The Hit Up – Sports News & Highlights #3

Massive league and union upsets, biffo in the NBA, an expletive-laden A-League interview and an unprecedented payday for Ash Barty headline this week’s edition of The Hit Up.

Tonga Stun Kangaroos in Test Classic

Tonga’s remarkable rise to heavy hitter status over the past two years has reinvigorated a stagnating international rugby league scene. But the island nation created arguably its most astonishing piece of history on Saturday night, defeating world champions Australia 16-12 in Auckland.

The result represented the Kangaroos’ first-ever loss to a Tier 2 country, while it gave Tonga a cleansweep against the ‘big three’, following on from their trailblazing 2017 World Cup upset of New Zealand and last weekend’s win over Great Britain in Hamilton.

The historic victories in the space of eight days are all the more extraordinary given their campaign was in limbo following a split between the Tongan NRL board and the Mate Ma’a Tonga coach and players. But coach Kristian Woolf and the squad regrouped under the Tonga Invitational XIII banner to knock over the Lions and Kangaroos in quick succession.

The Tongans’ were clearly up for the contest in a bruising opening 20 minutes, which culminated in captain Will Hopoate scoring the first try. But Australia rallied with quick back-to-back tries to Jack Wighton and Paul Vaughan to lead 12-6 at halftime.

The underdogs dominated the second half, however, and Parramatta centre Michael Jennings and Brisbane forward Tevita Pangai Jr had put Tonga back in front after 53 minutes. There was a sense of inevitability that the Kangaroos’ bevy of superstars would conjure a match-winning play, but the Tongans’ physicality and defensive desperation repeatedly turned them away to close out a euphoric victory.

The match was the climax of a highly entertaining Eden Park triple-header, with Fiji smoking Samoa 44-18 in another shock result and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck starring as the Kiwis outlasted the Lions in a 12-8 thriller.

Springboks Stun England

South Africa claimed a record-equalling third Rugby World Cup title with an emphatic 32-12 defeat of red-hot favourites England in Yokohama. The Springboks’ relentless defence and set-piece dominance strangled England – who were unable to replicate their stunning semi-final performance against the All Blacks – out of the contest.

After 65 dour, try-less, scrum-dominated minutes of the decider, South Africa led 18-12 as Handre Pollard and Owen Farrell traded penalty after mind-numbing penalty. But the match belatedly opened up in the latter stages, with wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Chselin Kolbe finishing off sizzling tries to seal the Boks’ emotional triumph.

Meanwhile, images of Prince Harry congratulating half-nude halfback Faf de Klerk in the dressing rooms are destined to go down in Rugby World Cup folklore.

Barty Makes Bank

This time last year Ashleigh Barty was celebrating victory in the WTA Elite Trophy – the biggest of her career to date. Fast-forward 12 months and the 23-year-old Queenslander is a grand slam winner, is guaranteed to finished 2019 with the No.1 ranking and has set a new record for the biggest cash prize in tennis history after taking out the WTA Finals series.

Barty overcame Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-3 in the final in Shenzhen to earn a mind-boggling $6.4 million payday. Surely the nation’s greatest sportsperson of 2019, Barty is the first Australian to take out the prestigious tournament since the legendary Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976 and the first Aussie to finish atop the world rankings since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. 

Sri Lanka Sucked into Warner Whirlwind 

David Warner endured a record-breakingly bad Ashes campaign, averaging a horrific 9.5 across 10 Test innings in England. But there are no concerns over his limited-overs form after kicking off the international summer at home with a scintillating exhibition in Australia’s 3-0 Twenty20 whitewash of Sri Lanka.

The explosive opener smashed a maiden, unbeaten T20I century off just 56 balls as the Aussies romped to a 134-run win in the series opener. Warner scooped another couple of man-of-the-match awards with 60 not out and 57 not out with the hosts cruising to one-sided victories in the remaining two games. 

The first of three T20Is against Pakistan was washed out on Sunday. 

Nationals Clinch Maiden World Series  

The Washington Nationals were languishing with a 32-38 record halfway through June. But long-suffering fans of the MLB franchise are celebrating a historic triumph after a stunning post-season charge culminated in the Nationals’ first-ever World Series title on Thursday.

The Nationals edged the Brewers 4-3 in the Wild Card game, came from a game down to beat the LA Dodgers – the National League’s best team – and snared their inaugural NL pennant by sweeping the St Louis Cardinals. Washington then overwhelmed the Houston Astros in a wildly fluctuating seven-game World Series.

All seven games were won by the visiting team, with the Astros flubbing two chances to seal their second World Series title in three seasons on home soil. The Nationals trailed by two runs after six innings in the deciding Game 7 but surged late to prevail 6-2. 

Philly Off to a Flyer 

The Philadelphia Eagles are the only unbeaten team remaining in the NBA, carving out a 5-0 record. And it’s certainly been an eventful start to the season for Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and co.

The Sixers’ 117-95 beatdown of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday was overshadowed by a wild brawl between hulking cents Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns. Aussie star Simmons was in the thick of it, too, pinning an irate Towns on the floor.

Philadelphia produced a more conventional highlight-reel moment in yesterday’s 129-128 eclipse of the Portland Trail Blazers. Furkan Korkmaz came off the bench to drain a mind-blowing, match-winning three with 0.4 seconds on the clock. 

Phoenix’s Fenton Declares ‘It’s F**ked’

Wellington Phoenix defender Louis Fenton turned the air blue and left Fox Sports interviewer and Socceroos legend Archie Thompson gobsmacked when asked about a controversial VAR call in his side’s 3-2 loss to Melbourne City. Fenton was called for a handball, which City Craig Noone converted from the spot for a crucial second-half goal with the VAR bewilderingly failing to overturn the decision.

“It didn’t even f*****g hit my hand. It’s f****d,” Fenton vented post-match in a hilarious example of the perils of live TV.

Upsets abounded elsewhere in Matchday 4 of the A-League season, with new boys Western United coming from two goals down to win their first derby with Melbourne Victory 3-2, and last year’s wooden spooners Central Coast Mariners rolling 2019 Premiers Plate winners Perth Glory 2-1.

United Crash Again

We’re almost one-third of the way through the Premier League season and Manchester United are sitting 10th with just 11 points. The perennial heavyweights looked to have turned a corner with a 3-1 win over Norwich City and a subsequent 2-1 Carabao Cup victory against Chelsea. But the pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær ramped up again following a 1-0 loss to AFC Bournemouth on the weekend – the Red Devils’ fourth loss in nine outings to a club that finished 10th or lower last season.

Baddest MFer Bout Cut Short 

Chants of ‘bullshit’ echoed around New York’s Madison Square Garden after a doctor’s stoppage ended the main event of UFC 244. Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal had set the scene for an epic finish in the ‘BMF’ (baddest mother**ker) bout courtesy of three absorbing rounds, but Masvidal was awarded a deflating TKO decision after the medics ruled a cut under Diaz’s eye was too severe to continue. 

49ers Halfway to Perfect Season

The San Francisco 49ers have not made the playoffs since their 2013 run NFC Championship Game. They finished 2018 with a dismal 4-12 record. But Niners fans are partying like it’s 1989 after their heroes advanced to 8-0 with a 28-25 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.

The jury has still been out on Jimmy Garoppolo, but the quarterback torched the Cardinals with four touchdown passes and 317 yards. The 49ers’ credentials will get a strenuous workout over the next month or so, however, when they take on fellow Super Bowl hopefuls the Seahawks, Packers, Ravens and Saints.

Stud of the Week

Much like South Africa’s iconic Rugby World Cup victory at home in 1995, this success means more than rugby supremacy and a trophy in the cabinet for the fractious Rainbow Nation. The story of Siya Kolisi, the Springboks’ first black captain, is about as inspirational as it gets, rising to stardom out of the poverty-stricken township of Zwide, near Port Elizabeth, after his mother died when he was just 15.

Kolisi hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup alongside six black teammates; Chester Williams was the ’95 squad’s sole black player.

“Since I have been alive I have never seen South Africa like this,” the skipper said post-match.

“With all the challenges we have, the coach said to us that we are not playing for ourselves anymore, we are playing for the people back home, and that is what we wanted to do today.

“We appreciate all the support – people in the taverns, in the shebeens, farms, homeless people and people in the rural areas. Thank you so much, we appreciate the support. We love you South Africa and we can achieve anything if we work together as one.” 

Stat of the Week

LeBron James and Luka Doncic sent NBA numbers nerds into overdrive following their spectacular duel during the Lakers’ 119-110 overtime win over the Mavericks on Saturday. Lakers superstar James (39 points, 12 rebounds, 16 assists) and the Mavs’ second-year sensation Doncic (31 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists) became the first players in NBA history from opposing teams to record 30-10-15 triple-doubles in the same game.

Perhaps even more astoundingly, 34-year-old LeBron and 20-year-old Luka simultaneously became the oldest and youngest players ever to put up a 30-10-15. The Lakers look like Championship material with Anthony Davis in cahoots with Lebron, while the Mavs – second-last in the West last season – shape as one of the league’s big movers after an impressive start.

This Week In History

The Australian cricket team began to emerge from its mid-1980s funk by taking out the 1987 World Cup – the nation’s first triumph in the 50-over tournament. Australia beat England by seven runs in a thrilling final at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, with David Boon’s stoic 75 and a quick-fire 45 not out from Mike Veletta setting up the victory.

Big 5 for the Week Ahead

3pm (AEDT), Tue 5th Nov – Spring Racing: Melbourne Cup
2pm (AEDT), Thu 7th Nov – NBA: LA Clippers v Milwaukee Bucks
7.30pm (AEDT), Fri 8th Nov – T20I Cricket: Australia v Pakistan
6pm (AEDT), Sat 9th Nov – International Rugby League: New Zealand v Great Britain
12.15pm (AEDT), Tue 12th Nov – NFL: San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks