Thursday 6 November 2008

On the menu this summer

The menu has arrived at the Australian sports lover’s table and the best of summer sport is now available. The barren sporting wasteland that is October in Australia is now behind us and November’s arrival signals the start of the Australian sporting summer. While you’ve probably been keeping an eye on the India-Australia Test Series from the subcontinent and the odd World Cup Qualifier for the Socceroos, the fact you now know that sport will be played in Australia over summer en masse, the hunger that comes with the end of the football seasons is about to be satisfied. So what’s on the menu? Here are the Top 5 Sporting Events on the summer menu to get you through until the Footy returns in early next year. 5. A-League Football. Now in its Fourth Season since its reincarnation as an actual national competition, the A-League is making solid ground as it strives to become a spectator sport in summer on a level that matches its player participation rate during winter. There’s no doubt that the world game has the potential to grow into a tribal competition much like the AFL and NRL but those days are not here yet. Still with teams in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Adelaide, Wellington and Perth – and three different champions in three years (2005/06 – Sydney FC, 2006/07 – Melbourne Victory & 2007/08 – Newcastle Jets) there is reason for optimism that the A-League can produce a competition full of the necessary parity to have fans of all teams harbouring hope that their team can emerge victorious each year. With plans to expand into the Gold Coast and North Queensland as soon as 2009/10 – the A-League will continue to expand its circle of influence and push hard into more regions where Football may yet become the #1 spectator sport. When it’s on: Games are played Friday Nights, Saturday Nights and Sunday Afternoons & Evenings from August 2008 until January 2009 with a four team Finals Series in February 2009. 4. Rugby League World Cup Final. The NRL Season finished on the first weekend of October with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles claiming their first premiership since 1996, but the staging of the rugby league’s World Cup in Australia that began October 25, ensures that there is some football to digest into the late stages of November. Host nation Australia have handled their two biggest rivals easily in their opening pool games (beating New Zealand 30-6 & England 52-4) and will play their last pool match against Papua New Guinea in Townsville this Sunday night, November 9, 2008. If Australia wins they will top Pool 1 and face the team who emerges from a playoff between the winners of Pool 2 & 3 in the Semi Finals – with the game to be played in Sydney on November 16, 2008, as Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium will host the Final on November 22, 2008. Even if you’ve had your fill of league thanks to the long NRL season, don’t let the fact Australia looks certainties to win yet another World Cup turn you off – remember this is Australia we’re talking about so make sure you tune in or get to the game to savour what should be another sporting conquest by Australia. When it’s on: The Rugby League World Cup started on October 25, 2008 and runs through to November 22, 2008 with the Final to be played at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Queensland. The Semi Finals are the weekend before on Saturday and Sunday evenings. 3. Golf – Australian Major Tournaments. Perhaps not the must-see event it used to be when the big guns of World Golf came out to play but in the last few years tournament organisers are trying harder than ever to spice up the fields for the four major tournaments played over summer in Australia. Plus Australian golfers are now strong performers on the US and European circuits so there will be some quality golf played. The Australian Masters tees off first at Huntingdale in Melbourne, Victoria from November 27-30, 2008 (featuring Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Michael Campbell & Rod Pampling); followed chronologically by the Australian PGA at Hyatt Regency Coolum in Queensland from December 4-7, 2008 (featuring Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Stuart Appleby & Peter Lonard); The Australian Open is then played at Royal Sydney , NSW, from December 11-14, 2008 (featuring Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Michael Campbell & Darren Clarke); with the season culminating in the Johnnie Walker Classic at The Vines Resort in Perth, Western Australia from February 19-22, 2009 (featuring Greg Norman, Lee Westwood & Paul Casey). Watching Golf on a Sunday afternoon has been an institution in Australia for many years and unless there’s a Test Match on instead – what else are you going to watch? When it’s on: Four Tournaments in November & December 2008 and February 2009. 2. Australian Open Tennis Championship. The first Grand Slam of the 2009 Calendar is the Australian Open Tennis Championship played at Melbourne Park, Victoria from January 19-February 1, 2009 during the height of the Australian summer. Defending champions are Novak Djokavic (Serbia) and Maria Sharapova (Russia) after both players opened their 2008 Grand Slam campaigns in style yet failed to win another major thereafter. Both will be back and eager to show their 2008 titles were well deserved. It appears all the big names of tennis will be available with only the new World Number One Rafael Nadal in any doubt with tendonitis in his right knee which forced his withdrawal from the ATP Tennis Masters Cup this month. But with superstar Roger Federer and last year’s runner up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the men’s draw (oh and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt who might have one last memorable run left in him) and crowd favourite Ana Ivanovic and the Williams sisters stepping out for the women – the tournament promises to be a winner from every angle. When it’s on: The tournament starts Monday February 19 and continues until the Men’s Final on Sunday February 1, 2009 at Melbourne Park, Victoria. 1. Australian Summer of Cricket. The main course in the summer smorgasbord involves digesting the exploits of the Australian Cricket Team as they take on the touring sides in Test, One Day and Twenty20 matches around the country. The tough series Australia are currently experiencing in India ensures that this summer will be hotly contested as the Kiwis and Proteas come to Australian shores with renewed optimism as they try and topple the hosts. When Australia finishes their commitments in India they will jet home to face the New Zealand team for two Test Matches in Brisbane (November 20-24, 2008) and Adelaide (November 28-December 2, 2008) and then the South Africans in three Tests in Perth (December 17-21, 2008), Melbourne (December 26-30, 2008) and Sydney (January 3-7, 2009) to round out the Test portion of the summer. Australia will also play five One Day Internationals against South Africa (January 16, 18, 23, 26, 30, 2009) and another five against New Zealand (February 1, 6, 8, 10, 13, 2009) and sandwich four Twenty20s in amongst them with two games versus South Africa ( January 11, 13, 2009), one versus New Zealand (February 15, 2009) and one against the Johnnie Walker All Stars to kick off the summer at the Gabba, Brisbane on November 14 2008. Plus Domestic Cricket will be featured heavily leading into Christmas with the Sheffield Shield and Ford Ranger Cups contested with the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash featuring all six state sides taking place from December 26-January 24, 2009 to start the second half of the season. All in all there will be plenty of cricket to digest from the couch, your local or at the ground. When it’s on: The Australian Summer of Cricket runs from November 2008 to February 2009 and is played at grounds all around Australia. Which will make sure you’re sporting appetite is well fed throughout this summer.