Year in review: Sporting names to watch in 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.

But there were some who used 2020 as a springboard for their sporting ambitions.

Caleb Clarke, Will Jordan, Liam Lawson and Kyle Jamieson exploded onto the national and international stage.

What will 2021 bring? Newshub's so-called sporting experts stare into the crystal ball and predict names that could make their mark.

Rachin Ravindra

Luke Robinson, Newshub sports reporter

The 21-year-old has made his way through the cricketing ranks over the last year or so, and after two centuries for the NZA side, he is poised to make his name at the highest level in 2021.

With Tom Blundell far from established at the top of the Blackcaps test lineup, Ravindra is a prime candidate to be the long-term solution to fix that problem. He is also a viable contender in limited overs cricket, with his handy left arm spin providing a genuine sixth bowling option.

Ravindra is Daniel Vettori 2.0.

Peter Umaga-Jensen

William Hewett, Newshub online sports producer

After breakthrough performances in Super Rugby Aotearoa, Peter Umaga-Jensen is ready to explode in 2021. 

Making his All Blacks debut against the Wallabies in Auckland in 2020, Umaga-Jensen first touch in the black jersey saw him burst through the line to set up an All Blacks attack.

The barn-storming midfielder dominated high school rugby with Scots College to give them their first national title in 2014.

With neither Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue cementing their spot in the midfield with tardy performances in 2020, it's an opportunity for Umaga-Jensen to claim the jersey he desperately craves.  

Rugby runs in the blood of the big six foot two midfielder. He is the nephew of former All Black captain Tana Umaga and the late former All Black Jerry Collins, while his cousin Jacob Umaga received his first call up to the England squad for the 2020 Six Nations Championship.

After an eye-opening 2020, everything is there for Peter Umaga-Jensen to be the breakout star of 2021.

Peter Umaga-Jensen in action during the second Bledisloe Cup.
Peter Umaga-Jensen in action during the second Bledisloe Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

Taine Murray

Grant Chapman, Newshub sport online editor

Among the huge benefits of this year’s NBL Showdown was the opportunity to see NZ basketball talent that might have flown beneath the radar under previous formats.

With other leagues around the world stalled by COVID-19 and no imported players allowed in NZ to steal the local limelight, our national competition showcased Kiwi players who might otherwise have plied their trade in Europe or the US college system, or cooled their heels on the bench. 

Still at Rosmini College, Murray gave us a sneak preview of ability that may see him lead the next generation of Tall Blacks.

Before breaking his hand, the 1.96m guard averaged 17.5 points across 10 appearances for Auckland Huskies, torching eventual runners-up Manawatu Jets for 35 (including seven three-pointers) and dropping 28 (including six treys) on Taranaki Mountain Airs.

Murray has a development contract with NZ Breakers this summer, but will head to University of Virginia next year, where he will fall under the guidance of coach Tony Bennett.

The former NBA and North Harbour Vikings guard has already influenced Kiwis Kirk Penney, Tom Abercrombie and Jack Salt during their careers - Murray could not be in better hands.

Auckland Huskies Taine Murray.
Auckland Huskies Taine Murray. Photo credit: Photosport

Jay-Jay Wilson

Stephen Foote, Newshub online sports producer

Kiwi mixed martial artist Jay-Jay Wilson isn't afforded the same limelight as his UFC-affiliated compatriots but, make no mistake, the 23-year-old phenom is one of the country's most promising combat sports talents.

Based in San Diego, where he fights out of renowned Alliance MMA, 'The Māori Kid' enjoyed a landmark year in 2020, winning all three of his bouts with elite American promotion Bellator, earning a nomination as its 'Breakthrough Fighter of the Year'.

Year in review: Sporting names to watch in 2021
Photo credit: Supplied

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt hangs his hat on his suffocating and relentless grappling offence, but boasts an almost equally dangerous kickboxing attack, no better exemplified than in his jaw-dropping 20-second blitzkrieg of Sergio de Bari in November.

Expect Wilson to take another huge leap in 2021 to move into featherweight title contention and garner more of the mainstream recognition he deserves, particularly in light of the hardship he's overcome to reach these heights.

And he's not done climbing.

Mick Schumacher 

Brad Lewis, Newshub online sports producer

While his name resonates with motorsport fans, the rise of Schumacher Jr into Formula One has gone relatively un-noticed.

The 21-year-old has scorched his way through support category after support category as part of Ferrari's junior driver program (alongside Kiwi Marcus Armstrong), culminating in a F2 title in 2020. 

Year in review: Sporting names to watch in 2021
Photo credit: Getty

Make no mistake - Schumacher's ascension to the main game is just as much to do about his talent as it is his name. Like his legendary father, he is quick, aggressive, charismatic and a winner. 

While Haas aren't about to challenge the big guns for a world championship, expect Schumacher to emulate father Michael (1991 driving for Jordan), and open the eyers of the world at some point on the season with a podium finish. 

It's only a matter of time before the son of a gun is standing atop that podium, wearing the infamous red of Ferrari.

Like father like son.