The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
Around the time of the 2015/16 snooker season there appeared to be a similar routine in play, with the major trophies dominated by three players and the remaining events shared neatly among the supporting cast.
Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham may have briefly got in on the act the campaign prior, but in general the Triple Crown tournaments were being dominated by a trio of stars.
Indeed, between the 2012 Masters and the 2017 UK Championship, only Murphy’s success in London and Bingham’s victory at the 2015 World Championship prevented Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and Neil Robertson from Triple Crown glory.
The trend was never more evident than during the 2015/16 snooker season when the three shared the spoils with one victory apiece in the major events – mirroring, in fact, the 2013/14 term.
The UK Championship, Masters, and World Championship were snooker’s oldest professional tournaments, and because they were the only ones covered by the BBC there was generally an extra spice of prestige attached to them.
Many fans were disappointed that the UK Championship’s format had been shortened, and there were a lot of newer tournaments around this time challenging its status as the third biggest event on the calendar, but a quick glance at its roll of honour indicated just how much winning it meant to the top competitors.
At the Barbican Centre in 2015, Robertson compiled a brilliant 147 break in the final en route to a 10-5 success against Liang Wenbo – a match that marked the first time a UK Championship title decider featured two non-UK players.
It was a pretty decent month or so for the Australian, who took advantage of reigning champion O’Sullivan’s decision to skip the Champion of Champions to claim that prestigious title in November as well.
Just over a month after the New Year, Robertson and O’Sullivan clashed for Welsh Open honours, but the Melbourne man’s run of form in finals was brought to an abrupt end following a 9-5 reverse against the Rocket.
It took O’Sullivan’s tally of Welsh Open crowns to four, and more importantly brought his career ranking total to 28 on a par with John Higgins and Steve Davis in equal second place.
Earlier in the campaign, Higgins had leapfrogged O’Sullivan with terrific triumphs in the Australian Goldfield Open and the International Championship, but now they were all-square again and a race was on to see if either of them could reel in Stephen Hendry’s once untouchable target of 36.
A few weeks before the Welsh Open, O’Sullivan triumphed in the Masters invitational for the second time in three years, and a record-equalling sixth occasion overall.
It was only a few years earlier when many onlookers questioned whether or not the Englishman had anything left in the tank to offer the game, but it now seemed as though all of the sport’s biggest records were within his reach.
Indeed, it was only in the previous edition of the Masters when O’Sullivan compiled a 776th century break to topple the legendary Scotsman’s career tally of tons.
But O’Sullivan, who was chasing Hendry’s seven world titles, wasn’t quite the same animal in Sheffield after throwing away a big lead to Mark Selby in the 2014 World Championship final, and a dramatic second round deciding-frame reverse to Barry Hawkins in 2016 ended his chances for another year – sweet revenge for the Hawk after his 10-1 annihilation at the hands of O’Sullivan in the Alexandra Palace in January.
At the 2016 World Snooker Championship, it was instead Selby who was underlining his credentials as one of the great Crucible champions.
After narrowly edging Marco Fu in an enthralling semi-final encounter, Selby came up against Ding Junhui in the World Championship final, a run for the Chinese cueist that sparked a media frenzy back in his homeland.
It had been a strange period for Ding, who backed up a brilliant 2013/14 campaign in which he won a record-equalling five ranking titles with an utterly dismal run of form that culminated in his disastrous plummet outside the world’s top 16.
Unbelievably, the former world number one was forced to endure the World Championship qualifiers, but in many ways it did him the power of good as he comfortably won his three preliminary ties and entered the venue stages with a renewed sense of confidence.
Ding downed German Masters champion Martin Gould in the last 32 before morale-boosting defeats of Judd Trump and Mark Williams helped him to reach the single table set-up for only the second time in his career.
Veteran Alan McManus, a fellow qualifier, was his surprise opponent in the last four and he took full advantage of his opportunity by compiling a magnificent seven tons in a resounding 17-11 victory.
Millions of fans in China were set to celebrate their maiden world champion, but Selby of course had other ideas, and the granite-like competitor withstood Ding’s challenge to seal global glory for the second time – concluding on the same night that his beloved Leicester City F.C. secured their odds-defying Premier League success.
Selby was proving himself to be the man for the big moments and he would soon proceed to boast an air of invincibility on the Main Tour, but more on that next time.
Among the other winners during the 2015/16 snooker season were Judd Trump, Mark Allen, and Shaun Murphy.
Trump and Allen received the champion’s cheques in the China Open and the Players Tour Championship Grand Finals respectively, each completed with final defeats of Ricky Walden.
Murphy, meanwhile, gained a modicum of revenge for his previous year’s World Championship final defeat to Stuart Bingham, edging his countryman 10-9 in the World Grand Prix.
One of the performances of the entire campaign, however, transpired in the Shanghai Masters in September, when a relatively unknown Kyren Wilson came from nowhere to clinch the £85,000 top prize.
When Barry Hearn took over the sport in 2010, the majority of events adopted a flat-draw system in which all 128 tour players entered at the same opening round.
In the 2015/16 snooker season there were only a few exceptions to this, one being the Shanghai Masters in which Wilson came from the second qualifying round and won an incredible nine matches – including a 10-9 upset of Trump in the final – to become the shock champion.
Hearn had been at the helm of the sport for more than half a decade, and the wily businessman had delivered on a number of his biggest promises – notably increasing the prize money, which had almost tripled since 2010.
Few could argue that his tenure hadn’t been a roaring success, but in the forthcoming 2016/17 campaign, arguably the most controversial implementation of his time in charge was to come.