State of the Nation - Snooker: Mark Selby still the man to beat after memorable 12 months

TOP MAN: Mark Selby celebrates with the UK Championship trophy after victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA.
TOP MAN: Mark Selby celebrates with the UK Championship trophy after victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA.
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Mark Selby ruled the world in 2016 and it is hard to see beyond the Leicester cueman as the player to dominate the green baize over the next 12 months.

The 33-year-old world No 1 won the World Championship in May, beating Sheffield-based Ding Junhui 18-14 in the final, before picking up the UK Championship last month to crown a glorious year.

He beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in that UK final, 10-7, and the Rocket is still the most talented sportsman to pick up a cue.

But his focus is questionable, he picks and chooses tournaments, and while he remains a threat, Selby is the man to beat in 2017.

The threat from China is growing, and with two academies in Sheffield, Victoria’s and Star, overseas talent has a strong presence in the Steel City.

Three Chinese teenagers based in Sheffield – Zhou Yuelong, Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong – might prove to be names a bit trickier to pronounce, but they are ones to watch out for in 2017.

With York and Sheffield, the Barbican and the Crucible, hosting snooker’s two main events on the calendar, all Yorkshire needs now is a worthy champion.

Not since the tragic loss of Paul Hunter – if we gloss over Shaun Murphy, who was a resident in Rotherham when he won the world title in 2005 – has the White Rose county had a major winner.

The Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds looks the likeliest venue to end that long wait, with big things expected of 21-year-old Oliver Lines.

The Leeds rookie beat world No 3 Judd Trump on his way to the last 16 at the UK Championship last month to show a glimpse of his huge potential.

With others at the Northern Snooker Centre to push him along, including father Peter Lines, Sanderson Lam and David Grace, the future definitely looks bright for Oliver.

It is also worth noting that the popularity of the sport seems to be improving, if TV figures from York are an indicator.

The UK Championship final managed a peak viewing figure of 2.5m on BBC Two.

That was a peak audience which was 800,000 higher than last year’s high of 1.7m.