22 December 2023

2023 Year in Review: Sport around the Riverina

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The Riverina is renowned for producing top class sports men and women and 2023 was no different. Take a look at what made sporting news throughout the year – you will never guess what was number one!

16. How do country footy clubs afford their growing wage bills?
by Michael Hargreaves

Rugby league

There can be big money on offer in country footy. Photo: Chris Roe.

Footy is big business in Australia and it’s true that there are big dollars to be made, but when it comes to funding footy at a grassroots level, things can get complex and remarkably inventive.

Some country town footy teams in the Riverina have wage bills as high as $200,000, with top players earning more from kicking a ball than in their full-time jobs, while others maintain it’s all about “pride in the guernsey”.

15. US academy shows interest in young Wagga basketballer
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Wani Gwada

Nineteen-year-old Wani Gwada received a partial scholarship from the Florida Sports Academy to play in the Post High School Basketball Association. Photo: Supplied.

Wagga’s Wani Gwada is one step closer to attaining his dream of becoming a professional basketball player.

The 19-year-old will attend Florida Sports Academy, where he will play in the Post High School Basketball Association for the academy.

He will play against other prep schools, post-grads, and even colleges, and be hoping to receive a scholarship to attend college for free.

14. The Indigo Epic Trail takes riders through spectacular country between Yackandandah and Beechworth
by Josef Winkler

Rider's view on mountain bike on a trail

The view mountain bikers enjoy as they ride through Ferny Gully on the Indigo Epic Trail. Photo: Josef Winkler.

The ‘Indigo Epic Trail’ stretches 56 km between the historic bustling villages of Yackandandah and Beechworth, the town known for its iconic cobblestone roundabouts and the famous Beechworth Bakery.

This awesome mountain biking trail takes riders through a series of diverse landscapes and can be an all-day adventure or an enjoyable couple of hours depending on which loops you choose.

Wagga mountain biker Josef Winkler takes us for a trip along one of his favourite rides in the region.

13. Griffith basketball star to tour USA after national championship captaincy success
by Oliver Jacques

Mum and daughter on basketball court

Mum Kylie Coleman is proud of Timeeka’s success. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith Basketball Association’s Timeeka Coleman will tour the USA with an elite squad later this year, after a successful stint as NSW Country captain in the national basketball championships. It will bring her a step closer to what she calls her “crazy dream”.

12. Big-time goal closer as Griffith’s Abby Favell selected in Geelong Cats VFLW leadership group
by Oliver Jacques

Aussie rules player

Abby Favell dreams of playing in the AFLW. Photo: Arj Giese/Geelong Cats Media.

Griffith’s Abby Favell has been chosen in the five-woman Geelong Cats Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) leadership group in her debut season with the club.

The 20-year-old’s achievement is remarkable given how little top-class Aussie rules she has played. Her early career was hampered by the lack of a regular Aussie rules girls’ team in Griffith, while over the past few seasons, COVID and injury have disrupted her playing schedule.

11. Riverina athlete wins silver at Youth Commonwealth Games
by Michael Murphy

Indi is flanked by her parents in the stands of the Hasely Crawford Stadium

Indi is flanked by her parents in the stands of the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Photo: Supplied.

Gundagai’s Indiana Cooper has overcome the Caribbean heat and humidity to win silver at the Youth Commonwealth Games.

The local sprinter ran a fantastic time of 14.01 seconds in the 100m final of the T-38 classification of the games, running a valiant second to English runner, Maddie Down.

10. Region Riverina vs Kangaroos skipper Nathan Rose
by Glenn Pallister

Rugby league action

Nathan Rose (centre) steers the Kangaroos forward. Photo: Wagga Kangaroos RLFC.

Wagga Kangaroos RLFC captain-coach Nathan Rose is one of Group 9’s leading playmakers with an impressive record in the Riverina. Read about some of the things that make him tick.

9. Barellan bagel blitz and 19 Condons highlight 102nd Griffith MIA Open
by Oliver Jacques

two teenage girls

Rising star Jane Haeusler and Megan Polkinghorne won the open ladies’ doubles at the Griffith MIA Open on the weekend. Photos: Oliver Jacques.

A teenage product of Barellan Central School has won the Griffith Tennis Club MIA Open main ladies’ event with a string of perfect 6-0 sets. The tournament also featured an incredible 19 members of one family with deep connections to the club, as well as a few celebrity guests.

8. Region Riverina vs Junee Diesels’ Daniel Foley
by Glenn Pallister

Daniel Foley

Daniel Foley is happy to be back with the reborn Junee Diesels. Photo: Supplied.

Daniel Foley made the move back to his hometown of Junee this season after finishing the 2022 rugby league season by winning the Wagga Kangaroos’ Best and Fairest Award.

A proud rugby league town boasting names such as former Canberra, NSW and Australian icon Laurie Daley and NRL Hall of Fame commentator the great Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren, Junee was unable to field a first grade team for two seasons after COVID-19.

The time away from Junee during that hiatus didn’t hurt Foley’s football at all, starting with a season at Wagga crosstown rivals Southcity Bulls, before a shining season with the Roos.

7. Hanwood soccer prodigy eyes national championship after representing NSW in Japan
by Oliver Jacques

father and daughter in a park

Natasha Stradiotto with dad and role model Angelo. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith junior soccer star Natasha Stradiotto has been selected for the NSW Country team to compete in the upcoming Girls’ National Youth Championship in October, after successfully representing her state at an international tournament in Japan.

The 15-year-old, who grew up in Hanwood, played for a junior NSW side at the Balcom BMW Cup in the Asian country.

6. Griffith junior rugby star accepted into elite Canberra sports program
by Oliver Jacques

Reece with her mum and sister outside

Reese Vidler (middle) with mum and coach Jacklyn Vidler and sister Addison. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Coached by her mum, a Murrumbidgee Regional High School and Griffith Blacks Rugby junior star has won a Riverina championship, played as the only girl in a boys team and now been selected into an elite sports program in Canberra.

Reese Vidler has now been accepted into Erindale College’s talented sports program in Canberra.

5. Region Riverina vs Group 9’s Braydon Sharrock (Wagga Kangaroos)
by Glenn Pallister

Rugby league player

Braydon Sharrock was sidelined in round one with a knee injury. Photo: Supplied.

Braydon Sharrock is a barnstorming veteran front-rower for the Wagga Kangaroos in Group 9 Rugby League and has been a fixture of the competition for more than a decade.

Big ‘Braydo’ is also a serving NSW police officer who has represented the boys in blue in footy at an international level, making his debut for the Australian Police team and scoring a try against a New Zealand side in Melbourne in 2014.

4. Binya teenager Harry Rowston scores with first touch as family watches AFL debut in Perth
by Oliver Jacques

Tome Greene with his arm around Harry Rowston

Giants player Tom Greene with Binya’s Harry Rowston. Photo: AFL Photos/GWS Giants.

Binya teenager Harry Rowston had a near-dream start to his AFL career, narrowly missing a goal with his first touch of the ball in his big league AFL debut for the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants against the West Coast Eagles in Perth.

After making the starting lineup in jumper number 24, vacated by retired legend Matt de Boer, midfielder Rowston secured his first possession in the seventh minute, taking a difficult angled shot from 40 metres out that shaded the left-hand upright for a one-point behind.

3. Hard work, culture and spirit set Wagga boxer Dan Jeffries apart in the ring
by Chris Roe

Dan Jeffries

Trainer Wilfred Williams and NSW champ Dan Jeffries. Photo: Chris Roe.

Up-and-coming Wagga boxer Daniel Jeffries and his trainer (and uncle) Wilfred Williams have a unique way of communicating when things are heating up in the ring.

“We’re both really passionate and we do communicate a lot throughout the fight and we actually speak in Wiradjuri language,” said the 25-year-old fighter.

“I guess I take it for granted because I hear it all the time from Uncle Will, but when I think about it, it’s pretty powerful that cultural connection I have with my coach.”

2. The Gundagai couple keeping a footy club on the field
by Michael Murphy

man and woman footy trainers

Tireless Gundagai Tigers trainers Kay and Craig Makeham have been giving back to the community for many years. Photos: Supplied.

Sports trainers Craig and Kay Makeham have been looking after the Gundagai Tigers players at junior and senior levels for a combined total of 45 years. The community-minded locals are among a strong band of volunteers who work tirelessly to help the Group 9 Rugby League club achieve on-field success.

The Tigers are a community sports club with a proud history that dates back to 1921. They have become one of the most successful Group 9 Rugby League clubs of the 21st century, with a wide following that stretches way beyond the banks of the Murrumbidgee.

1. Griffith dancer bounces stereotypes in debut as Roosters cheerleader
by Oliver Jacques

Jessika Griffith and Lara Salvestro in cheerleader outfits

Lara Salvestro (right) and her friend Jessika Griffith. Photo: Supplied.

Griffith dancer Lara Salvestro made her debut as a topflight cheerleader for NRL club the Sydney Roosters on 11 March, featuring in their round two match against the New Zealand Warriors at Allianz Stadium.

Lara, 21, who plied her trade at Shannon Dance Studio for more than a decade, said the selection process was like nothing she’d ever experienced.

“Cheerleading is such a cutthroat industry,” she said. “You’re a big fish in a small pond when dancing in Griffith. But in Sydney there is so much competition … I had to go through three rounds of auditions.”

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