2012 may have been a year for sports fans to savour but there’s more to come this year thanks to an exciting new crop of local talent. Grant Woodward picks five young sports stars to look out for
SAM BRYAM (FOOTBALL)
The 19-year-old may have only signed his first professional deal at the end of last season but he’s already being tipped as one of the brightest talents to emerge at Elland Road in some time.
A product of United’s academy, his first involvement with the senior side came in the opening pre-season friendly at Farsley and since then he has become a first team regular.
Comfortable in a defensive or attacking position at right back or on the wing, the versatile Essex-born teenager can also play in central midfield.
It’s a sign of just how highly rated he is at the club that he signed a new three-year contract just two days after his league debut and only three months after putting pen to paper on his first professional contract.
Everton boss David Moyes has already expressed an interest, while Liverpool are also said to be following the youngster’s progress closely.
JACK LAUGHER (DIVING)
The London Olympics may have proved a high water mark for Team GB, but they saw personal disappointment for the City of Leeds diver, who failed to qualify for the semi-finals in his 3m springboard event.
A close friend of Tom Daley, who he roomed with in London, 17-year-old Laugher has been tipped as our next diving superstar after becoming the first Brit to hold both the Junior World and European Championship titles.
Despite his Olympic setback, he bounced back to outperform the competition at the World Junior Diving Championships in Australia in October.
Having claimed the 3m individual springboard title, he returned a day later to claim his second gold of the event with Daley in the synchronised competition, confirming that he’s a major gold medal contender for Rio 2016.
JOE ROOT (CRICKET)
Along with Jonny Bairstow, Root – who turned 22 two days ago – is one of the new generation at Headingley who seems destined to enjoy a long spell at the very top of the game.
Spotted playing for Yorkshire Schools’ sides from the age of 11, two years later he became the youngest player to be awarded a scholarship to the Yorkshire cricket academy.
Given his chance in the first team in Yorkshire’s final Pro40 match of the 2009 season against Essex, he opened the batting with skipper Andrew Gale and top-scored with a composed 63.
His first class debut came the following season and in 2012 he smashed a career best 222 not out against Hampshire.
Root’s swift rise was confirmed with his selection for England’s recent tour of India, in which he announced himself on the international stage with mature innings of 73 and 20 not out as he helped England clinch their first series win there for 27 years.
ZAK HARDAKER (RUGBY LEAGUE)
Snapped up from Featherstone as a winger, Hardaker announced his arrival with a try on his first team debut for the Rhinos in March 2011 against St Helens. Since then the 21-year-old from Pontefract has gone from strength to strength.
A hat-trick in that year’s play-off game against Huddersfield Giants was followed by the final try in the Super League Grand Final triumph over St Helens at Old Trafford.
Switched to full-back by coach Brian McDermott last summer when Brent Webb suffered a knee injury, he kept his spot when the experienced Kiwi regained fitness.
Such was Hardaker’s impact in his first full season of Super League that he was named young player of the year at the annual Man of Steel Awards and earned a place in the England team, scoring two tries against Wales. In 2013 expect him to cement his status as one of Super League’s most exciting talents.
His online video diaries, in which he mucks about with fellow England star Josh Charnley, suggest he doesn’t take himself too seriously either.
DANNY DENISON (GOLF)
THE European Tour may have proven too much for him in 2012 but the 27-year-old from Morley knows what it takes to come back from adversity.
Tipped for great things after carding a 67 in his first round on the European Tour, he debuted at the Open the following year at Hoylake as an amateur.
But it all changed en route to a Challenge Tour event in Austria in May 2007, when the driver of his courtesy car appeared to fall asleep at the wheel. Denison had to be cut from the wreckage and air-lifted to hospital.
It was not just his golf career that hung in the balance – it was his life. It would be 10 months before he could walk again and the road back to regular competitive golf took two years.
So despite his struggles in 2012 – blamed on a misfiring short game – which has seen him drop back to the Challenge Tour, you write him off at your peril.