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The top five moments in Australian sport during 2015

IT’S that time of year to look back and reflect on what has passed during a 2015 that has had its ups, downs, dramas and joy.

Australia, the sports-mad country, has had an eventful 12 months. We’ve seen underdogs triumph, heroes endure under extreme circumstances and the nation has tasted the ultimate success in a number of international events.

We take a look back at the top five moments in Australian Sport in 2015 – have your favourites made our list?

Mick Fanning

He didn’t win anything – except our hearts.

What a year it was for the three time surfing World Champion.

In July, Fanning made world headlines while surfing in the final of the J-Bay Open when a shark decided to have a go at him.

It was some of the most harrowing footage we’ve seen as the shark first circled and then careened into the 34 year old.

Some how he managed to escape its clutches, but it left him with serious emotional scars that threatened to derail his quest for a fourth world title.

But Fanning is made of sterner stuff. He fought back from that scare to put himself in a position to take the crown again.

Flash forward to December and Fanning was on the cusp of winning his fourth title when tragedy struck.

Preparing to surf in the quarter finals of the Pipe Masters in Hawaii, Fanning received the news that his brother had died in his sleep back home in Australia.

It was the second time he had lost a brother after another had passed away in a car crash in 1998.

An emotional Fanning forced himself to compete and he managed to make it through to the semi final, before he was defeated by Gabriel Medina, allowing Adriano de Souza to win the event and take the title from his grasps.

The loss seemed to pale in comparison to Fanning’s loss and the courage he showed to fight through it.

De Souza probably said it best:

“He has had so many personal things going on but he is such a true champion.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Ronda Rousey

No, she’s not an Aussie, but the stunning Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s most bankable star, gave us all MMA fever when she hit our shores in November.

It was the first UFC event ever staged in Melbourne after the state government lifted laws banning organised fighting in cages, and boy was it a hit.

The UFC 193 event at Etihad Stadium unseated Toronto Canada with it record setting attendance number of 56,214, surpassing the previous record of 55,724.

The gate was a record for the stadium of $9.5 million.

And they were all there to see Rousey, whose main event fight against Holly ‘Preacher’s Daughter’ Holm lived up to the hype – for its surprise factor.

You see, Rousey was supposed to wipe the floor with the former boxing world champion to keep her undefeated UFC record in tact.

But it didn’t quite pan out like that.

Rousey and Holm hadn’t quite let the hate burst out in the lead up to the fight, but, as they came together in the ring, her move not to touch gloves with Holm might have signalled what was to come.

Perhaps she was worried?

Whatever it was, it was clear after the first round that Holm was more than a match for her and, 59 seconds into the second round, it was over, Holm delivering a brutal left foot kick to her face that had her seeing stars.

Rousey’s past three fights had lasted a total of 64 seconds, but, the longer it went, the more chance her opponent had.

Her dream of retiring undefeated evaporated, now 12-1, and, for a second, it felt like she was just another fighter.

But this is Ronda Rousey and she will be back.

Jason Day wins the PGA Championship

So often the brides maid, never the bride.

Star Aussie golfer Jason Day had four top 10 finishes at the majors, including tying for second at the US Open two year’s ago, and it looked like he may never be able to claim one of the biggest golfing tournaments in the world.

In 2015, he battled vertigo to finish in the top 10 at the US Open and finished in the top five at the British Open.

But it was finally his time when he remarkably became the first player in history to fire 20 under par at a major, claiming the PGA Championship at the Whistling Straits course in Wisconsin, defeating superstar Jordan Spieth by three shots.

He became the fifth Australian to win the PGA Championship, after Jim Ferrier (1947), David Graham (1979), Wayne Grady (1990) and Steve Elkington (1995).

In the wake of the emotional victory, Day revealed he had lived a troubled childhood, suffering beatings and abuse at the hands of his father.

“I remember once shooting a (poor) score, and he goes, ‘You’re going to get it in the parking lot’,” Day said in a confronting interview.

“So I get in the car. I’m scared. We drive out of the club, he stops on the side of the road. He just starts whaling on me with both hands, closed-fist punching. I was 11. I had bruises all over me. But I mean, it is what it is.”

His ability to overcome those demons to become one of the best golfers in the world makes him one of this year’s most inspirational sporting stories.

Michelle Payne and Prince of Penzance salute at 100-1

It was just one of those perfect Melbourne Cups stories.

Michelle Payne, on a mount only the most dreamy punters thought had a chance, smashing through racing’s glass ceiling by piloting Darren Weir trained Prince of Penzance home at Flemington.

The $101 outsider beat English Stayer Max Dynamite and Aussie star Criterion past the post to become one of the longest priced winners of the Melbourne Cup in its 155 year history.

And the feisty Payne – who became the first female jockey to win a Melbourne Cup – had a message for the male dominated sport.

“To think that (trainer) Darren Weir has given me a go and it’s (racing) such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and (owner) John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me,” Payne said.

“I can’t say how grateful I am to them.

“I just wanted to say that everyone else get stuffed, because they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world.”

“I feel sorry for all of the girls out there that haven’t had the opportunity, that I’m the first one, because I think every one of them deserves it.”

Payne’s family, which has a rich racing history, had been perhaps her toughest critic, attempting to convince her to quit riding after a series if falls, including one that left her with a fractured skull.

But she did not relent and has now written herself into the history books.

Johnathon Thurston wins the NRL Premiership

Well, it was the North Queensland Cowboys, but it may as well have been the Little Master’s premiership.

Already in the discussion for greatest league player of all time, the four time Dally M winner had always wanted to bring a title to his beloved North Queensland Cowboys.

It had been 10 years since the Cowboys had even made a grand final, But that all changed when Thurston and his Cowboys beat the Broncos in a 17-16 golden point thriller.

Guess whose boot that golden point came off? That’s right, JT.

But it almost wasn’t to be.

Down 16-12 with no time left on the clock, the Cowboys remarkably crossed the line on the sixth tackle as the final hooter sounded, tying up the scores.

Thurston had one kick to give the Cowboys the premiership.

But it wasn’t to be, his conversion attempt from the side line going oh so close, but crashing into the post.

But order was restored when a devastated Ben Hunt dropped the ball, giving the Cowboys a chance to win it.

Thurston was set up for the golden point and made no mistake with a field goal from 20 metres out in the 83rd minute that sent the crowd – and team mates – into rapture.

It was the Cowboys first title and Thurston’s co-captain Matt Scott was proud of finally being able to win the NRL trophy for the North Queensland region.

“Twenty years through the highs and lows, we have finally got a premiership to bring home,” Scott said.

“I’m just so proud of the boys.

“The effort they showed against such a quality opposition, and just the ability to stick with it, and keep turning up for each other.”

Thurston showed his class by making a bee line for Hunt after the game.

“I told him to hold his head up high,” Thurston said.

“He’s had an outstanding couple of years. He’ll be a great player for years to come. He spent a week in Queensland camp and we saw what he was made of and I know he’ll come back better than ever.

”I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel the weight of the world on his shoulders after that error.“

What a guy!

Honourable mentions:

Australia defeats New Zealand to win the cricket World Cup

It was the perfect World Cup final. The two host nations, going head to head, on sport’s biggest stage, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. And the Aussies did it on the bit, cruising to a seven wicket win, chasing down the Kiwi’s 183 on the back of Michael Clarke’s 74 and Steve Smith’s unbeaten 56.

Socceroos win the Asian Cup on home soil

It took extra time, but the home team Socceroos did the nation proud with a 2-1 win over South Korea, with goals to James Troisi and boom youngster Massimo Luongo. The rising star struck first, finishing a beautiful ball from Trent Sainsbury with a sweet 180 degree turn and blazing drive past the hapless keeper. But South Korea equalised in the dying seconds of the game to send it to extra time. The fairy tale was complete as the Australians won their first Asian Cup through Troisi’s finish, that was set up by some individual brilliance from Tomi Juric.