback, Bling salutes and Mouncey rejected
Advertisement

Canberra's biggest 10 sport stories of 2017: Lealiifano's comeback, Bling salutes and Mouncey rejected

The Canberra Times sports team look back at the biggest stories in 2017, with plenty of highs and a lows in another bumper year from the capital's best sporting talent.

Sit back and enjoy the good, bad and the ugly that our sports stars have dished up in 2017.

1. Christian Lealiifano's cancer comeback

Christian Lealiifano returned less than one year after his cancer diagnosis.

Christian Lealiifano returned less than one year after his cancer diagnosis.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Advertisement

The ACT Brumbies 13-year title drought continued but their 2017 campaign will be forever remembered as the season Christian Lealiifano came back from cancer.

Lealiifano learned of his shock leukemia diagnosis just weeks after the 2016 season and immediately underwent chemotherapy, before receiving a bone-marrow transplant from his sister.

The Brumbies flyhalf spent 100 days in a Melbourne hospital and after a successful recovery he was placed in remission just six months after his diagnosis.

Lealiifano then turned his attention to getting back on the field and the 19-Test Wallaby came off the bench in the Brumbies home quarterfinal against the Hurricanes to complete a fairytale comeback.

The 30-year-old went on loan to Ulster in September and started every game for the Irish powerhouse, including two appearances in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Lealiifano returns to Canberra in January alongside Wallabies star David Pocock, who took a sabbatical in 2018, as the Brumbies prepare for their first season under coach Dan McKellar.

2. Bling bling, coming through... Michael Matthews wins green

Australia's Michael Matthews celebrates after claiming the green jersey.

Australia's Michael Matthews celebrates after claiming the green jersey.Credit:AP

The breakthrough victory saw Matthews become the first Canberran to win one of the three major jerseys at a grand tour and the first Australian in more than a decade to don green in Paris.

Matthews' all-round capabilities to sprint, climb, time trial and go on the attack were on the display as he won two stages and made the most of five-time reigning champion Peter Sagan's disqualification.

The man they call 'Bling' joined fellow Aussies Robbie McEwen (2002, 2004, 2006) and Baden Cooke (2003) as the third rider from Down Under to win the famous jersey.

The 27-year-old rounded-out his stellar year by winning the team time trial world title with Team Sunweb and finishing third at the road world championships.

Matthews may not return to France in 2018 and could target the green jersey at the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana instead so he could finish his career with all three grand tours on his resume.

3. Canberra Racing Club lose Riharna Thomson and Samara Johnson in horror year

Canberra track work rider Thomson at a race meeting at Cowra in 2015. Photo: Janian McMillan

Canberra track work rider Thomson at a race meeting at Cowra in 2015. Photo: Janian McMillanCredit:Janian McMillan (racingphotograpy.com.au)

Thomson was riding track work for Keith Dryden's mare Chosen Prayer and fell when the horse broke its leg in an accident that rocked Canberra's tight-knit racing community.

The 22-year-old died three days later from serious head injuries and her organs were donated, while a ceremony honouring her memory was held at Canberra racing's biggest event, Black Opal Stakes day, the following Sunday.

Thomson was posthumously awarded the NSW strapper of the year at Racing NSW's Night of Champions in August, while the Riharna Thomson Bracelet will be run on Black Opal Stakes day in 2018.

Johnson was killed in the single-vehicle crash which left her partner and Canberra trainer Garry Kirkup seriously injured on December 3.

ACT trainers rallied to get Kirkup's stable-star Highly Geared to Rosehill the following weekend and Thoroughbred Park hosted the Samara Johnson Memorial handicap on December 17.

4. Hannah Mouncey rejected by the AFL

It remains unclear whether Hannah Mouncey will play for Ainslie in Canberra next year.

It remains unclear whether Hannah Mouncey will play for Ainslie in Canberra next year. Credit:60 Minutes

Transgender footballer Hannah Mouncey was allowed to play all season in the AFL Canberra compeition, before being sensationally denied entry to the AFLW draft in a watershed moment for Australian sport.

The AFL based its decision on the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, which states that athletes can be discriminated against based on their sex or gender "if strength, stamina or physique is relevant".

Although Mouncey's hormone levels would see her eligible to compete at the Olympics under IOC regulations, the AFL placed more significance on Victorian law because of the physical nature of the sport.

Mouncey stands at 190 centimetres and weighs 90 kilograms, and has represented Australia as a male in European handball, but transitioned to become a woman over the past two years.

The AFL has left the door open for Mouncey to be eligible for the 2019 draft, but it remains unclear if she will be eligible to play for Ainslie in the 2018 AFL Canberra competition.

The decision divided the Australian public and Mouncey has written a book detailing her experience taking on Australia's most powerful sporting organisation and her fight for the LGBTI community.

5. ACT Brumbies survive Super Rugby axe

ARU chairman Cameron Clyne and chief executive Bill Pulver announced the Western Force would be cut from Super Rugby.

ARU chairman Cameron Clyne and chief executive Bill Pulver announced the Western Force would be cut from Super Rugby.Credit:AAP

It was the year from hell for the Australian Rugby Union and the country's most successful club was dragged into the seemingly never-ending Super Rugby axing saga.

The ARU said it would have been insolvent by the end of 2019 had it not agreed to cut one of its five teams from Super Rugby and put the ACT Brumbies, Western Force and Melbourne Rebels on the chopping block in April.

Four months after the ARU said it would be axe a team within 48-72 hours, the Force were given their marching orders and after an unsuccessful Supreme Court appeal, their players started signing with new clubs in September.

There was a push for the Brumbies to merge with the Rebels, but the ARU board deemed the Brumbies too successful and financially stable to consider a joint-venture, saying there was "no advantage breaking up Australia's most successful team".

The ARU spent an unbudgeted $28 million to support Australia's Super Rugby teams in the past five years, but none of that money went to the Brumbies.

The Brumbies have produced the most Wallabies of any team and this season it was halfback Joe Powell and lock Blake Enever who made their Australian debuts.

6. The rise and fall of the Canberra Raiders

Nick Cotric won the Dally M rookie of the year after a stellar debut season.

Nick Cotric won the Dally M rookie of the year after a stellar debut season. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Following their best season in two decades the Canberra Raiders looked genuine premiership contenders heading into 2018, but in the end the Green Machine faithful were promised the world and got delivered an atlas.

Canberra star forward Josh Papalli set the tone early with a bizarre drink-driving incident in the preseason which saw the second-rower lose his Kangaroos jersey for the Anzac Test.

An inability to win the close games cost the Raiders their spot in the finals as Ricky Stuart's men lost eight games by six points or less, including four in golden point, to finish 10th on the ladder and left wondering what could have been.

The beginning of the end was their round 14 trip to Bathurst when Canberra led Penrith by 10 points with 90 seconds remaining and somehow found a way to lose.

They struggled to shake off the loss and it effectively moulded the rest of their campaign, but there were some positives with teenage sensation Nick Cotric winning the Dally M rookie of the year.

Cotric took to the NRL like a duck to water, scoring 16 tries and playing every game of the season as an 18-year-old who looked mature beyond his years on the left wing.

7. Single Gaze and Fell Swoop make history at Australia's biggest races

Single Gaze became the first Canberra horse since 2005 to run at the Melbourne Cup.

Single Gaze became the first Canberra horse since 2005 to run at the Melbourne Cup. Credit:AAP

A runner-up finish at the $3 million Caulfield Cup ensured Nick Olive's mare Single Gaze became the first Canberra horse in 12 years to run in the Melbourne Cup.

The gutsy five-year-old capped her return from a horrific fall that almost ended her career and seriously injured jockey Kathy O'Hara 18 months earlier with a trip to Flemington for the $6.2 million race that stops a nation.

After getting checked early O'Hara couldn't get Single Gaze into rhythm and she was caught wide for most of the 3200m race, but battled on to finish 17th behind winner Rekindling.

Olive wasn't the only Canberra trainer to earn a slice of history in 2017, with Matt Dale's six-year-old Fell Swoop running in the inaugural $10 million Everest - the world's richest race on turf.

The champion gelding was perfectly positioned at the turn for home but then disaster struck when Fell Swoop was galloped on and hurt his off fetlock to drop back 12 lengths behind winner Redzel.

After the race he was diagnosed with thumps - the equivalent of hiccups but is more serious in horses - and spent for the rest of the year in the paddock.

8. Behrendorff's Shield brilliance earns Australian T20 call up

Jason Behrendorff was named man of the match in just his second game for Australia.

Jason Behrendorff was named man of the match in just his second game for Australia.Credit:AP

Canberra fast bowler Jason Behrendorff returned the fifth-best figures in Sheffield Shield history and made his international Twenty20 debut against India in October.

Opening the bowling for Western Australia, Behrendorff ripped through eventual competition winners Victoria taking a career-best 9-37 at the WACA.

It marked his first game back in first-class cricket after a stress fracture in his left fibula left Behrendorff on crutches three months earlier.

The performance earned the 27-year-old his first appearance in green and gold and it took just two games to stamp his arrival on the international scene.

After bowling one over in a rain-affected debut, Behrendorff claimed man of the match honours in his second outing with a 4-21 effort that included the wicket of Indian captain Virat Kohli.

His stellar debut series saw Behrendorff bolt into Ashes contention but he was overlooked for the first Test, before injury struck again and the stress fractures returned.

9. The best and worst of Nick Kyrgios as the rollercoaster continues

Nick Kyrgios had another year of incredible highs and dismal lows.

Nick Kyrgios had another year of incredible highs and dismal lows. Credit:AP

Nick Kyrgios' season once again derailed in China and once again it was draped in controversy of his own doing.

Almost one year to the day following his infamous Shanghai Masters tank job, the Canberran returned to the scene of the crime and was again booed off court when he retired in protest to the umpiring after losing the first set against Steve Johnson.

After the match he apologised to fans and said he'd barely eaten in 24 hours due to a stomach bug and that his shoulder had started to hurt that day while practicing, but he was still fined $40,000 over the incident.

One week later the world No. 21 announced his season was over, bringing to a close a year which featured two wins over Novak Djokovic in successive weeks and victories against Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev.

Kyrgios also lost "one of the best matches ever played" against Roger Federer in the Miami Open semi-final.

The 22-year-old failed to advance past the second round in any of the four grand slams but Kyrgios led Australia to a semi-final berth at the Davis Cup, where they lost to Belgium.

10. ACT Schoolboys make rugby history then snubbed

The ACT Schoolboys won their first rugby national championship in 29 years.

The ACT Schoolboys won their first rugby national championship in 29 years.Credit:

It was the ACT's first national title since a side featuring Rod Kafer, Matt O'Connor and Marco Caputo defeated NSW to be crowned champions in 1988.

The schoolboys opened their week with come-from-behind wins against Queensland and NSW II and stunned the competition with an undefeated run to the final where they knocked off Queensland II with a comfortable 30-11 victory.

Despite their success, the ACT teenagers were snubbed for higher honours and only two players were named in the Australian schoolboys side.

Hooker Lachlan Lonergan and halfback Seamus Smith were selected, while Will Goddard, Brendan Jimenez, Lachlan Osborne and Tom Iles were named in the Australian Barbarians team.

Both teams featured in a September series against New Zealand and Fiji and Goddard's form saw him pursued by the Waikato Chiefs, before he decided to stay home and sign with the Brumbies.

Honourable mention: Buchanan adds another world title

Two-time Olympian Caroline Buchanan claimed her eighth world championship after smashing the field at the mountain bike four cross event at Val di Sole in Italy in August.

It came two weeks after adding a BMX time trial world title to her trophy cabinet and Buchanan has now won five mountain bike world titles and is the back to back four cross champion.