Newshub's Sporting Review 2019: Breakout star of the year

OPINION: 2019 saw many talented sportsmen and women announce themselves onto the world stage. Newshub's panel of experts weigh in on their breakout star. 

ISRAEL ADESANYA 

When 2019 rolled around, Adesanya had just four UFC fights under his belt. Now that belt is a UFC middleweight world championship.

'The Last Stylebender' has captured the imagination of the combat sports world with his unique combination of charisma, smarts, and eye-catching skills that seem lifted directly from one of his beloved anime films.

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya Photo credit: Photosport

Named the UFC's Breakout fighter of the year in 2018, Adesanya's star has soared to new heights in 2019.

It's difficult to imagine just how much higher New Zealand's first-ever UFC world champion can go.
Stephen Foote, Newshub online sports producer 

SEVU REECE 

At the start of the year I don't think you could name me one person who thought our starting right wing for the Rugby World Cup semi-final would be Sevu Reece, rather than Ben Smith.

And to Steve Hansen's credit, he rewarded form rather than loyalty.

Sevu Reece celebrates with teammate Scott Barrett
Sevu Reece celebrates with teammate Scott Barrett Photo credit: Getty

From where Sevu Reece was a year ago, a domestic assault charge and a torn up contract with Connacht, given a lifeline by the Crusaders, and cementing a starting roll for the All Blacks, it's been a remarkable turn around.
Ollie Ritchie, Newshub sports reporter and host of The Cup 19 podcast 

SONNY BILL WILLIAMS 

When you think of Sonny Bill Williams, you don't think 'breakout' stars.

He's 34 and very much in the twilight of his career. Despite that, in 2019 we saw a 'new' SBW I hadn't witnessed before.

He broke out of the All Blacks hard-man mould and we saw a man of compassion, understanding, and respect following the March 15 shootings in Christchurch.

Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams Photo credit: Photosport

I like many people have been critical of various decisions and career moves he has made in the past.

But to play a vital healing role in the muslim community this year speaks volumes to a man who showed us our rugby boys can have a bigger role and responsilitly to our country, than bringing home silverware.
Mitch McCann, Newshub reporter 

RICHIE MO'UNGA

Richie Mo'unga
Richie Mo'unga Photo credit: Photosport

While the All Blacks' semi-final exit from the World Cup still has Kiwi rugbyheads crying into their beer, Mo'unga's emergence as first-choice first-five was a revelation.

The Crusaders pivot began the year as New Zealand's third-string No.10 - at least in the selectors' eyes - behind Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie.

But when McKenzie fell early to a season-ending knee injury, Mo'unga jumped a spot in the rankings and further pressed his case, as his side grabbed their third straight Super Rugby title.

His form was so impressive, the All Blacks gambled by moving the world's best first-five to fullback - and ultimately dropping perhaps the world's best fullback altogether.

Whatever you think of the World Cup result, the Mo'unga-Barrett playmaking combo showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season.

With a new coaching hierarchy taking over the national side and McKenzie presumably returning to full fitness, the scramble for first-five and fullback positions looms as one of the most intriguing question marks hanging over the All Blacks in 2020.
Grant Chapman, Newshub sport digital editor

SEVU REECE
After taking out the top try scorer gong in the Mitre 10 Cup in 2018 for Waikato, Reece made the step up to Super Rugby and shone for the Crusaders.

Brought in as injury cover for Israel Dagg, Reece established himself as the best right winger in New Zealand.

Sevu Reece starred for the Crusaders
Sevu Reece starred for the Crusaders Photo credit: Photosport

He was the top try scorer in the competition and a key attacking weapon for the Super Rugby champions.

Reece debuted for the All Blacks in July against Argentina, before earning the full time starting gig with a masterful performance against the Wallabies at Eden Park.
Luke Robinson, Newshub online sport producer 

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