It’s that time of the year when we’re all reflective on what’s been a massive 2023.
So we figured it’d be a fun exercise to reflect back on the top moments in WA sport in 2023 – here they are in no particular order:
East Freo ends 25-year WAFL premiership drought
East Fremantle may be the most decorated WAFL club with 30 flags, but their recent history hadn’t been successful at all, with no premierships in the past 25 years. However, that long drought was ended in September when the Sharks knocked off Peel Thunder by 39 points at Optus Stadium in front of more than 27,000 fans. The Blue and white kicked the first three goals of the game and never looked back, led by Simpson Medal winner Milan Murdock with 27 disposals.
Ange makes Tottenham debut in Perth
Big English Premier League clubs have made a habit of swinging into Perth in recent winters for their off-season tours, but the visit of Tottenham was made more special, given it marked Aussie manager Ange Postecoglou’s first game in charge. More than 46,000 supporters turned out on a cold mid-July evening and they were entertained as West Ham won 3-2 over Ange’s Spurs. Tottenham proceeded to enjoy their best-ever Premier League start, sitting top of the table after 10 games, spearheaded by the Aussie.
Nina pole vaults to gold at World Champs
Busselton-born pole vaulter Nina Kennedy had a moment to remember in August when she won gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. The 26-year-old West Aussie, who is a Commonwealth Games gold medalist, is a perennial contender in the sport, having won the bronze at last year’s World Champs in Eugene. But in Budapest she cleared a near-career best 4.9m which she couldn’t better. But nor could her nearest rival Katie Moon, before the pair eventually opted to share the gold, cueing wild celebrations.
UFC 284 hits Perth as Della Maddalena continues rise
In a year where UFC 284 came to Perth with Alex Volkanovski losing to Islam Makhachev in front of a raucous sell-out crowd at RAC Arena in February, Aquinas College’s Jack Della Maddalena had a break out 2023 in the sport. After being ESPN’s 2022 UFC Men’s Rookie of the Year, Della Maddalena went from strength to strength, beating Randy Brown by submission in Perth, before wins over Bassil Hafez and Kevin Holland, setting him up for a welterweight bout against Gilbert Burns in March at UFC 299 next year in Miami.
West Coast legends bow out together in Round 24
It was a lean 2023 for AFL in WA, with the Eagles finishing last and the Dockers slipping from finals contenders down to 14th . Both clubs missed the finals in AFLW too, however there were a few shining moments, but arguably none better than the retirements of ex-West Coast captains Luke Shuey and Shannon Hurn alongside Nic Naitanui in Round 24 against Adelaide. Leader-by-example Hurn guided West Coast to the 2018 premiership in a game where Shuey won the Norm Smith medal for best afield, while Naitanui’s cult status is well-known, thus the trio’s absence will be felt by Eagles supporters.
Liam Hendriks’ MLB return from cancer diagnosis
Liam Hendriks isn’t a household name in Perth but the Sacred Heart College graduate is one of WA’s best paid athletes and produced one of the feel-good stories in 2023. Hendriks is a relief pitcher in the USA’s Major League Baseball, where he’s previously been a three-time All-Star. However, in January he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and began treatment. Four months later he finished chemotherapy and was soon cancer free. In May he returned to the mound to pitch for the Boston White Sox in the MLB. It was an amazing effort, landing him the American League Comeback Player of the Year gong.
Titles galore for golf siblings Min Woo and Minjee
You know Perth is still a small place when a pair of siblings make a list like this, but it’s hard to ignore the achievements of Fremantle brother-sister Min Woo and Minjee Lee in golf in 2023. After a slow start to the calendar year, Minjee returned to the LPGA Tour winners’ list in September, triumphing at the $3m Queen City Championship in Cincinnati. Three weeks later, she saluted at the BMW Ladies Championship in Korea, climbing back to no.4 in the world. In November, she won Australian golf’s Greg Norman medal.
In June, Min Woo tied for fifth at the prestigious US Open, finishing only five shots off the leader. It was a sign of things to come in 2023, winning the Macao Open in October with a tournament record, before his brilliant victory at the Australian PGA Championship in Brisbane, chef hat and all.
Bison’s redemption amid Ashes drama and World Cup triumph
Who can forget the gripping 2023 Ashes in England where Australia clung on for a 2-2 series draw to retain the urn? It was a series of controversy, headlined by Jonny Bairstow’s stumping by Alex Carey off the bowling of WA’s Cam Green in the second Test at Lord’s. Green’s role in all this was minor, hence he was spared the ‘cheat’ chants by the gentile Lord’s members.
WA all-rounder Mitch Marsh’s breakthrough and blazing run-a-ball century in the third Test in Leeds was a significant triumph and he has maintained that form line with a Player of the Match performance at his home Test against Pakistan recently (where Nathan Lyon took his 500th Test wicket). Marsh along with WA’s Marcus Stoinis, Josh Inglis and Green all played roles as Australia lifted the 50-over World Cup in India in November too. Marsh’s 177* against Bangladesh was his personal highlight.
Scorchers light up Optus as teenager Connolly turns the game
For sheer drama and pure euphoria, few live events will beat the 2023 Big Bash League Final won by the Perth Scorchers. Almost 54,000 fans packed into Optus Stadium for the decider where the Scorchers were billed as the favourites. In fact, The West Australian ran a back page labelling opponents Brisbane Heat as “nobodies” to fuel the drama.
Despite that, Brisbane appeared on track for victory throughout after posting an imposing 7-175 until the sensational heroics of teenager Cooper Connolly who blasted two massive sixes, before accountant-cum-cricketer Nick Hobson hit the winning runs to cue the unrestrained celebrations both on the field and in the stands. It was part of another remarkable season for WA’s men’s cricket teams, also lifting the Marsh One-Day Cup and Sheffield Shield crowns to complete back-to-back domestic trebles.
Women’s World Cup fever, Sam Kerr drama and Matildas sell-out Perth
Australia was gripped by the Matildas fever during the Women’s World Cup in July and August which it co-hosted with New Zealand as our golden Aussie girls went on a dramatic run to the semi-finals. That Matildas’ squad was captained by WA’s own Sam Kerr who had her own dramas throughout the tournament due to a calf injury suffered on the eve of their opening game.
Kerr eventually made her first start in the semi-finals against England and produced one of the most memorable moments of the year when she fired home a long-range shot to equalise in the 63rd minute. It was a moment of triumph after her cruelly untimely injury, but Australia only felt eight minutes of ecstasy before England turned the game on its head with two goals to win 3-1.
Perth hosted five World Cup group games which were well attended, with an average of 17,056 per game. But Perth’s Matildas highlight came in October when the team played three Olympic qualifiers in town, including one at Optus Stadium where Kerr netted a hat-trick in an 8-0 win over the Philippines in front of a sell-out 59,155 fans. Around that, Premier Roger Cook announced the state’s newly constructed football facility would be called the Sam Kerr Football Centre, further cementing her icon status.