It's time to rub the dust off the crystal ball and start gazing into the sporting landscape of 2013. Can anybody stop United, Manchester that is, winning the Premier League?
Can the Blues and Warriors bring a bit of oval-ball pride back to the City of Sails, or will they again leave it up to the Breakers to provide a model of a professional sporting franchise?
All these questions and less will possibly be answered when you read on.
As snappy titles go, CONCACAF falls dreadfully short. But Fifa's Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football will become a sports household name here in 2013. Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and the United States play a home-and-away series throughout most of the year with the team finishing fourth playing a two-leg World Cup soccer qualifier against the Oceania winner in November. The All Whites are almost home as the Oceania representative, even though they still have New Caledonia and Solomon Islands to play in March.
Qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be the sports story or disappointment of the year. It is a huge deal and especially so for New Zealand Football which splits about $12 million with the team if they get to Rio. But the All Whites were patchy in 2012, ace leader Ryan Nelsen isn't getting younger and the CONCACAF opponent has a higher quality build-up. Our pick: Disappointment beckons.
Arise the Blues. Perhaps not. Their blue-blood coaches Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry have good Auckland history, but it will take more than that to instantly change the current course of history. Another shemozzle over champagne corks then. As for the rest of the Super 15, the Herald reserves the right to withhold a title prediction until all the sabbaticals are in - we want to know which horses have been nobbled. But the champion Chiefs will find it tougher to overcome the loss of Sonny Bill Williams than the ever-strong Crusaders will dealing with Richie McCaw's absence until the sharp end of the tournament. The Crusaders' conveyor belt still churns over, but there is only one SBW. McCaw's mid-year return will become the hot topic in this rugby-mad nation.
The Kiwis go easy on the Kangaroos a lot of the time but when it comes to the big finals they do the business these days - so retaining the World Cup in the end-of-year tournament up north won't be a problem. As for the Warriors, though, who would know with that crazy mob?
White lightning - can it strike twice?
Forget the Rugby Championship. Forget France's three-test tour. All roads lead to Twickenham after this year's amazing boilover when a supercharged England led by Manu Tuilagi put the All Blacks to the sword. A revenge mission will fill the November air, but England will fancy putting a big dent in the All Blacks' cherished aura in the lead-up to the next World Cup. Our pick: shock, horror - swing low, sweet chariot...
The opening round of speedway's world series returns to Western Springs in late March, although there are no top-ranked New Zealanders to cheer these days. So does this mean barracking for an Australian? The laidback Aussie Chris Holder is the new world champ, although his combative compatriot - three-time winner Jason Crump - has quit the series. Our Auckland pick is the gifted Polish veteran Tomasz Gollob who didn't win at the Springs in 2012, but showed some terrific speed on the unfamiliar track.
Russian to judgment
Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake are extremely quick... except when it comes to agreeing to race each other in the post-Olympics wind-down. The Jamaicans have danced around one another in the 100m and 200m and some believe they may do so all the way to the August world championships in Moscow, although Bolt states 2013 will involve more duels with Blake, and "more fun" . Predictions of Bolt's Olympic demise were way off the mark.
Breaking new ground
The basketball Breakers are already winners - you only have to see the number of their singlets worn around North Shore and beyond to know that. The Cedric Jackson-led champs are hunting a magnificent three-peat of NBL titles and they'll do it in April, even if the competition is hotter this season, especially in Perth.
Sir Alex Ferguson will win another English Premier League title with Manchester United and quit, to be replaced by Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho. Sport's most famous manager has given no retirement hints, but he's likely to keep an impending departure under his beanie this time given what happened a decade ago. United won't win the Champions League, their leaky defence will see to that, but they will sneak home in the Premier League. Soccer life, and world sport, won't be the same without Sir Alex. He is as entertaining as his team sometimes, although hardly a good example of sportsmanship on too many occasions. He might even do himself a damage at his age, the way he carries on. Cheap retirement predictions will dog Ferguson, who turns 71 on Monday, and in reality the amazing old bugger will probably carry on. But if he doesn't you heard it here first... almost.
Believe it or not ...
As of now, Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk can apparently compete at the August world athletics championships in Moscow even though she tested positive to steroids at the Olympics. Ostapchuk, whose London gold medal was handed to Kiwi star Valerie Adams, received a friendly one-year ban from Belarus authorities, although the IAAF is reviewing the case. Ostapchuk tends to chuck better close to home, and the world championships are only a stone's throw from her homeland. But if she dares turn up, a belligerent Adams will prevail. All eyes will also be on the remarkable Devonport teenager Jacko Gill in the shot put arena after he ducked the Olympics to stabilise his career following a selection stuff-up.
Good form, bad form
No sooner had the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic become the first New Zealand transtasman champions than they sacked chief executive Sheryl Dawson via a restructuring. Rough call on Dawson, troops. If the brilliant Casey Williams and the Magic fail to deliver on court in 2013, fingers will justifiably be pointed.
Australia hardly rated a mention in softball legend Eddie Kohlhase's playing days but it's a different story since he donned the coaching jacket. His Black Sox will set out to regain the world title at Albany's Rosedale Park in March where Australia will be the defending champions. The Aussies' coaching team includes Kiwis Kere Johanson and Loren Algar, who are highly commended in the Steelers' rise. The Black Sox don't have the star pitchers of old but batting and home advantage makes them warm, although not hot, favourites.
Peyton Manning, the outstanding Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback, could hardly shake hands let alone throw a football a year ago after four neck surgeries. Let go by Indianapolis, the team he had propped up for years, Manning took his battered 36-year-old body to Denver where he has the Broncos flying towards the Super Bowl in New Orleans. America loves against-the-odds sports stories, and Manning will deliver one in early February.
Knees of clay
Rafael Nadal won't win a grand slam in 2013 - it will take the all action Spanish tennis hero longer than that to regain sufficient fitness and confidence having been sidelined through injury since mid-2012. Knees are the Achilles heel for the humble Nadal, who has stormed to 11 grand slam titles during a golden era for men's tennis. The clay court king has slipped from No1 to No4 while recuperating - he is only 26 but may not have much time on his side given the reliance on a brutal game of stamina.
Ko has major success
Amazing North Harbour golf prodigy Lydia Ko, 15, is likely to line up in more majors in 2013. She placed 17th and 39th in the 2012 British and US Opens but the world's No1 amateur is fully capable of a top 10 finish against the professionals. There will be extra opportunity in 2013, because the Evian Masters in France has officially become the fifth major.
Captain Cook sails on
England, led by their magnificent opening batsman Alastair Cook but without Kevin Pietersen, will restore lustre to test cricket during their February-March tour of New Zealand. A highlight will be Eden Park's return as a test venue for the first time in seven years, but it's hard to see the home side doing any trophy polishing in the traditional form of the game.