Another America's Cup grudge match
The Louis Vuitton America's Cup playoffs (or what we previously knew as the Louis Vuitton challenger finals) will be a bitter grudge match between Team New Zealand and Team Japan (which is pretty much the 2013 Team NZ).
Ben Ainslie's British syndicate has been talked up as favourites to take on defenders Oracle Team USA for the Auld Mug following his win in the America's Cup World Series.
But the America's Cup proper is as much a design contest as a sailing one and the talk around the dock is the British boat hasn't looked as sharp in testing.
Having been handed the blueprint to Oracle's test boat, the Japanese syndicate, led by former Team NZ skipper Dean Barker, had a handy starting point and will be extremely dangerous. Team NZ were late out of the starting blocks but have made up strong ground with their testing programme and will be a threat.
- Dana Johannsen
Eden Park to be stormed by the Lions ... almost
The All Blacks and Lions will draw the first test at Eden Park on June 24.
There is so much water to pass under the bridge before the Lions arrive in June. Injuries alone could play a huge part - imagine the All Blacks without their two great locks, a la Chicago.
At their strongest and best, the Lions can win the series, without a doubt, even though they play two of the three tests at impregnable Eden Park.
Ireland and England have shown what a rampant northern side can do in recent seasons. Picking a first test draw is a nod to both the potential of the 2017 team and achievements of the 1971 tourists. The latter's coach, the late Carwyn James, predicted they would score a first series victory over the All Blacks by 2 -1 in the four match contest. The final test at Eden Park was indeed drawn. That magical 1971 tour is hard to forget and showed what a cohesive blend of Home Countries players can produce.
Warren Gatland's Lions will include an awesome pack if they find rhythm. They aren't stereotypical set piece plodders - Gatland has mobile destroyers able to match or better Steve Hansen's side.
The backline is another matter - but it could still be good enough. The Lions will likely field the better goalkicker - Owen Farrell v Beauden Barrett, for instance, would be a one-sided contest. The series could go many ways, and a 3-0 Lions victory is not entirely out of the question, although highly unlikely of course.
- Chris Rattue
Warriors to make the NRL playoffs
Making predictions about the Warriors is always fraught with danger, as they have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NRL over the past five years. But here we go. The Auckland side will make the playoffs - finally - sneaking into seventh place.
The senior players have to fire, with plenty of contracts expiring, and Kieran Foran will be the wildcard, when he gets on the field. Andrew McFadden made important changes off the field but things didn't click on it; new coach Stephen Kearney needs to be the point of difference.
The Kiwis, with the benefit of home advantage, should make their third successive World Cup final, but won't get close to the Kangaroos, who will be looking to farewell their quartet of immortals.
- Michael Burgess
Ko to scale new heights
2017 will be a year of even greater success for Lydia Ko. While the decision to axe David Leadbetter as her coach was seemingly made by her parents, it's the right one. It will allow the return to her beloved swing which brought incredible results when she burst on to the scene. The world No 1 will add two majors and six other wins to her name.
On the men's side, Hideki Matsuyama will break through for a major win, possibly the Masters, while Tiger Woods' body will struggle with the stress of tournament golf, meaning he remains on 14 majors.
- Guy Heveldt
No fairy tale drought busters this year
2016 was the year of sporting title droughts being broken (see Cubs, Cavaliers, Sharks, Western Bulldogs, Leicester City and Hurricanes). But no big droughts will be snapped this year. For starters, the longest active drought in American sports belongs to the Arizona Cardinals, who didn't even make the NFL playoffs, which begin this weekend. That's a bad sign.
I predict everything will go to script (and not one of those far-fetched Hollywood sports movie scripts). The Cleveland Indians won't return to the World Series and break a 68-year drought. The Parramatta Eels (last title in 1986) and the Canberra Raiders (1994) won't win the NRL. Same goes for the Melbourne Demons (1964) and St Kilda (1966) in the AFL. Not even the Blues breaking their seemingly small Super Rugby drought of 14 years. Get ready for a lack of fairytales and the likes of Chelsea, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, the Warriors (of the Golden State variety) and the Storm lifting silverware once again.
- Cameron McMillan
McCartney to win world pole vault title
The 20-year-old from the North Shore has enormous potential in a difficult athletic discipline, and she's already been a trailblazer in the sport for New Zealand. Demand for poles flew into Athletics New Zealand after Eliza McCartney cleared 4.80m to win bronze at the Rio Olympics. With a matter of a few vaults, she became the poster girl for New Zealand sport.
Those who finished ahead of her in Rio, Greek gold medallist Ekaterini Stefanidi, and American Sandi Morris, are 26 and 24 respectively; the Aussie she pipped on countback for bronze, Alana Boyd, is 32.
McCartney has years on them to work with. But she appeals as an athlete in a hurry. After all, she wasn't originally being targeted for Rio, but Tokyo in 2020. Her coach Jeremy McColl says the world record is within sight, at some point. That mark stands at 5.06m set eight years ago by Russian star Yelena Isinbayeva. The world championships are in London in August. Rule McCartney out of top spot on the podium at your peril.
- David Leggat
Walsh to win world shot put title
This, granted, is a longer shot than McCartney scaling fresh heights in London in August.
Tom Walsh is a cracking bloke, and a wonderful athlete but he is one of handful of shot putters who seem likely to set up a terrific year. Olympic champion Ryan Crouser is, at 24, the same age as Walsh. His Rio form suggests he'll be the guy to beat this year. Silver medallist Joe Kovacs is 27, so is far from reaching the end of his athletic road.
Walsh followed up his bronze in Rio by winning the Diamond League by some distance, snaring three wins along the way, pocketing $69,000. He finished his year by recording a personal best 22.21m in Zagreb at the world challenge. It was his third time past 22m in a fortnight. More is certainly yet to come and Walsh has it in him to become the best in the business. So maybe it'll be a case of London calling.
- David Leggat