Big-game personas: Athletes who thrived on the biggest stage

For some athletes the step up to the biggest stage is a daunting one. For others, it just brings out their best, and they rise to the occasion, in some cases becoming a completely different athlete.

These are some of the Australian stars whose big game personas take them to another level.

Patty Mills

It's unusual for an NBA Champion to be defined by his displays in different colours. But for Patrick Sammy Mills, the success at NBA level with San Antonio and now Brooklyn is eclipsed by his alter-ego: Boomers Patty! The green and gold can weigh heavy on some, but for Mills it's a veritable superhero cape. The NBA role player has become THE guy for Australia culminating in an emotion charged run to Olympic bronze in Tokyo after years of heartache.

And like a fine wine, Boomers Patty is getting better with age, combining sharp shooting, deadly dimes and instilling the famed Boomers culture in the next generation, as he - and Australia - look to turn Rose Gold into Parisian Gold in 2024.

Dustin Martin

Dustin Martin will go down as one of Richmond's greatest ever players, partly because of his ability to go to an other-wordly level when finals come around. A three-time premiership player, he's also a Brownlow Medal winner, but, impressively, a three-time Norm Smith medallist for being best on ground in a Grand Final.

Notably in 2020, people were heralding the decline of Dusty when, over a five game stretch leading into finals, he averaged 18 touches and kicked just three goals. But, as the champions do, he procured one of the great finals series, including a 21-disposal, four goal effort in the Tigers' come-from-behind 2020 triumph over Geelong. As an opposition player, if there's anyone you don't want to see lining up in the centre square on the last Saturday in September, it's Dustin Martin.

Andrew Johns

With bullet-like passes, pinpoint kicks, a sharp running game and strong defence, Andrew Johns was the complete rugby league player. The youngest member of rugby league's Immortals and a Newcastle Knights legend, Johns led his club to two premierships, won three Dally M Medals and showed he was the best player of his generation when he pulled on the sky blue NSW jersey.

Johns played in nine State of Origin series between 1995 and 2005 and the Blues lost only two of those, with NSW winning the final three series of his career. He saved the best for last, returning to the side after an Origin I defeat having played just one club game since breaking his jaw -- and produced a masterclass to swing the series the Blues' way with two dominant wins.

Johnathon Thurston

Standing at 5'10 and weighing in under 90kg, Thurston started his career considered "too small" to play rugby league. He finished it as the highest point-scorer in State of Origin history, as the chief playmaker of the Maroons side that became one of the greatest teams of all time.

Thurston captained the North Queensland Cowboys to their first and only NRL premiership in 2015 but he enjoyed almost unrivalled success on the Origin stage, as a key part of Queensland's iconic eight-series winning streak and another three-year streak to round out his representative career. His four Dally M Medal wins are the most ever and his five Origin man-of-the-match awards put him behind only Wally Lewis.

Tim Cahill

The FIFA World Cup. The holy grail for Australian football fans. After a painful 32-year wait Australia finally returned to the big stage in 2006. Trailing 1-0 to Japan and in need of a spark, coach Guus Hiddink threw on Everton's Tim Cahill, surprisingly benched. The midfielder rose to the occasion, grabbing two goals in the last 10 minutes, to help the Socceroos record a famous victory.

It was the start of a turbulent love affair with the World Cup for Cahill. In 2010 he saw red against Germany but bounced back to score in the win over Serbia, and 4 years later in Brazil Cahill scored the goal of the tournament against the Dutch, hot on the heels of a trademark header against Chile. By the time the curtain fell on Russia 2018, Cahill, the Socceroo's talisman had represented his country 108 times, scoring 50 goals and appeared in four successive World Cups. A career unmatched in Australian football.

Nick Kyrgios

'King Kyrgios' may not have the trophy cabinet of some of his more accomplished contemporaries, but the Aussie certainly knows how to lift for the big occasion. Kyrgios, tennis' greatest showman, is one of very few players on tour who boasts wins over the 'Big Three' of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. In fact, Kyrgios' head-to-head record against the Djoker is a staggering 2-0, in his favour.

No top seed ever wants to see Kyrgios' name drawn close to theirs at a major tournament. Not only is he more than capable of beating any player on the planet with his blink-and-you-miss-it service games and booming forehands, but his legendary on-court shenanigans can easily get under an opponents' skin, something we saw on numerous occasions during he and Thanasi Kokkinakis' run to the men's doubles title at this year's Australian Open.