HAPPY new year, and if you're still partying, here's a playlist inspired by the hits and misses of Hunter sport in 2012.
Slice Of Heaven - New Zealander Dave Dobbyn and the band Herbs produced this ace in 1986, seven years before Charlestown golf prodigy Jake Higginbottom was even born. Higginbottom too grooved into Kiwi and Australian folklore with his win as an amateur in the New Zealand Open. The teenager became the first amateur in 56 years to win the title. He turned professional two days later and in his second gig the 19-year-old was paired with US legend Tom Watson at the Aussie Open. There's sure to be warm moonlight over the horizon for this talent. At the other end of the golfing spectrum, Toronto's Nathan Green lost his full US PGA Tour card.
Money For Nothing - There's no doubt Nathan Tinkler's generosity has put Newcastle's flagship teams, who were in dire straits, in better shape then they were ($3 million tax debts aside). However, the on-field results for the Tinkler-owned Knights and Jets were far from value for money in 2012. The Jets missed the A-League finals, which give more than half the teams a shot, and look like posting a similar finish in 2012-13. The Knights finished 12th despite the much heralded signing of supercoach Wayne Bennett and recruitment of home-grown fan favourites Danny Buderus, Timana Tahu, Willie Mason and Kade Snowden, as well as Queensland star Darius Boyd. Off the field, the spectre of Tinkler's cash-flow problems loom large over the clubs, although the coal baron's right-hand man, Troy Palmer, has assured us the bills will be paid.
Weather With You - With a crowded house of talent, Merewether swept all before them in Newcastle cricket in 2011-12, winning the district two-day, 50-over and Twenty20 competitions. This season the house is busting at the seams after the addition of ex-Australia A speedster Mark Cameron and former Wallsend skipper Dave Celep, and the club are on track for even more success after qualifying for the SCG Country Cup final. Much has been made of top players heading to Merewether and Hamilton-Wickham, creating an even more lopsided competition. But the main drawback is the Lions have spoiled a catchy song for the rest of the competition. Come on, you've all heard it by now . . . "Everywhere you go, you always take the Wethers with you . . . "
Heart Of Gold - Hamilton turned the tables on old foes Merewether-Carlton and honoured fallen teammate Tevita Maile with a 46-0 thumping of an understrength Greens in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union grand final. Steve Sione, who was at the wheel when Maile died in a car accident four months earlier, was man of the match and made a tearful tribute to his friend after the game. The win gave the Blue and Golds the premiership double and revenge over Merewether, who went through undefeated in 2011.
Gold - In 2005 he suffered a broken back in a car crash and there were fears he would never walk again. In 2008, at the Beijing Olympic Games, he capsized a few hundred metres from the finish line and a gold medal slipped through his fingers. But Wangi Wangi sailor Nathan Outteridge made amends when he and childhood mate Iain "Goobs" Jensen blitzed the 49er skiff fleet to win Olympic gold on the waters off Weymouth. Wangi residents welcomed them home from London by painting Dobell Drive green and gold. Merewether's Angie Bainbridge snared silver as a heat swimmer for Australia's 4x200m relay team, and Simon Orchard (hockey) and Suzy Batkovic and Jenni Screen (basketball) bagged bronze.
I've Had The Time Of My Life - Gillieston Heights schoolgirl Maddi Elliott inspired the region when she won four medals, including a gold, at the London Paralympic Games. The 13-year-old swimmer, and the youngest gold medallist in Australian Paralympic history, became the face of the games when she met Prince Harry. Lake Macquarie sailor Liesl Tesch also won Paralympic gold, and Kurt Fearnley, Prue Watt, Christie Dawes and Taylor Corry collected medals.
Bat Out Of Hell - Newcastle's very own "Batgirl", Suzy Batkovic, was crowned Most Valuable Player of the Women's National Basketball League for the 2011-12 season and is a contender to double up in 2012-13. Batkovic and fellow Novocastrian Jenni Screen also collected Olympic bronze medals with the Opals in London. Another proud Newcastle product, Katie Ebzery, represented Australia at the inaugural FIBA three-on-three world championships in Athens and brought home a bronze. Closer to home, the Newcastle Hunters men finally wrested the Kibble-Mallon Cup from Maitland's grasp and were Waratah Basketball League minor premiers but stumbled in the semis against Sydney, falling one game short of the grand final.
Magic - The song by 1970s Scottish pop rock band Pilot must be haunting Broadmeadow's rivals in the Northern NSW State League. After Broadmeadow dominated in 2011, "Oh, ho, ho, it's magic, you know, never believe it's not so" blared out again over the loud speakers at Wanderers Oval on grand final day. This time Hamilton Olympic were favourites, minor premiers, club champions and first into the decider, only for Magic to beat the odds and win 4-1 for back-to-back major titles. Not a bad song, Magic, but the sound of it must be like fingernails on a chalkboard for Olympic.
Viva Las Vegas - In a battle of casino versus coal mine, perennial Newcastle Rugby League heavyweights Western Suburbs broke a run of outs in grand finals and continued Cessnock's horror record with a 16-14 win. Coaches Craig Miller (Wests) and Todd Edwards (Cessnock) were chasing breakthrough victories and in the lead up their battle became a major talking point. Miller angered the Goannas at the league awards when he said he wished his club had a "mine" - a reference to Cessnock players being recruited through employment opportunities. It brought boos from the crowd before interviewer Darren Forward raised laughs with: "You mightn't have a mine, but you have a casino." The Rosellas had the last laugh, winning all three grades.
The Gambler - Newcastle Jockey Club members faced the most important vote in their century-old existence when Racing NSW offered up $11.2 million in much-needed track-work funding. The offer though was conditional on the NJC culling their board from 10 to seven directors with three of them appointed by the state governing body. Director Gary Dowling was among the early opponents to change, saying Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'Landys was "master of the bluff" and members should hold out for better conditions. However, when announcing a change of heart at the annual general meeting, Dowling said V'Landys had offered to play poker with him but he'd declined. The vote for change was 97 per cent in favour. Well, like Kenny Rogers sang: "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away and know when to run."
Closing Time - The retirement of Max Debnam and the relocation of Tony Fairweather from Maitland to the Gold Coast marked the end of an era for Newcastle and Hunter athletics. They were the region's most respected and renowned track coaches but hopefully someone can step into their spikes and unearth the next Josh Ross, Pirrenee Steinert or Laura Whaler. As the Semisonic song says, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
Hooray For Hollywood - Newcastle boxer Chad "Hollywood" Bennett is still standing after twice defeating two-time former Commonwealth champion James Armah to retain his WBO Asia-Pacific and WBA Pan-African junior welterweight belts. Hollywood's next fight is in Las Vegas on Australia Day. A win will set up a world title bout in Newcastle in April.
Forever Young - In a sport synonymous with the older generation, 22-year-old Raymond Terrace lawn bowler Natasha van Eldik has been on a roll. Named 2011 female player of the year in February, she finished the year as Australia's youngest-ever world champion. She won the triples title alongside Karen Murphy and Lynsey Armitage to become only the second world champion from Newcastle. Not bad for someone who started bowls at 15 for school sport because she thought it would be easy. "Me and my friends thought we could kick back, relax and build sandcastles in the sand," she said in 2008. Easy game or not, that's how van Eldik makes it look.
Life In The Fast Lane - Soaring where eagles dare, Kurri Kurri's Casey Stoner recovered from ankle surgery to win a sixth straight Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island in his final season of MotoGP. The two-time world champion is tipped to swap two wheels for four and switch to V8 Supercars. Multiple national motocross and supercross champion Craig Anderson announced his retirement after 26 years riding professionally in Australia, Europe and the USA. Anderson's cousin, Chad Reed, recovered from a horrific crash in Dallas in February to win the Newcastle leg of the Australian Supercross Championships in November. Reed is back in Florida preparing for the 2013 AMA Supercross season starting this weekend.