Gold medals, record-breakers, a State of Origin debut, a Group 1 winning trainer and remarkable goal-scoring feats.
It’s been a massive year for Illawarra’s best sportspeople.
And the Mercury is celebrating their achievements and launching the annual Sportsperson of the Year award.
Check out the 2018 achievements of our shortlisted athletes below and vote.
Voting has now closed. The people’s choice award will be announced alongside the Mercury’s Sportsperson of the Year award on December 29.
2018 MERCURY SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR
Back in the Illawarra fold after a stint in Sydney, the region’s best batsman put his stamp on the competition with a match-winning century in the first grade grand final for Balgownie.
Batty finished on 116, the eighth wicket to fall as Bally made 9-235 off their 80 overs, before holding Helensburgh to 198 to win the premiership.
The patient left-hander also made 75 not out for Greater Illawarra against ACT-Southern and 86 against Newcastle to earn his place in the NSW Bush Blues team for the Australian Country Championships next month.
It’s the seventh time he has earned a the blue cap.
Xavier Cooks has been a US College sensation, taking out the Big South player of the year in February
Playing for Winthrop, before moving to play in the German League, Cooks finished averaging 17.6 points (third), 8.9 rebounds (first), 3.7 assists (second) and 2.1 blocks (first) per game while shooting 51 per cent from the field (3rd).
At 203 centimetres, Cooks is the son of former Illawarra Hawks player and now assistant coach Eric Cooks and was named in the Big South Conference first team the past two years.
He also wore the colours of NBA champions Golden State at the Summer League after missing out on the draft.
Cooks played a key role with the Emerging Boomers at the World University Games in Chinese Taipei and replaced fellow Aussie Mitch Creek at s.Oliver Wurzburg in the Bundesliga.
From Year 12 studies and playing in the Tarsha Gale Cup to being part of the inaugural Women’s NRL season and playing for the Jillaroos.
It’s been a whirlwind ride for a rising rugby league star.
Converting from rugby union, Davis first played rugby league two years ago, having also had a background in oztag, winning an under 16 world title with Australia, and dabbling in other sports including touch football and Australian football.
Dragons coach Daniel Lacey certainly wasn’t about to let his Steelers’ Tarsha Gale Cup skipper slip through the net but, at 17, she was too young to sign the contract.
Thankfully, her 18th birthday fell just in time to ink the the deal that will make her the youngest player in action when the Women’s NRL Premiership.
Yet to play State of Origin for NSW, the Corrimal Cougars talent had forced her way into the Australian squad by the end of the year.
The Coolie King.
Kiama’s Ali Day is part of ironman legend, joining the ranks of the all-time greats by winning a sixth Coolangatta Gold this year.
And not just that he won, but the ease in which he did it.
In the final stages, with his biggest rival TJ Hendy withdrawing mid-race, Day was in cruise control, high fiving fans and stopping to embrace his partner Kel King.
Day has dominated the event since 2012, only missing out in 2014, because of health issues involving exhaustion and a liver problem, but recovered to win the ironman crown in Newcastle the following year.
And he has every intention of maintaining his stranglehold for years to come.
“Yeah for sure, all being well, if I'm not injured or sick,” Day said. “I love this day and I love this race. I’ll keep turning up for as long as I can.”
With a third World Cup appearance beckoning, Lake Illawarra’s Caitlin Foord reminded us all of her immense talent.
Foord transition from versatile defender full of running into an elite attacking weapon is almost complete, scoring three goals for the Matildas against Chile last month.
If Sam Kerr is crucial to Australia’s hopes of winning the tournament in France, starting in June, she will also receive all the attention from rival defenders with it.
And Foord poses another threat, with the Matildas a genuine chance at claiming their first ever World Cup crown.
"I have said it to her many times, but she could be one of the best players in the world," coach Alan Stajcic said after the 5-nil win over Chile, where Foord netted three.
“Caitlin showed glimpses of that today, but for me she still has so much more in her.
"She is such a fantastic mover with the ball, her one v one dribbling skills are amazing."
We’ve adopted her as one of our own, after Ash Gentle moved to train with the elite Wollongong Wizards squad.
And the move paid off where she returned to the Gold Coast to produce “without doubt the best performance of my career” to win the World Triathlon Series grand final.
Gentle emerged from the swim leg just 27 seconds off the leaders and well within striking distance considering her powerful cycle and running abilities.
It all came down to a sprint finish, with Gentle powering away from Brit Vicky Holland, who celebrated claiming the overall world title crown by finishing second.
Gentle also combined with Wollongong training partner Charlotte McShane, as well as former Wizards member Jake Birtwhistle, Matthew Hauser, Luke Willian and Gillian Backhouse to claim the Commonwealth Games triathlon gold in the mixed teams relay.
Pretty much a permanent member of the shortlist – and with good reason.
After a breakthrough six-medal haul at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, McKeon added another six, including four gold at the Gold Coast event this year.
Individual gold in the 100m butterfly was backed up with three relay wins and bronze in the 200m freestyle and 200m butterfly.
Reward for one of the most demanding schedule in international swimming.
McKeon was part of an Aussie trifecta in her event with Madeline Groves (silver) and Brianna Throssell (bronze) in the 100m butterfly.
"I didn't realise until I saw them celebrating as well, it kind of makes it a more memorable moment," McKeon said.
A record-breaking season in the NSW National Premier League saw Wollongong’s Jordan Murray earn a contract with A-League club Central Coast Mariners.
Murray scored 23 goals for APIA Leichhardt this year, the most ever in the competition, after switching from Wollongong Wolves to the Tigers in 2016.
Fellow Wollongong product Josh Macdonald also signed with the Mariners for this campaign.
Murray has played in four games this season but is yet to find the net in the A-League and suffered an ankle injury setback, though he scored two against a South West Sydney expansion bid team of NPL players in a trial.
“My goal is to give my all to the club, my all to my teammates and my all to the coaching staff. I have watched these guys play on TV for so long, so to now be able to learn from them and train alongside them is a huge opportunity to develop my game,” Murray said when he signed.
Flynn Ogilvie is hunting World Cup success in India after claiming gold for Australia with the Kookaburras at the Commonwealth Games.
With pace and penetrative skill to launch the Kookaburras into attack, the 24-year-old has become a key part of the national team since recovering from a major leg injury.
Kookaburras teammate Blake Govers was also set to play at the Commonwealth Games, but was forced out with injury just before the Gold Coast tournament started.
As a result, Ogilvie continued the Illawarra’s fine tradition of hockey gold medallists.
”It was a fantastic experience,” Ogilvie said.
“The Games were definitely a highlight of my career. It is the biggest tournament I’ve played for the Kookaburras.”
It was a bitter-sweet year for the Kembla Grange trainer, but at the end of it Parker can celebrate becoming a Group 1 winner.
Starting a $4.20 favourite, the Parker-trained Dark Dream, with jockey Tim Clark aboard, began to take off at 800m mark at Doomben, before holding off Heavenly Thought in the straight, the fast-finishing Youngstar in third, who would later run in the Melbourne Cup for Chris Waller.
The now four-year-old gelding had been in the money in all 10 of his starts, winning on four occasions, including on a Heavy 8 to win the Queensland Derby.
“I wanted him to go because I know how strong he is,” Parker said.
“When he took over at the 600m I thought 'it's up to you now boy', and he was the strongest stayer.”
But thoughts of a spring carnival campaign towards the Melbourne Cup were over soon after, when the connections took the horse from Parker’s stable and he was later sold to Hong Kong interest for a reported $2.5 million price tag.
Muay Thai fighter David Pennimpede claimed the WBC Oceania light-heavyweight title last month, as he builds an impressive resume.
Pennimpede claimed an impressive unanimous decision win over tough Queenslander Bryce Maguire, having previously beaten Brad Traynor, another Queenslander, to claim the WBC Australian title in April.
A protege of Khrop Khrua Muay Thai guru Danny Jones, dropped Maguire twice in the fourth round en route to the victory that put a stamp on a huge 2018 campaign.
“I trained super hard for the fight, I'd had a massive year leading into it so physically and mentally I was feeling good,” Pennimpede said.
"Bryce is a really tough boy and I knew he wasn't going to back down which is exactly what happened. He walked forward and we were just engaging the whole time it was a really fast-paced fight.
“It was a real war and the crowd loved it.”
It was his seventh bout in 11 months, with his only defeat in that time coming against former stadium champion and 150-fight Thai veteran Kompetchlek Fairtex.
He also managed a crushing KO victory over Thai-based Swiss Luca Negreira in his Rebellion debut, taking his overall tally to 34 bouts having just turned 22.
Gerringong’s Tariq Sims put an exclamation point on a stellar NRL season by scoring three tries in the Dragons’ elimination final demolition of Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.
Sims barged his way into the NSW squad to make his State of Origin debut in the third game in Brisbane after the Blues had already won the series.
It came after he was 18th man for the first two Origin games and making a huge impact, mainly on the Dragons left edge, as they surged to the top of the ladder mid-season.
But after a late slump, Sims ensured St George Illawarra stayed alive into the second week of the finals with three tries in the 48-18 thumping of the Broncos, before they bowed out in a 13-12 thriller against South Sydney, Adam Reynolds kicking three field goals to clinch the win.
He played 25 games for the season, scoring 10 tries.
A cult hero in the Illawarra and past Sportsperson Of the Year people’s choice winner, Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski has continued his rise within the UFC ranks.
Volkanovski claimed his first victory on US soil with a unanimous decision win over Darren Elkins in July, climbing to 10th in the UFC’s featherweight rankings.
He is now 18-1 overall.
And now Volkanovski will take on Chad Mendes, who has returned from a two-year drug suspension this year and is ranked No.5, on December 29 in UFC 232 in the US.
Mendes is a three-time featherweight contender.
“I can’t believe these people are even allowed back in the sport,” Volkanovski said of Mendes this year.
“They get caught cheating, get a slap on the wrist, two years off. I think it should be more and when they come back they should start from scratch.”
List of past winners (in current award format)
Sportsperson of the year
2017: Kezie Apps (rugby league)
2016: Emma McKeon (swimming) and Tyler Wright (surfing)
2015: Michelle Heyman and Caitlin Foord (football)
2014: Emma McKeon (swimming)
2013: Sally Fitzgibbons (surfing)
People's choice award
2017: Rotnei Clarke (basketball)
2016: Alex Volkanovski (mixed martial arts)
2015: Michelle Heyman and Caitlin Foord (football)
2014: Brendon Santalab (football)
2013: Michelle Carney (football)