Rugby League

2015 IN REVIEW: RUGBY LEAGUE

North Queensland Cowboys provided NRL with fairytale finish to 2015

Story of the year

Given Jarryd Hayne is playing another sport, this technically doesn't constitute as a rugby league story. But the former Parramatta fullback captured the imagination of two nations when he beat the odds to play, albeit sparingly, in the NFL. Even if he doesn't play American football again, he has brought league enormous exposure in a new market.

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Issue of the year

Is this abuse of prescription drugs a major issue in the game? Results from the NRL's testing regime suggest not, but the fact two young men, South Sydney players Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray, almost lost their lives suggests otherwise. A candid Russell Packer also admitted to misusing prescription drugs in a chilling warning that should put the game on notice.

Star of the year

Johnathan Thurston won a fourth Dally M medal, one more than Immortal Andrew Johns, but his grand final heroics cemented his greatness. The Cowboys co-captain earned the Clive Churchill medal after kicking the match-winning field goal in extra time. Given he dominated Origin, won the Golden and also won the RLPA's top gong, 2015 was his year.

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Excess baggage: Johnathan Thurston with the NRL trophy the day afther the grand final win over Brisbane.

Excess baggage: Johnathan Thurston with the NRL trophy the day afther the grand final win over Brisbane. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Controversy of the year

When Daly Cherry-Evans changed his mind on his Titans deal, it seemed a lock as the contracting scandal of the year. But then came the stand-off between Jason Taylor and Robbie Farah. The Tigers figured a rival club would be keen on an Origin star, but there have been no takers. This could yet become the story of 2016 as well.

Quote of the year

"If he lets me play how I want to play, we'll win more games." It was this barb, directed at Parramatta coach Brad Arthur, that effectively ended Chris Sandow's NRL career. Sandow, who was in Dally M medal contention at the time, initially denied making the comments, despite the fact they were captured on tape.

Ushered out: Chris Sandow was shown the door by the Eels.

Ushered out: Chris Sandow was shown the door by the Eels. Photo: Getty Images

Social media storm of the year

"Breaking: Martin Taupau signs three-year deal with Manly–Warringah Sea Eagles, 2016 - 2019." The news was less surprising than the source of it. Canadian theatre critic James Kelly Nestruck broke the news after he was mistakenly emailed Taupau's contract. "Apparently, a guy named Joe Kelly is the CEO of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles rugby team... and I get his emails."

Try of the year

Kids, don't try this at home. Nathan Friend performed a bigger backflip than Daly Cherry-Evans when he somersaulted while defusing a bomb against the Storm. The veteran hooker managed to pop the ball between his legs while upside down, with the Warriors backs finishing off the extraordinary move. Footage of the try went viral.

Match of the year

The grand final was not just the game of the year, but perhaps the greatest GF of all time. Put this one on the podium with the 1989 and 1997 deciders. Michael Morgan's flick pass, Johnathan Thurston's missed conversion, followed by his redemption in golden point … this was unscripted drama at its very best.

Flop of the year

Penrith finished just one win short of a grand final appearance in 2014, but the Panthers narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in 2015 after another horror injury run, resulting in coach Ivan Cleary getting rissoled. It's now up to Anthony Griffin to wake the sleeping giant of the west.

Dismissed: Penrith coach Ivan Cleary.

Dismissed: Penrith coach Ivan Cleary. Photo: Getty Images

A prediction for next season

Coaching carnage. Geoff Toovey, Ivan Cleary and Rick Stone felt the axe this year in an industry that is becoming increasingly cutthroat. Even Wayne Bennett sacked himself the previous season after failing at Newcastle. The only sure thing about 2016 is that not all 16 head coaches will still be in their positions come 2017.

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