16 wonderkids to watch in 2016

Sport360 staff 20:34 03/01/2016
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The stars set to shine in 2016.

We’ve identified 16 talented young athletes – some relatively established, others on the fringes – we predict will step up to become household names over the next 12 months.


Croatia continues to roll them off the production line and this 18-year-old attacking midfielder from Dinamo Zagreb looks like the next elite footballer from a nation of just 4.2m people. Real Madrid are believed to be interested in signing the teen described by Dinamo president Zdravko Mamic as “better than Prosinecki or Boban were at the same stage”. A dynamic dribbler who’s cool in possession, he models his game on Ronaldinho and is set to earn full honours for Croatia at Euro 2016.


Has now declared for her country of birth, Australia, after seven years competing under the Russian flag, and the next 12 months could see the 21-year-old have a real go at cracking the top 10. Last year, Gavrilova claimed two notable wins over Maria Sharapova in Miami and Ana Ivanovic at the Rome Masters, where she reached the semi-final. Those results, in part, saw her jump a considerable 197 places in the rankings to finish at No36. It’s taken time for her to realise the outstanding potential she showed as a junior but her energetic and entertaining approach is a joy to watch.


Germany’s 2014 Australian Open junior champion has earned comparisons to Marat Safin in style and Bjorn Borg in looks and made a name for himself with victory over Novak Djokovic in the pre-Wimbledon warm-up The Boodles in June. The 18-year-old has been namechecked by Andy Murray as one to watch this year after making his grand slam bows at Wimbledon (second round) and the US Open (first round) last season. He’s not short on self-belief, similar to a fellow next-generation talent in Nick Kyrgios, and possesses incredible agility and adventure on the court.


Just 18 but already with 100 first-team appearances for Anderlecht behind him this should be the year when the physically-imposing Belgian midfielder makes the step up and sign for one of Europe’s glamour clubs. Originally cast as a deep-lying, defensive midfielder he has gradually been moved forward where his attacking instincts have really caught the eye. The list of potential suitors is a who’s who of Champions League royalty with Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund and all keeping tabs on him.


It’s been a case of when not if for McKenzie in terms of him becoming an All Black, and following Dan Carter’s retirement the No10 shirt is up for grabs. Aaron Cruden is the likely recipient but after an excellent breakout season for Waikato Cheifs last term, 20-year-old standoff McKenzie could soon start to state his own case. An excellent goal-kicker who also is a willing and brave runner, if he adds a bit more power to his game he has all the tools to make his full New Zealand debut.


The Australian has garnered high expectations and there’s buzz that he’s potentially a generational talent. With an incredible mix of size, length and skill, the 19-year-old appeals to every general manager in the NBA. His passing and vision may be the most impressive qualities in his game and his unselfishness evokes visions of LeBron James. It’s still extremely early in the college season and a lot can change, but he’s the favourite to be the top pick in this year’s draft.


Host nations tend to fare well in Olympic Games and with Rio 2016 expect to see some Brazilians appear regularly on the podium. The pool is traditionally a preserve of the Americans, Australians and Russians but in Santana, Brazil have a real medal hope. The 19-year-old has been selected for the 100m free and 4x100m free relay and after setting a junior world record in the former race will be looking to continue his development in his home city.


Along with his older brother Jake, the 19-year-old is the future of the Manly Sea Eagles and maybe even the Australian rugby league team. Trbojevic burst onto the NRL scene last year scoring two tries on his debut against Canberra Raiders and finished the season with eight scores in his nine appearances. For a largely untested and undeveloped teenager that is some going and expect some fireworks from the full-back in 2016 as he has the potential to be a genuine world star.


By far the most established name on this list but this is the year where the outrageously-talented Dutch teen will need to show if he has what it takes to join the elite of F1. A sensational debut season for Toro Rosso, where he topped the overtaking statistics for 2015 and earned 49 championship points, has raised expectation levels and the eyes of Red Bull and Ferrari are watching intensely ahead of a possible driver’s seat for 2017. With F1 in danger of slipping from popular view due to the predictable nature of its races, Verstappen’s raw and fearless brand of racing can help drag it back to its late-80s and early-90s heyday.


In their relatively short cricketing history, Bangladesh has traditionally been the home of graceful and attacking batsman or wily slow bowlers, which makes the discovery of 20-year-old pacer Rahman all the more fascinating. He has just nine ODIs and two T20 matches and Tests under his belt but has already claimed the wickets of the likes of Shahid Afridi, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina plus two five-wicket hauls against India in Dhaka, and Man of the Match awards on his Test and ODI debuts. With the World T20 approaching in India, Rahman’s not just the future of Bangladesh cricket, he’s also its present.


The Canadian enjoyed a remarkable rise in women’s golf in the last couple of years. Having already won her first LPGA Tour title – as a 17-year-old amateur – she forced the Tour to give her special permission to become a member before turning 18. Henderson is surely going to become one of the biggest challengers to the domination of Lydia Ko, and many critics feel she has the talent to become a major champion before stepping out of teens.


There are many experts in the US who believe the 22-year-old Thomas is a more talented player than his best friend and the current world No1, Jordan Spieth. And while the rise may not be as meteoric, the Louisiana man is not lagging behind, having already won a title on the PGA Tour this season – the CIMB Classic in Malaysia – and having risen to world No37 already. He was No2 in the list of most birdies made (440) as well as most eagles made (16) last year, which just shows he does the one thing that is the hallmark of any champion – score well. Thomas is definitely the one to watch this year, and for several to come.


Britain has high hopes for the the 22-year-old sprinter who suffered an injury-plagued 2015 after finishing second in the 200m at the 2014 European Championships and Commonwealth Games. Now fit, Williams is concentrating on forcing herself into the reckoning for Rio 2016 where she has declared she’ll focus on the 200m and 4x400m relay team. With all the talent in the world, providing she can overcome the mental barrier of running against a history of hamstring troubles, she could put pressure on the likes of Dutch speedster Dafne Schippers and Jamaican duo Elaine Thompson and Veronica Campbell-Brown in Brazil.


The California quarterback may not be the first signalcaller off the board in April’s NFL draft, but could very well be the best passing prospect in the class. After throwing for 4,719 yards and a Pac-12 single-season record of 43 touchdowns this past year, the junior has chosen to enter the draft, where he’ll likely compete with Memphis’ Paxton Lynch for the honour of first quarterback selected. Goff may not have the same upside on paper as Lynch, but he’s more polished and ready now.


Sad as it is to see but Usain Bolt can’t go on forever and this year will likely be the Lightning Bolt’s last in professional athletics. It’s difficult to imagine anyone filling the gap left in the sport, as Bolt is more than just a sprinter – he’s a cultural icon, but in 18-year-old Hyde Jamaica have a potential superstar on their hands. Originally a talented youth footballer (he played for Jamaica’s Under-17s), Hyde has transferred his athleticism to the track and was world junior champion in the 400m hurdles in 2014. Hyde could concentrate on the 110m hurdles for Rio 2016 where he’s likely to be a medal threat.


The 22-year-old Puerto Rican begins the year 19-0 (14 knockouts), with a reputation as one of boxing’s hottest prospects. There is no reason why he shouldn’t finish 2016 with world championship gold wrapped around his waist in either the super featherweight or lightweight division. Verdejo is a quality technician with plenty of KO power and his fights are invariably entertaining. He is fun to watch as well as being a likeable character, so with a little more mainstream exposure his star quality should shine through in the next 12 months.

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