It sounds like you have a pretty good grasp of how the counting system works, so I won't explain that here (unless you'd like me to, in which case I'm happy to do so).
Where did the sports party preferences come from?
I think the link you posted pretty much explains this. Basically, a lot of parties preferenced the sports party on the expectation that they wouldn't win anything! But, they got enough preferences from parties that got even fewer votes than they did to stay one step above elimination for the beginning of the count.
- 762 votes from Australian Voice Party
- 2,467 votes from Rise Up Australia Party (this party got eliminated despite having more primary votes than the sports party because 1908+762 > 2467)
- 873 votes from the Stable Population Party
- 4,856 votes from the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party (again, 1,908 + 762 + 2,467 + 873 > 4,856)
- 5,389 votes from Family First
- 6,127 votes from the Wikileaks Party
- 7,920 votes from votes from the Shooters and Fishers
- 8,857 votes from the Help End Marijuana Prohibition party
- 6,080 votes from the Animal Justice Party
- 12,376 votes from the Australian Sex Party
- 2,451 votes from the Australian Independents
- 14,037 votes from the Australian Christians
- 881 votes from the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics
- 3,107 votes from the Australian Fishing & Lifestyle party
At this point in the count, the Liberals have enough votes (1.0681 quotas) to elect another senator, Linda Reynolds (the 4th senator elected). The surplus 0.0681 quotas are distributed to other parties according to the preferences specified by the party these votes were originally cast for.
- 7,565 votes from the Liberal Party
- 29,517 votes from the Liberal Democrats
- 1,341 votes from Stop the Greens
- 5,656 votes from Smokers Rights
- 2,510 votes from the Australian Democrats
At this point, the sports party have acquired enough votes in preferences to elect their senator Wayne Dropulich in 5th place.
What would have happened if they didn't get any votes?
The ABC's senate calculator can answer this one! If you punch in the primary votes from the WA senate count into http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2013/senate-calculator/, and then set the vote for the sports party to zero, it looks like a Palmer United candidate gets elected instead. I can't send you a link to this simulation because the calculator doesn't have any kind of save button though.
Let me know if this doesn't answer your question!