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March 10, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Sports Banter With Sammy P

The approaching winter means that the sporting calendar completes its annual transformation of codes and competitions, so I thought it appropriate to preview a few highlights and talking points of the upcoming season.

Football: What is there not to love about the FIFA World Cup? In no other sporting event are there so many global superstars or such high-quality on-field action, consolidating it as the most eagerly anticipated tournament on the planet. While Germany and Spain lead the European contingent, the host nation (Brazil) and Argentina are the top contenders from the Americas for the tournament, which kicks off in Rio in June.

Rugby: Will the All Blacks’ domination continue? Of course it will. Will the Chiefs complete a threepeat? I say yes – a great coach in Dave Rennie, a growing ability to close out the tight games, and an impressive collection of on-field leaders such as Aaron Cruden and Liam Messam ensures that the Waikato men are once again New Zealand’s best chance of claiming the title. And how about that Benji Marshall? If he can keep the Blues backline straight and read the game competently, there’s no reason he can’t challenge the country’s top number 10s.

NRL: There’s nothing better than chilling on the couch on a Sunday afternoon with a quarter-pack and some Sunday-afternoon footy on the box. The only thing that is usually missing is a successful Warriors outfit. Sadly, I see this year being no different – although some brilliant pre-season form from Shaun Johnson and the exciting signing of British star Sam Tomkins will energise their attack, expect the discipline and defence of teams such as Manly, the Roosters or Melbourne to grind out another grand-final result.

Commonwealth Games: In my humble opinion, the games barely warrant a mention. They have ignited no real hype or excitement as of yet, and Delhi’s hosting of 2010’s tournament was abysmal. Nevertheless, the games kick off in Glasgow on 23 July.

Around the grounds: If Tiger can straighten up his driver he’ll win a major (or two), the availability of NBA stars will dictate results at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, and after Wawrinka’s triumph in Melbourne, expect the giants of world tennis such as Nadal and Djokovic to claim the three remaining slams.

In Wellington: Like last year, both the AFL and NRL make a cameo appearance in the capital this year, with the Warriors taking on the Tigers on 29 March and St Kilda hosting the Brisbane Lions at the Cake Tin on Anzac Day. Unfortunately, it looks like it could be another fruitless year for the likes of the Phoenix and the Hurricanes.

Top 5 sporting rivalries

5. Federer v Nadal: The thing that has made this rivalry so special over the years is the sheer quality of on-court action these guys provide. And although Rafa and Federer have a mutual respect for one another, there still exists an uneasy tension between the two when they meet on court.

4. The Ashes: It’s rational to say that there’s a fair bit of hatred between the Australian and English cricketers. It’s also one of the most competitive sporting traditions: after 132 years of Ashes cricket, the ledger is dead square with each team having recorded 68 series wins.

3. Frazier v Ali: These two blokes really didn’t get along. They were also elite fighters who gave us some of the greatest fights ever seen, such as the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ and ‘The Fight of the Century’.

2. State of Origin: State against state, mate against mate. There’s nothing quite like the State of O – the best-quality rugby league on the planet mixed with passionate inter-state hatred.

1. Real Madrid v Barcelona: We could have just as easily compiled a top-five football-rivalry list. We’ve isolated El Clasico as the most distinguishable footballing rivalry as it’s a mouth-watering on-field battle between two of the world’s most famous clubs, and also symbolises a set of historically engrained political and cultural tensions within Spain.

 

In Wellington this week:

Saturday, 4.35: Cake Tin – Hurricanes vs Cheetahs.

 

Top 3 on the box:

3) NRL: Souths @ Manly, Sky Sport, Friday, 9.40 pm.

2) A-League: Adelaide Utd @ WSW, Sky Sport, Saturday, 7.30 pm.

1) Super Rugby: Stormers @ Chiefs, Sky Sport, Friday, 7.30 pm.

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