For many of Australia’s prominent athletes and sporting identities, 2019 is make or break. From those with respect to win back and points to prove, to one sportswoman who’s in line to become the world’s best in her game, these are the Australians to watch this year.
Bancroft, Smith, and Warner
If Australia’s Cape Town trio thought 2018 was a dirt road full of potholes, 2019 may yet prove to be a highway to hell.
Both Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith have undertaken self-initiated charm offensives that have backfired like an old Torana with a busted muffler.
David Warner remains silent, cast as the Frank Underwood of Australian cricket, feared for his power with the bat but loathed for his ruthlessness, Machiavellian dressing shed politics and his pitbull posture on the field.
It’s possible that Bancroft and Smith’s recent overtures for peace, love, and understanding have done more damage to their reputations rather than repairing them.
It most certainly has them scrubbed from Warner’s Christmas card list and just how any or all three of them can play in the same team again is anyone’s guess.
Trouble is, this Australian cricket team desperately needs their talents.
Off the back of the Test series against India, and with an extended visit to England dominating the crowded 2019 cricket calendar, featuring a World Cup and Ashes campaign, the Australians are facing the torment of being beaten on the field and derided and pilloried off it.
It’s a mess of entirely of their own making. What the Cape Town trio do in 2019 to help Australian cricket climb out of it will define their careers.
Sam Kerr is Australia’s most talented footballer.
At the World Cup in France this June, she has the chance to show what many of us believe – that she is the world’s best women’s footballer.
The Matildas star was nominated for the inaugural female Ballon d’Or but lost out to Ada Hegerberg, who has won the Champions League three times with her club Lyon.
Kerr is every bit as good as the Norwegian star, she just needs the stage on which to prove it.
France 2019 is it.
The Matildas go to France ranked sixth in the world.
If Kerr plays with the full range of her talent on display, they will be a live chance to bring the trophy home.
No small feat for a team that began playing in the parks of Sydney 40 years ago as an act of defiance against gendered notions of what sport was about and what women should be, too.
If they can do so, Kerr will become Australia’s most celebrated sports star and the Matildas its most venerated team.
Play like a girl? Yes please.
So close, yet still so far. This has become the recurring theme of Buckley’s journey in AFL football.
Buckley has been so close to premiership glory, first as a player and now as a coach, it must ache.
The Collingwood coach’s devotion to the Magpie creed can’t be questioned and his contribution to the famous old club is among its most significant.
Over his 260 games as a player and 162 as coach of Collingwood, a premiership has been his driving force.
Last year’s Grand Final loss to West Coast Eagles was particularly cruel. Collingwood made the boldest of challenges that day, only to run dry of ideas and dare right at the very last.
Buckley had revitalised a team that finished 13th in 2017 by transforming himself.
Gone was robo-coach armed with stats and strategies, replaced by a free wheelin’ bearded Bucks who was as much about the moment as he was about the scoreboard.
His squad will only get better. The expectation from the fans will be enormous. The hunger for success for Buckley so much stronger.
If Buckley can keep it all together he just might find the missing chapter to the story he so desperately wants to write.
Australia’s netball Diamonds are still hurting from their shock defeat in the gold medal match at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last April.
And no one felt that defeat more acutely than their coach Lisa Alexander.
The Diamonds coach was forthright after the loss to England saying Australia’s burgeoning Super Netball competition was fast-tracking the development of English imports and making her job of keeping Australia at the top of world standings that much harder.
Alexander has a point to prove and has been waiting for her opportunity to do so.
It will come in July with the Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England.
That Michael Cheika survived in the job as Wallabies coach to lead them toward the 2019 Rugby World Cup is remarkable.
The fact that he still wants the job is equally amazing.
Somehow, being in charge of Australia’s once-celebrated starting 15 was a dream job for rugby’s finest technicians.
Heading into this World Cup cycle it seems like a poisoned chalice that’s best avoided.
Cheika’s Wallabies lost nine of their 13 Tests in 2018, a rotten run of form that in any other era would have seen the axe swung and a new coach installed.
Rugby Australia has held its nerve and stuck with its guy but it’s a reappointment that comes with strings attached.
Former Wallabies assistant coach Scott Johnson has been appointed RA’s new director of rugby.
It’s a similar position to the one he has had with Scotland since 2014 and provides RA with some oversight of the Wallabies coach.
Cheika took the Wallabies to the final of the 2015 World Cup, losing the final to New Zealand.
If Cheika can find a way to get the Wallabies – currently ranked sixth in the world – back to the World Cup decider again it will be the greatest achievement of his career.
Nobody thinks Cheika has a hope in hell of doing it.
Which will make him doubly determined to prove them wrong.
Self-belief is one thing Cheika never lacks. He’s going to need all that and more in 2019.