It's time for the 2021 edition of our Australian sports Power Rankings. Two years ago, we rolled out an inaugural list and it's time for an update! ESPN's team of reporters and editors have put their heads together to come up with this list of Australia's most influential athletes.
We've judged them on success, influence on and off the field, star power, potential, longevity at the top, level of competition, and sheer talent, to come up with this year's definitive list. It's sure to cause some debate but here is our 25!
* Numbers in brackets represent 2019's spot
25. Tim Tszyu (New entry)
He's not a world champion like someone else on this list (at least not yet) but Tszyu still arguably remains the biggest name in Australian boxing. The son of Kostya is undefeated as a professional (20-0, 15 KOs) and seems to improve every time we see him in the ring. In the past 12 months Tszyu has fought Bowyn Morgan, Dennis Hogan, Steve Spark and Takeshi Inoue, none of them close to being in the same class. As the mandatory challenger to Argentine Brian Castano's super welterweight strap, we may see Tszyu battling for that world title in 2022 and making a real run up this list.
24. Ben Simmons (3)
Where to start.....from another NBA All-Star appearance in March, and an Olympics on the horizon, to becoming public enemy number one with his own fans, and not a single minute of play in the 2021/22 NBA season. It has been a miserable year for Simmons, with his shooting woes catching up with him and the 76ers in the play-offs, followed by a decision to skip Boomers duty -- once again -- to work on his game. That was followed by skipping pre-season and requesting a trade from Philly. Insert suspensions, fines, mental health troubles, trade speculation, and a market that has gone very cool on him, and 2021 has been a nightmare year. As we write, Simmons' NBA status is still in limbo, but let's not forget this is still a generational basketball talent. An elite defender and world class player in transition, his talent and potential keeps him in the 25, just.
Volkanovski, Ortega put on Fight of the Year candidate at UFC 266
Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega give the Vegas crowd its money's worth and more with an epic clash at UFC 266.
23. Nick Kyrgios (7)
Kyrgios has taken a tumble down the rankings but you can't deny his box office play when January and the Australian Open rolls around. Packed crowds in John Cain Arena, an army of loud and passionate fans, and cut-through than many other athletes could only dream of having. He had a subdued 2021 on the tour -- playing just the Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open and a handful of North American tournaments -- and had some personal off-field dramas splashed across the headlines, but Kyrgios still remains entrenched within the country's 25 most influential athletes.
22. Christian Petracca (NE)
A new addition to our top 25, there was just no ignoring what Christian Petracca was able to achieve in 2021. The powerful mid-forward's outstanding 2020 season was recognised with a club best and fairest award, but he took his game to a new level this year - earning back-to-back All-Australian blazers and a Norm Smith Medal as a major cog in a Melbourne side that broke a 57-year AFL premiership drought. Boasting an incredible skillset, Petracca has developed into a tenacious, explosive force -- almost Dusty-like -- whose attributes allow him to break a game open and wow us at any moment. If he improves on this year's output, rivals should be very frightened.
21. Michael Hooper (NE)
It's somewhat surprising the Wallabies captain hasn't been on the list previously, but in a return to full international fixtures in 2021, Hooper has managed to take his already impressive and consistent game to another level, finishing the year nominated as one of World Rugby's best players. Taking on the captaincy role for a fifth straight season, the 30-year-old became the Wallabies most capped captain, and featured in all but one of fixture, while he lead his side to two famous victories over the World Champion Springboks. With a heart of gold and with one of the biggest motors in the sport, Hooper regularly carries his pack on his shoulders and seemingly never has a quiet game.
20. Josh Giddey (NE)
The phenom of Australian basketball, Giddey is a 6'9", rangy ball handler who turned potential in the NBL for Adelaide last season into a top-10 NBA draft placing - and a stellar start for his OKC Thunder team. Giddey has impressed everyone who has watched him graduate into the NBA, and possesses a basketball IQ far beyond his teenage years, and looking every bit an NBA pro. While the consistency of his shot is still a work in progress, the full Giddey package of passing, vision and game management have made 'The Rook' a firm favourite for hoops fans in OKC, Australia and beyond. The sky's the limit.
19. Marnus Labuschagne (NE)
A new entry and one who is only going to climb higher and higher. The sheer volume of runs from Labuschagne beggars belief. The ICC No. 2 ranked batter in men's cricket now has 20 Tests to his name, and within those, has scores 12 50s and six 100s at an average of tick over 60. After taking an opportunity at Lords as Steve Smith's concussion sub, Marnus has not looked back. Australia's cemented number three, Labuschagne bats with discipline and patience, is a devastating accumulator of runs, and is a destroyer of bowlers who combines an idiosyncratic style with a relentless drive. Expect to see the name of Labuschagne rising up this list year after year.
18. Rob Whittaker (16)
After a horror 2019 that saw Whittaker battle injury and lose his UFC middlewight crown, the Sydneysider has bounced back, cleaning out the division and setting up a highly anticipated rematch with Israel Adesanya in February. After the drama of that stunning loss to the Kiwi in front of a record UFC crowd in Melbourne, Whittaker took time out to deal with mental health issues, and refocus for the next phase in his career. He returned to the Octagon in July 2020, despatching the highly-rated Darren Till before dominant performances against Jarod Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum -- two of the best of his career -- left the Adesnaya re-match in no doubt. Still in the mix for top 10 pound-for-pound in the UFC, Whittaker is in a good place ahead of what will be a career-defining fight.
17. Joe Ingles (17)
What a 2021 for Joe Ingles. Heading toward the twilight of his career, Ingles finished 2nd in the NBA 6th man of the year voting, and his spark off the bench helped the Jazz to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. While play-off success has ultimately eluded the Jazz, Ingles moved on to be a key part of the Boomers' Tokyo Olympic success, playing a critical role as a perimeter shooter, and ultimate team man as Australia claimed that historic bronze medal. One of the game's elite trash talkers, Ingles is very much part of the fabric of both the Jazz and Boomers identity.
16. George Kambosos Jr (NE)
Be honest, there would be quite a few people out there who weren't too familiar with Kambosos this time last year but the Aussie fighter put his name up in lights with a sensational split decision win over Teofimo Lopez in late November to claim a swag of lightweight world titles. Few had given Kambosos any chance of upsetting Lopez, but the 28-year-old from Sydney dug deep and produced a masterful display to remain undefeated (20-0, 10 KOs) and grab the world's attention. Along with Tszyu, Kambosos looks to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
15. Jess Fox (NE)
There was nary a dry eye in the country when slalom canoeist Fox won the C1 final at the Tokyo Games this past July. The culmination of a lifetime of hard work, Fox saluted with the ultimate reward nine years after winning her first Olympic medal - a silver in the K1 at London 2012. Fox's Tokyo story -- one in which her family plays a massive part -- at times looked shaky; she had a self-described disappointing run in the K1 final to finish third, and she felt that result just added extra pressure on her quest for an Olympic gold in the C1. But the Aussie star got her fairytale ending, blitzing the competition by three and a half seconds, completing her Olympic set and winning the hearts of every Australian.
14. Tom Trbojevic (NE)
Tom Trbojevic went from very good to great in 2021, producing some scarcely believable attacking numbers and dragging Manly almost single-handedly from last on the NRL ladder to a fourth-place finish after returning from a pre-season hamstring injury in round 5. His stats -- 28 tries and 28 try assists in just 18 games -- reflect one of the greatest individual seasons in NRL history, and he picked up not just the Dally M Medal but also the Brad Fittler Medal as the standout player in NSW's State of Origin win.
13. Emma McKeon (NE)
Just the second female to win seven medals in a singles Games. Australia's most decorated Olympian ever. They are the basic facts of an extraordinary eight days in Tokyo for Emma McKeon. While the spotlight has often shone elsewhere, McKeon has just kept producing for Australia over the past five years. Tokyo was the culmination of years of work with four gold medals, three bronze and a world record to boot. She joined legends of the pool in Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi as the only swimmers with seven medals or more in a single games. Watching McKeon often go from race to race, podium-to warm-up pool-to blocks, day after day was truly inspiring, as the Wollongong native captured the attention of a nation.
12. Dustin Martin (9)
The legend of Dusty just grows, and grows, and grows. He had starred for and steered Richmond to its second flag in three years in 2019, before becoming the first player in history to win three Norm Smith Medals (let alone in three premiership-winning campaigns) in a COVID-affected 2020, launching the champion midfielder into uncharted territory. He's a modern day great of the AFL, a near-impossible match-up for opposing teams, and arguably the greatest finals performer we've ever seen. An unfortunate kidney injury derailed his 2021 season, but we can't wait to see what's left of the damaging 30-year-old as he enters the twilight of his career.
11. Nathan Cleary (NE)
Nathan Cleary's rise from young gun to genuine superstar isn't really a surprise -- he made his NRL debut for Penrith as a teenager, and was the NSW Origin halfback at 20 -- but a year ago a grand final defeat and a shock Origin series loss had critics questioning his ability to step up in big games. Cleary put an end to those doubts by winning just about everything in 2021, guiding the Blues to two routs over Queensland then taking the Panthers to their first premiership in 18 years. At just 24 it's hard to see anyone unseating him as the game's premier No. 7 any time soon.
10. Steve Smith (2)
As he walked out for the toss in Adelaide in Pat Cummins' blazer, the redemption tale was complete. Steve Smith, Australian men's captain. And while the circumstances weren't ideal (given Cummins' brush with COVID) it provided a sweet end to a narrative arc that has followed Smith since that fateful day in Cape Town. Smith the player has not been at his imperious best over the last eighteen months, with India largely having his measure in the last test summer, and the T20 World Cup success driven by the top of the order. But with England in town and a place in the Australian leadership group his, do not bet against a classic Steve Smith innings to light up the Australian summer.
9. Ariarne Titmus (NE)
Ariarne Titmus is now the hunted. She may have touched in ahead of America's queen of the pool Katie Ledecky before, but never on this scale. Titmus stunned the world when she blitzed past Ledecky with the second-fastest recorded time in the women's 400m freestyle -- the most anticipated, and then captivating, race at the 2020 Tokyo Games -- and then did the same in the women's 200m with an Olympic record time. Let's be honest, her coach, Dean Boxall, and his epic celebration, was all of us!
8. Dylan Alcott (15)
Put simply, Alcott is one of the greatest Australian tennis players we've ever seen. The 31-year-old's list of achievements speaks for itself, and he topped it all off this year by remarkably becoming the first male in any form of the sport to earn a calendar year Golden Slam of all four major titles and Paralympic or Olympic gold. But his achievements transcend wheelchair tennis, and with next month's Australian Open set to be his last hurrah after announcing his imminent retirement in November, he will leave a lasting legacy as the trailblazer for people with disability in sport and media.
7. Ellyse Perry (5)
One of the most dominant players of her era, Perry racked up a host of records in 2021 becoming Australia's most capped player across all formats with 252, shortly after becoming the first Australian, man or woman, to take 300 wickets and score 5000 runs at international level. However by her own lofty standards, it's been a disappointing 12 months. Struggles with her bowling -- just four wickets in the multi-format India series -- have led some to question the long term future for the 31-year-old in the national team, as the new generation of Australian players emerge, but despite it all, Perry remains the face of the game in Australia, and a player opposition team's do not want to see on the team sheet.
6. Daniel Ricciardo (6)
2021 wasn't the best season of Ricciardo's Formula One career but the smiling Aussie still retains a place inside the top 10 of our Power Rankings due to a number of factors, including popularity, likability and global reach. Having said that, Ricciardo did claim a victory this year, steering his McLaren to first place at Monza's Italian Grand Prix, to be one of just two non-Mercedes or Red Bull drivers to win a race in 2022. His nine top-six finishes helped him finish eighth in the championship, but who knows what he could achieved had he stayed at Red Bull...
5. Alexander Volkanovski (12)
It was a rollercoaster year for Alex Volkanovski that began with him getting COVID in Las Vegas, scuppering his title defence plans, but finished with the MMA world -- and mainstream Australia -- finally giving 'Alexander the Great' his due after an epic victory over Brian Ortega. Questioned by many in the MMA world after his last two victories over Max Holloway, and with a COVID-enforced year-plus lay-off from the octagon, Volkanovski was under severe pressure ahead of the Ortega fight, but he responded, and how. In what many consider the fight of the year Volk escaped successive takedowns in impossible situations before dominating the American for the rest of the fight. The featherweight champion is now No. 3 in ESPN's pound-for-pound rankings off the back of an incredible 20-fight unbeaten run, and the likeable former rugby league prop from the Illawarra has the MMA world at his feet ahead of a likely trilogy fight with Holloway.
4. Pat Cummins (10)
It wasn't how anyone expected it to happen, but Pat Cummins' coronation as Australian men's cricket captain was as inevitable as it was welcomed. The Tim Paine saga gave the most coveted job in Australian sport to the 28-year-old New South Welshman, who responded by taking a 5-for and steamrolling England in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. A brush with COVID ahead of the Adelaide test, was a speed bump for Cummins, but the No. 1 ranked test bowler in the world seems set to have a long and distinguished reign as captain. The quick has seemingly put his early career injury woes behind him and is bowling better than ever. Respected by all, an inspirational leader in deeds, Cummins is now an Australian sporting icon.
3. Patty Mills (23)
What an incredible 12 months for Patty Mills. Olympic flag bearer in Tokyo, the heart of the Boomers, and the leader of the Boomers culture, Mills was the driving force on and off the court behind the team's Tokyo bronze medal - a medal so sweet for Mills who had been agonisingly close at Olympic and World Cup level before. His personal performances went to a new level as 'Boomers Patty' was on display, and the joy and emotion after the bronze medal win over Slovenia was there for all to see.
Mills has carried that form into the NBA season with his new team the Brooklyn Nets, hitting career-best form alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden. But it's off the court that Mills has taken his influence to new levels as a philanthropist and advocate for Indigenous rights. The Team Mills Foundation is an organisation working to "make a positive impact on communities worldwide", and has so far worked to supply clean drinking water to remote Indigenous communities, assisted in fire recovery programs after the bushfires of 2019 and helped to organise the NBA's first-ever Indigenous Night in 2020. Mills has also donated $1.5 million to Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and the We Got You campaign.
The 2022 ACT Australian of the Year, Patty Mills leadership and his legacy go far beyond the basketball court.
2. Sam Kerr (4)
The thing with Sam Kerr is that she keeps getting better. At just 28 years of age, the Matildas ace is the face of Australian football. A global superstar playing for Chelsea in the WSL in England, voted as the third best player in the world in the recent FIFA Best Awards, and the carrier of a nation's hopes on her shoulders 18 months out from a home World Cup.
Kerr's 2021 was almost flawless. Six goals in the Tokyo Olympics as the Matildas fell just short of a first ever medal; a 100th cap for Australia and surpassing Lisa de Vanna's international goal scoring record; a goal a game for Chelsea as they completed a domestic treble, capped off with a stunning brace at Wembley in the FA Cup Final; and becoming a viral sensation after dealing with a pitch invader in, shall we say, a quintessentially Aussie style.
Kerr is box office in world football and is the key for Australia's hopes at the home FIFA World Cup. The girl from Freo is at the peak of her powers and is the biggest name and most successful player in any of our football codes.
1. Ash Barty (1)
That's Wimbledon champion Ash Barty this time around! The Queenslander continues to go from strength to strength; with now two Grand Slam titles to her name, she enters the conversation as being one of Australia's all-time great tennis players, but on top of that, one of Australia's all-time wonderful people. Not only is Barty a champion, she's approachable, kind, humble, generous with her time, and -- bizarrely important in the furnace which is Australian 'tall poppy' sporting culture -- just a normal Aussie.
She won four tournaments in 2021 including a the major at Wimbledon, and two WTA 1000 events in Miami and Cincinnati. The next challenge on her list: a maiden Australian Open title in January.
70 athletes from 21 sports received votes from our 12 person panel. 7 athletes received the full 12 votes.
Honourable mentions to those who just missed the cut: Cam Smith, Jordan Mailata, Dave Warner, Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy, Mat Ryan, Matisse Thybulle, Mary Fowler, Marcus Bontempelli
Missing out from the 2019 edition: Liz Cambage, Adam Scott, Nathan Lyon, Steph Gilmore, Mitchell Starc, Lance Franklin, Patrick Dangerfield, Mat Ryan, Andrew Bogut (retired), Cameron Smith (retired).