With the end of 2014 imminent, the rugby league world has been treated to another jam-packed season full of amazing football, historic victories, innovations and tragedy. This is what we at NRL.com will remember most about 2014.
10. New Zealand takes out the Four Nations final
Nobody can ever take the 2014 Four Nations away from the Kiwis. In a memorable rugby league final, fans were treated to the coming of age of halfback Shaun Johnson, brilliant displays from experienced duo Simon Mannering and Jesse Bromwich as well as the unrelenting impact of Martin Taupau off the bench in the Kiwis' 22-18 win over the Kangaroos. With Tim Sheens choosing a squad chock full of rookies with a raft of senior players unavailable, the Kiwis held off a late Australian fight-back and took out the title in front of an ecstatic 25,000-strong Wellington crowd.
9. Vale Reg Gasnier
In May this year, just one day shy of his 75th birthday, rugby league immortal Reg Gasnier passed away after a long battle with illness. While a broken leg prematurely ended his rugby league career at just 28, there is no doubt Gasnier was one of the best centres to ever play our great game. An instrumental member in six of the Dragons' 11-year premiership-winning streak, 'Puff the Magic Dragon' or the 'Prince of Centres' as he was widely known, scored 127 tries in 125 games in nine seasons wearing the Red V. Gasnier added New South Wales and Kangaroo jerseys, as well as the national captaincy, to a decorated resume. The state jumper came after only five games of first grade. Gasnier is survived by his wife Maureen, son Peter, daughter Kellie and five grandchildren. Rest in Peace.
8. Auckland Nines opens our eyes to a whole new ballgame
Nobody knew what to expect – not even the players. It's probably safe to say they still don't as we approach the second edition of the Auckland Nines in January – such was the resounding success of the inaugural tournament. Around 90,000 fans were treated to a festival of astounding football at Auckland's Eden Park where the Cowboys won their first ever piece of silverware – beating the Broncos 16-7 in the final. Who didn't love the sight of big boppers like Mitchell Garbutt and Sam Tagataese scoring long-range tries and legends like Brad Fittler and Steve Menzies running around with blokes half their age?
7. ASADA dilemma reaches conclusion
It was in late August when the Cronulla Sharks doping scandal, relating to a supplement program at the club back in 2011, came to a close. ASADA offered backdated bans way to good to refuse to players which meant some would effectively miss only three NRL games. The drawn-out saga caused no end of heartache to players and fans. The likes of Sharks players Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou, John Morris and Nathan Gardner, Cowboys winger Matthew Wright, Newcastle forwards Kade Snowden and Jeremy Smith and Titans duo Luke Douglas and Albert Kelly, are now at least free to get on with the rest of their careers. With Sharks coach Shane Flanagan back at the helm of the club and the players back to pre-season training it has seemingly signaled an end to the long running drama.
6. Inglis's ridiculous tries against Brisbane
Greg Inglis's 2014 season will be remembered for some very good reasons, but the two most spectacular both came in the shape of tries he scored against the Broncos, one in each time he played them in rounds 8 and 23. Inglis scored the season's best solo four-pointer in Round 8 after running rings around seven Broncos on a winding 70-metre run to score in the corner. Not to be outdone, Inglis backed this up in the latter stages of the season when he gathered an Adam Reynolds chip and bumped off fullback Josh Hoffman within seconds of each other to link with Sam Burgess, who threw it back to Inglis when the fullback wrapped around the English lock to finish a stunning team try.
5. Hayne Plane departs Australia
Jarryd Hayne's defection from the NRL to America to pursue a career in the NFL shocked the rugby league world to its core. A positive outpouring of support for the 26-year-old's decision though made it all the much easier for the majority of fans to say farewell to the Origin and Kangaroos star in his unprecedented move. For a kid from Minto, his big (and initial) move to the bright lights of Los Angeles allowed him to take the first steps towards achieving his dreams.
4. Burgess's Grand Final- and Clive Churchill Medal-winning heroics
The whistle for the 2014 grand final sounded out. Barnstorming Rabbitohs lock Sam Burgess, in his final game in the NRL, was given the ball. Within seconds he was left reeling after colliding with the big, hard head of James Graham – and rose with his hand pressed to a cheekbone that was clearly damaged. Throughout a massive 80-minute performance, commentators were comparing his efforts to John Sattler's heroics in the 1970 Grand Final where he played out the game with a broken jaw. By game's end, Burgess had the Clive Churchill medal swinging around his neck after running for 225 metres and making 35 tackles, in the meantime writing himself into rugby league folklore.
3. The Rise for Alex Round
A tragic spinal injury to Alex McKinnon in the final game of Round 3 was something the game has never quite dealt with before, an unfathomably sad incident that has left McKinnon still in a wheelchair. In response, all in the name of Alex McKinnon, the game united. The game rose as one for McKinnon in Round 19 in an effort to help aid his recovery. High profile players like Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Robbie Farah wore the No. 16 jumper (the jumper McKinnon was wearing when tragedy struck) in tribute, while the eight games across the course of the weekend produced an overall donation of $1.1 million towards the 23-year-old's recovery.
2. New South Wales breaks an eight-year drought
It had been eight years. Eight long, cold, disappointing years of yearning for New South Welshman everywhere. But somebody forgot to inform rookie halfback Trent Hodkinson that their more fancied Queensland opponents wanted to make it nine straight. In only his second Origin appearance, after helping steer the Jarryd Hayne-inspired Blues to victory up in Brisbane only a few weeks earlier, Hodkinson came up with a crucial try, dummying past former Sea Eagles teammate Daly Cherry-Evans to score, and converted to earn NSW a 6-4 victory and their first Origin series win since Andrew Johns led them to the promised land in 2005.
1. South Sydney win premiership 43 years in the making
Could it be anything else? The game was an absolute corker, despite South Sydney running away with it in the end to blow the winning margin out to 24. While the Bulldogs tried their absolute hardest to ruin Rabbitohs fans' nights, they couldn't stop the cardinal and myrtle fairytale from coming true. George and Sam Burgess were monumental. Rookies Luke Keary and Apisai Koroisau along with level-heads Adam Reynolds and Greg Inglis proved vital while the remainder of the team did the jobs handed down to them by coach Michael Maguire to a tee. The Rabbitohs weren't prepared to talk about the 43-year wait between premierships in the lead-up to the game, but you could tell how much it meant to them upon finally breaking the foundation club's premiership drought – something Souths fans have been aching for since 1971.