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The next generation of North-East sport stars
WITH 12 action-packed months of sport to look forward to, 2013 will produce a new generation of North-East stars.
The column has selected six of the regions youngsters that are tipped to make a major impression this year.
ADAM CAMPBELL (FOOTBALL)
There arent too many reasons for optimism at St James Park at the moment, but in 18-year-old Adam Campbell, Newcastle United might just be developing the home-grown striker their supporters crave.
Born in North Shields and a product of the famous Wallsend Boys Club, Campbell has been with the Magpies since 2002 and was representing the clubs under-18s at the age of just 15.
A strong, athletic forward, he scored his first goal for the reserves last February and netted a hat-trick for Newcastles development side in their opening game of the current campaign.
He made his senior debut in Augusts Europa League game in Atromitos and is set to be a more regular presence on the substitutes bench in the second half of the season.
ZACH KIBIRIGE (RUGBY UNION)
Teesside teenager Zach Kibirige has burst into Newcastle Falcons first team in recent weeks and is already regarded as one of the brightest prospects in British rugby.
The Yarm School pupil has averaged more than a try a game in his matches for Newcastle this season, with his brace in the New Years Day win over Doncaster showcasing his combination of vision and pace.
The Middlesbrough-born 18-year-old, who recently signed his first professional contract at Kingston Park, only trains part-time because he is combining his rugby career with his A-levels.
But he will step up his training schedule considerably after the summer, and could be making his mark on the Premiership in the autumn provided Falcons secure promotion.
KEATON JENNINGS (CRICKET)
Strictly speaking, Johannesburg-born Keaton Jennings is not a North-Easterner yet, but having committed himself to the pursuit of British citizenship, the 20-year-old batsman is the brightest star in Durhams revered academy.
Boasting a Sunderland-born mother, Jennings is a former captain of South Africas under-19s but moved to England more than two years ago.
Initially signed as a reserve wicketkeeper, he forced his way into Durhams first team towards the end of last season as a specialist batsman and made 58 against Sussex in the final game.
Having recently signed a two-year contract at Durham Emirates ICG, he will hope to be a permanent fixture in the batting line-up this summer.
STACEY SMITH (ATHLETICS)
Laura Weightman announced herself as one of the leading middle-distance runners in the world when she made the final of the 1,500m at the Olympics, but Gateshead Harrier Stacey Smith is set to push her fellow North-Easterner all the way this summer.
A two-time national champion at under-23 level, 22-year-old Smith was injured for much of last season and unable to maintain the rapid progress she had made in 2011.
However, she uprooted to Loughborough in the autumn in order to base herself at UK Athletics high-performance base and is hoping to make a mark at senior level this season.
A former participant in the On Camp With Kelly Holmes scheme, Smith will hope to force her way into the reckoning for the British squad at this summers World Championships in Moscow.
RACHEL GAMBLE-FLINT (ROWING)
One of the leading emerging talents in British rowing, Dalton-on-Tees Rachel Gamble-Flint almost qualified for the London Olympics in the hugely competitive single scull category.
She finished sixth at last years World Under-23 Championships in the single scull, having claimed a fourth-placed finish in the double in 2011.
It remains to be seen what event she targets this season, but with a number of more experienced rowers taking some time out after last years Olympics, the 21-year-old former Yarm School pupil should make the senior squad for this years World Cup series.
If she does well in those, she should secure a place at Augusts senior World Championships in South Korea.
MICA McNEILL (BOBSLEIGH)
Consett might not be an established breeding ground for bobsleigh drivers, but in Mica McNeill, the County Durham town has produced one of the brightest prospects in British winter sports.
The 18-year-old created history last year when, in partnership with team-mate Jazmin Sawyers, she finished second to become the first Briton to win a medal at the Winter Youth Olympics.
She has spent most of this winter competing on the America Cup circuit, effectively the second tier of world bobsleigh, and confirmed her developing talent when she won a bronze medal with Nikki McSweeney at last months World Under-23 Championships.
The 2014 Winter Olympics take place in Sochi in 13 months time, and if McNeill maintains her form into the start of next season, she will be a strong contender for a place on the British team.
CHAMP OF THE WEEK
The Argentinian created footballing history when he became the first player to win a fourth consecutive Ballon D’Or on Monday night. The greatest of all time? The argument in his favour is becoming increasingly compelling.
CHUMPS OF THE WEEK
The broadcasters admonished their commentator, Jon Champion, after he suggested Luis Suarez “cheated” when he scored with his hand in Sunday’s FA Cup tie with Mansfield. Champion was only saying what the rest of us were thinking.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
County Durham’s leading basketball team suffered a chastening introduction to the BBL last season, but have improved markedly this time around, with Sunday’s thrilling 101-96 win over Cheshire Phoenix confirming their continued development.
TIP OF THE WEEK
The Australian Open begins in Melbourne on Monday, and in both the men’s and women’s draw, it’s hard to see past the obvious. A double of Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams pays approximately 9-2.
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