The Hit Up – Sports News & Highlights #2

A thrilling weekend of rugby league Nines action, a meek RWC exit marking the end of a Wallabies era and a 16-year-old cricketing prodigy headline the second edition of The Hit Up.

Kangaroos on Cloud Nines

Australia clinched the inaugural World Cup Nines title in Sydney over the weekend, winning all of their matches by at least 14 points as the likes of David Fifita, Josh Addo-Carr and Player of the Tournament Mitchell Moses ran riot.

The Kangaroos overwhelmed the Kiwis 24-10 in a thrilling final, but the decider hung in the balance at just 13-10 with five minutes remaining. Kyle Feldt was awarded a controversial try – despite coming up short of the line – to give the green-and-golds a seven-point buffer, before Moses raced away to complete his hat-trick in the dying stages.

Moses, Fifita and Addo-Carr were joined in the Team of the Tournament by Kiwis captain Shaun Johnson, who was at his mesmerising best throughout, and teammate Jamayne Isaako, the Nines’ top try-scorer with seven – and easily the best exponent of the drop-kick conversions, drilling several from the sideline.

But arguably the biggest story of the weekend at BankWest Stadium was the upsets. New Zealand won the four-team women’s competition via an epic 17-15 win over Australia in the final – after the Jillaroos had racked up a convincing 22-8 victory against the Kiwi Ferns 24 hours earlier.

Meanwhile, Lebanon stunned England 16-13 early on Day 2, unfancied Cook Islands upset a disappointing Tongan Invitational side and Fiji, and Samoa powered through pool play unbeaten to grab a semi-final spot.

The weekend turned sour for Lebanon, however, with a loss to Wales – in a match where both sides finished with eight players after an ugly brawl – denying them a semi-final berth, before having the points they earned from beating France stripped for fielding an ineligible 17-year-old player. NRL rules stipulate players must be over the age of 18 to play in senior competitions.

Cheika Quits as Wallabies Crash Out of Cup

Australia’s Rugby World Cup campaign – and Michael Cheika’s five-year reign as Wallabies coach – ended in devastating fashion on Saturday courtesy of a 40-16 quarter-final loss to archrival England. The green-and-golds trailed by just one point when Marika Koroibete scored a blistering try soon after halftime, but it was one-way traffic from that point as England piled on 23 unanswered points.

Cheika announced he would not be seeking reappointment the following day. Unsurprisingly, the outspoken mentor is not going quietly, already firing a broadside at Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and chairman Cameron Clyne. Meanwhile, Quade Cooper – overlooked by Cheika for the past two seasons – sunk the boot in on Twitter.

In a final ignominy for the Wallabies, they have slipped behind Japan in the IRB world rankings – despite the RWC hosts’ fairytale run being halted 26-3 by South Africa in the quarters.

England will face New Zealand in Saturday’s blockbuster semi-final; the All Blacks dismantled No.1-ranked Ireland 46-14 on Saturday night. The Springboks square off against Wales, who edged France 20-19 on Sunday, in the other semi.

Schoolgirl Thunders to WBBL Fame

Year 10 student Phoebe Litchfield is on the path to cricket stardom after making an extraordinary start to her WBBL career with Sydney Thunder. The 16-year-old smashed four boundaries in scoring 26 off 22 balls on debut as the Thunder went down to star-studded Sydney Sixers by 49 runs on Friday.

Less than 48 hours later, Litchfield was Player of the Match in leading the Thunder to a seven-wicket win over Brisbane Heat with 52 not out off 48 balls, helping herself to nine fours. She is the youngest player – male or female – to notch a Big Bash half-century.

Smith Blasts Shield Century

Steve Smith is showing no signs of slowing down on his road to redemption, scoring 106 for New South Wales in their Sheffield Shield clash with Tasmania. The former Test skipper – who scored a ridiculous 774 runs at 110.57 in just seven innings during the recent Ashes series – shared in a 197-run partnership with veteran Moises Henriques.

The news was less encouraging for the Australian coaching staff ahead of the Test series against Pakistan, however, with the weekend of Shield action featuring a slew of top-order failures. The form of David Warner (1), Usman Khawaja (2 and 0), Travis Head (0 and 12), Matt Wade (20 and 40) and Tim Paine (11 and 2) suggests Smith may have to do it all himself this summer.

Meanwhile, the maligned Shaun Marsh pushed his case for a Test spot with 214 for Western Australia against Victoria. Marsh is captaining his state after younger brother Mitch suffered a broken hand punching a dressing room wall following his dismissal in the Warriors’ previous Sheffield Shield outing.

Heavyweight Stalemate Marred by VAR Controversy

Liverpool dropped their first Premier League points of the season after a contentious VAR call allowed Manchester United to take a first-half lead at Old Trafford. But Adam Lallana’s 85th-minute goal ensured Jurgen Klopp’s side headed home with a share of the spoils after a 1-1 result.

The VAR declined to rule out Marcus Rashford’s goal in the 35th minute, despite what Klopp called a “clear foul” by United in the lead-up. Liverpool still hold a six-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the EPL ladder after winning eight of their first nine games. Struggling United will be ruing Liverpool’s late equaliser – they could have climbed to seventh with all three points, but instead are languishing in 13th.

Speaking of struggling big guns, Tottenham remain seventh with just three wins on the board after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to bottom-placed Watford. Spurs needed Dele Alli’s 86th-minute strike to rescue them from an embarrassing defeat to the winless Hornets.

A-League’s Sydneysiders Make Strong Early Statement

Two rounds of the 2019-20 A-League season are in the books and just two teams have two wins to their name: Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Defending champs Sydney FC accounted for Adelaide 3-2 in a season-opening thriller on the road, before accounting for Wellington 2-1 at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday. Wanderers backed up their scratchy 2-1 win over Central Coast with an upset of Melbourne Victory by the same scoreline on Friday night. The crosstown rivals square off at BankWest Stadium on Saturday night.

Last year’s premiers, Perth Glory, have started slowly with a pair of 1-all draws against Brisbane and plucky newcomers Western United.

Chiefs in Limbo After Mahomes Injury

The Kansas City Chiefs arrested a two-game slide with a comprehensive 30-6 win over the Denver Broncos in Thursday Night Football, but an injury to reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes gobbled up the post-match headlines.

Viewers grimaced as medical staff appeared to pop the quarterback’s knee back into place after he suffered a dislocation sneaking for first down on fourth-and-short. Though the prognosis could have been far worse, Mahomes – who has passed for 15 touchdowns already this season – is tipped to be sidelined for a month. Matt Moore is expected to step into the 5-2 Chiefs’ QB hot-seat.

Zion’s Debut on Ice

Ultra-hyped rookie Zion Williamson will miss the start of the NBA season after suffering a knee injury. The No.1 Draft pick for the New Orleans Pelicans, Williamson is slated to be out for several weeks – a big blow for the Pels and basketball fans at large, who have been fizzing over the 19-year-old phenom’s pre-season highlights reel.

Williamson battled knee problems during his time at Duke and this latest setback has again raised questions about his 129kg and 2.01-metre frame’s capacity to handle his high-octane, power-dunking approach to the game.

Stud of the Week

One of the most insanely gifted but chronically maligned NRL players of his generation, Shaun Johnson endured an underwhelming, injury-hampered first season at Cronulla in 2019. But the 29-year-old was nevertheless one of the most hyped stars in the lead-up to the World Cup Nines – and he unequivocally lived up to his billing as the abbreviated format’s greatest exponent.

Johnson was scintillating for the New Zealand over the weekend, setting up or scoring tries with breath-taking ease. If the Kiwis had toppled the Kangaroos in the final, he would have been a walk-up winner of the Player of the Tournament award (an honour he received at the inaugural NRL Auckland Nines in 2014). Australia will be on high alert for ‘Magic’ Johnson in Friday night’s trans-Tasman Test in Wollongong.

Stat of the Week

Michael Cheika leaves behind a record of 34 wins, 32 losses and two draws in 68 Tests as Wallabies coach. Against Tier 1 nations, his win rate dwindles to a dismal 43.2 percent (25 wins, 32 losses, two draws).

This Week in History

Australia and New Zealand played out one of the all-time great rugby league Test matches in Huddersfield, with the Kangaroos ultimately prevailing 30-20 after the 1995 World Cup semi-final went into extra-time. Red-hot favourites Australia powered to a 20-6 lead thanks to two tries to Manly second-rower Steve Menzies. But the Kiwis stormed back with three tries in the last 20 minutes – and came within a few coats of paint of snatching victory when captain Matthew Ridge’s left-footed field goal attempt from 40 metres out shaved the upright. Bob Fulton’s green-and-golds line-up – severely depleted by the blacklisting of Super League-aligned players – got home on the back of tries to Terry Hill and skipper Brad Fittler during the added period, before surging to World Cup glory with an emotional 16-8 win over England at Wembley a week later.

Big 5 for the Week Ahead

11am (AEDT), Wed 23rd Oct – MLB World Series, Game 1: Houston Astros v Washington Nationals
7.30pm (AEDT), Wed 23rd Oct – FFA Cup Final: Adelaide United v Melbourne City FC
1pm (AEDT), Thu 24th Oct – NBA Opening Day: Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
7.30pm (AEDT), Fri 25th Oct – Trans-Tasman Rugby League Test: Australia v New Zealand
7pm (AEDT), Sat 26th Oct – Rugby World Cup Semi-final: England v New Zealand