Year in Review: Fearless sporting predictions for 2021

Twelve months ago, the sporting world was bracing for an Olympic year, with all the world records and upsets that come with that spectacular five-ring circus.

No-one was predicting what we got instead.

This year tested sport to its limit, with events cancelled around the world, careers ending prematurely and everyone taking stock in the face of COVID-19.

What will 2021 bring? Newshub's so-called sporting experts stare into the crystal ball for clues...

William Hewett, Newshub online sports producer

The Warriors to finish top four and lose one game short of a Grand Final

What's a fearless prediction without the Warriors? The last two years, we have predicted the Warriors would make the top eight and what a shock, they haven't.

Just like the Warriors mantra says: 'Keep the faith' and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

After a brutal year when the club was based in Australia for the entire competition, we finally saw some pride and passion in the jersey. I believe this season has been the building block for something special.

After recruiting heavily during the year and in the off-season to bring in star players like Addin Fonua-Blake, Kane Evans, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Bailey Sironen, the Warriors find themselves with one of the best forward packs in the competition.

I'm going out on a limb to say, not only will they make the top eight, but they will finish in the top four and fall just short of the championship game.

Hurricanes to win Super Rugby Aotearoa

After four years of Crusaders domination, Super Rugby Aotearoa is due for a change. The team that will stand up will surprise many - the Hurricanes.

They might lack star power in the inside backs, but they arguably have the best 12-15 in the competition. With barnstorming Ngani Laumape at second-five, the best fullback in the country in Jordie Barrett and Mitre 10 Cup superstar Salesi Rayasi, the side from the Capital are in for a huge 2021.  

Throw in rampaging Ardie Savea, the niggly Dane Coles and the turnover machine in Du'Plessis Kirifi, and the Hurricanes have a side ready to explode in 2021. 

Once Barrett came back from injury this year, the 'Canes were the best team in the competition, beating the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs. 

2021 will be the year for the mighty Hurricanes to grab their second Super Rugby title. 

Clearly, William Hewett is a Wellingtonian.

Brad Lewis, Newshub online sports producer

Dan Hooker to beat Conor McGregor and win UFC lightweight title 

Okay, so a lot needs to happen for the 'Hangman' to the reach the summit of the UFC, but I can see it happening.

The Kiwi will win his next fight against former champion Rafael dos Anjos in March, before going five rounds with Tony Ferguson in the 2021 Fight of the Year.

Dan Hooker defeats Paul Felder
Dan Hooker defeats Paul Felder. Photo credit: Photosport

Meanwhile, Justin Gaethje wins the vacant title, beating Michael Chandler with a violent first-round knockout, but loses the strap in his first defence against Conor McGregor.

With a COVID-19 vaccine in full force, the UFC sends its roadshow to Dublin, where McGregor defends his newly won gold against the likeable New Zealander in September.

Hooker shocks the world with a third-round win, via rear-naked-choke, and the Aucklander joins stablemates Israel Adesanya (more on him shortly) and Aussie Alex Volkanovski as UFC champions.

Israel Adesanya to make UFC history

Never in UFC history has a fighter claimed titles in three different weight classes - that will change in 2021.

First, 'The Last Stylebender' will knock out UFC light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in March to claim the 205lb (93kg) title.

On the same night, Jon Jones makes his heavyweight debut and destroys contender Derek Lewis in the first round to book a shot at the belt, held by Stipe Miocic, after he turned back the challenge of the violent Francis Ngannou in February.

Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya
Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya. Photo credit: Getty

Jones beats Miocic in June to stand atop the heavyweight ranks and calls out arch-rival Adesanya, who had defended his middleweight title in style in Auckland, stopping former champion Robert Whittaker.

The two meet in the most-anticipated fight in UFC history in New York in October, and Adesanya survives early trouble, knocking out Jones in the fifth round with a vicious head kick.

The Nigerian-Kiwi becomes the first fighter in UFC history to hold three belts in three different weight classes, all at the same time.

Last year, Lewis predicted Steve Smith would regain the Australian cricket captaincy, Australia would win the Bledisloe Cup and Deontay Wilder would become undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion. None of that happened.

James Regan, Newshub sport reporter

Liverpool to retain the Premier league by a landslide 

Obviously, Liverpool haven't been as good as they were last year, when they claimed their first Premier League title, but they're coping better than most with the trials the COVID-19 has brought.

Liverpool celebrate their 2019/20 EPL title
Liverpool celebrate their 2019/20 EPL title. Photo credit: Getty

Along with Tottenham (who will surely fade away), they’ve ground out results and are on the up. WIth Virgil van Dijk set to return in the new year, the red Rolls Royce won't take long to fire again.

Warriors to make NRL top six

I refuse to say "it's their year", but hear me out.

Without a doubt they have one of the most impressive forward packs in the NRL. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu’a on form, they’re formidable on attack too.

Add that to the experience of 2020, where their commitment, attitude and resolve seemed to turn a corner under Todd Payten, and you have to believe. 

Tyson Fury to knock out Anthony Joshua 

Regardless of what happens, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime fight - the best of British going head to head for heavyweight glory.

Fury seems destined to win, after everything he’s been through to this point. You just get the feeling he might be too smart and too fast for AJ. 

Last year, Regan predicted Liverpool would win the EPL/Champions League double - he was half right.

Grant Chapman, Newshub online sports editor

Lydia Ko to win her third LPGA 'Major'

Once a child prodigy and No.1 women's golfer in the world as a teenager, Ko has gone through some lean years, where the only time she makes headlines is when she replaces another coach.

But during 2020, while the world was going crazy around her, a very different, more mature Ko began to emerge on the circuit, forcing her way back onto tournament leaderboards.

Kiwi golfer Lydia Ko in action
Kiwi golfer Lydia Ko in action. Photo credit: Getty

She looks calm and relaxed, and really seems to be enjoying the game again.

Ko, 23, is still only ranked No.29, but as latest coach Sean Foley - who has guided Tiger Woods previously - says: "I think 2021 is going to be an incredible year."

NZ Breakers to capture their fifth ANBL crown

Five years have passed since the Auckland-based basketball franchise won their fourth Aussie championship.

Since then, the club has been sold to new owners, who dismantled much of the culture that had proved so successful over the previous five years.

Many of those changes have been hard to fathom or stomach, but last season, there were glimpses the new regime was very close to producing the goods.

Led by Tom Abercrombie and Corey Webster, the roster contains a core of talented Kiwis in their prime, supplemented by MVP contender Lamar Patterson and guided by astute coach Dan Shamir.

With COVID-19 promising to be a factor in the coming season, hopefully the Breakers can capture some of the cohesion that saw the Warriors through their home-away-from-home NRL campaign and add to their trophy haul.

Last year, Grant Chapman predicted Steven Adams would finally play for the Tall Blacks and Robbie Manson would finally live up to his rowing potential for an Olympic medal. Neither happened.

NZ Breakers huddle
NZ Breakers huddle. Photo credit: Photosport

Luke Robinson, Newshub sports reporter

Hayden Wilde to win Olympic triathlon medal

The Kiwi triathlete has made every post a winner, since taking up the sport a few years ago.

The one-year delay will help the youngster, as he continues to pave a path in the swim/bike/run event, and after a third at the trial event, he is ready to go. 

Lydia Ko to win third 'Major' 

The Kiwi golfer has been through a patchy few years, since bursting onto the scene six or so years ago.

But with a new coach, who has her enjoying the game again and being herself, she has started to put results together.

A second-place finish and a handful of top 10s this season has set the 23-year-old up for a huge 2020, when I think she picks up her third Major title. 

Twelve months ago, Luke Robinson predicted Tiger Woods would regain the world No.1 golf ranking - it didn't happen.

Stephen Foote, Newshub online sports producer

Miami Heat to return to the NBA Finals

Plenty of pundits and fans alike have pointed to the Heat's unlikely run to the NBA Finals against eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers last season as nothing more than a fluke.

The NBA's playoffs bubble undoubtedly suited the team's militaristic approach to the game, where - under the expert guidance of coach Erik Spoelstra - their exquisite, unselfish brand of basketball propelled them to stunning series wins over the likes of Boston Celtics and top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

Jimmy Butler in action for Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler in action for Miami Heat. Photo credit: Getty

But, circumstances considered, does it deserve an asterisk? The answer is an emphatic no.

A refreshing relief from their superstar-driven adversaries, this squad is greater than the sum of its parts - and those parts are only going to improve. 

Young centre Bam Adebayo, and rookies Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson were revelations during that fairytale playoffs run, and emboldened by their play in the bubble, they will take another leap forward, alongside All Star Jimmy Butler, who proved he deserved to be spoken about among the game's elite.

'Heat Culture' is real, my friends. Get on board with the people's champions, before you're accused of being a bandwagoner.

Actually, it's probably too late for that.

Last year, Stephen Foote picked Luka Doncic to win NBA Most Valuable Player. Close, but no cigar.