As we count down to the start of the 2015 season NRL.com had a think about some headlines footy fans would like to read over the course of the new year. Here are the top 10.
10. Hayne scores touchdown in NFL debut
Ok, so not exactly an NRL headline but you can guarantee it would be big news in rugby league circles. We'll also concede it's at the unlikely end of the spectrum but what a fantastic fillip it would be for the international game if a home grown star could make an impact in the biggest full-contact footballing code on the planet. The interest in the local game would spike overseas and we could even see an influx of quality US athletes over time.
9. Carney finds solace at Catalans
Rugby league loves little better than a good old-fashioned redemption story and it would be hard to begrudge Carney a successful stint in the last chance saloon in France. The now-infamous 'bubbler' incident may have been the final straw in his NRL career and a bad look for the game but you'd have to have a very hard heart to not want to see him enjoy a happy stint at his new club, Super League's Catalans Dragons. Let's hope we see a mature Carney rediscover his best form and only find himself in the headlines for the right reasons.
8. Kiwis officially world's best
If New Zealand can claim a rare win in May's Trans-Tasman Test they will officially move past Australia on the world rankings to become the top-ranked rugby league nation. No doubt this would rankle plenty of fair-dinkum Aussie fans, but take a step back and look at the big picture. Rugby league has been criticised for not being competitive enough at international level, with the Kiwis usually passengers in the May fixture and their 2008 World Cup triumph the only time the Kangaroos haven't won the tournament since 1972. Losing their top billing could be the rocket a rapidly-changing 'Roos outfit needs to spark them back into top form, too.
7. Daley does it again
This may be more of a headline that 50 per cent of fans would like to see, but if Blues coach Laurie Daley can conjure another Coffs Harbour miracle, with again only one Origin game in Sydney and having lost his number one strike weapon in fullback Jarryd Hayne – and up against what is sure to be a galaxy of the game's biggest stars (Thurston, Smith, Inglis, Slater, Cronk, etc) – another Origin series win for the Blues would put Daley up in Phil Gould territory as the Blues' best-regarded coach, and truly re-establish the competitiveness of what has been an alarmingly one-sided interstate battle for quite some time.
6. Breakout season for [injury-prone youngster]
We could pick any number of names here but it's always frustrating when a prodigious talent is sidelined through their formative years due to a horror run with injury. The likes of Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco and his teammate Tim Moltzen, Storm and former Kiwi winger Matt Duffie, Eel-turned Bulldog Jacob Loko, Dragon-turned Shark Kyle Stanley, towering Titan Ryan James and the Cowboys' forgotten man, Lachlan Coote; regardless of what club you support, rugby league fans across the country would like to see these unlucky young men have a solid injury-free run and make their mark on the NRL in 2015.
5. No coaches axed for first time in memory
Usually the knives are out nice and early for the coach of any under-performing team at the start of a new season. In 2014, Matt Elliott (Warriors) was the first to go after just five rounds but Steve Price (Dragons), John Cartwright (Titans) and Mick Potter (Wests Tigers) each failed to see out the season, while Anthony Griffin (Broncos) was told he'd be moving on to make way for the returning Wayne Bennett – and all that's not counting the issues with Shane Flanagan, Peter Sharp and James Shepherd at Cronulla. Canberra's Ricky Stuart enters 2015 as the clipboard-holder arguably under the most pressure but new coaches Paul McGregor (Dragons), Jason Taylor (Tigers), Neil Henry (Titans) and returning Rick Stone (Newcastle) each have plenty to prove. It'd be nice to see them all still in their respective roles in 12 months' time.
4. [Former club] discard makes mark at [new club]
There are a few of these on the radar for 2015, and with the exception of a few bitter sorts among the fanbase at any player's former club, most rugby league fans can appreciate a player rebuilding his career after being shown the door. Think one-time Origin star Tim Grant, cut from Penrith and looking to make his mark at Souths. Or discarded Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman, cut to clear the way for Darius Boyd's return, looking to stamp himself at the Titans. Even the well-travelled Willie Mason, moved on after being one of the Knights' best, seeking to add some mongrel to the Manly pack, and ditto cult hero George Rose at the Dragons after an unhappy year in Melbourne. Aim up fellas, we're rooting for you.
3. Rabbitohs crowned world champs
The Rabbitohs were the fairytale story of 2014, and by Grand Final Week fans of just about every club other than the Bulldogs (and possibly the Roosters) were cheering them on to break their 43-year drought. They get to represent all of Australian rugby league when they fly over to ol' Blighty along with the Dragons and Broncos for the World Club Series, and have a chance to match their cross-town rivals, the Roosters, who won the previous fixture 12 months prior.
2. Live Sunday footy a ratings bonanza
With the highly anticipated return of live footy on Sundays, the naysayers were quick to decry the later kick-off times that would go with it, because as we all know, you can never please everyone. But fans have clamoured long and loud for more live footy on free-to-air TV so the 4pm Channel Nine game will be the acid test in 2015. We predict (and hope) for an explosion of returning viewers who may otherwise have listened on the radio or checked scores on their phones rather than trying to stay spoiler-free to watch the delayed and interrupted coverage after the fact.
1. Hasler installs Bulldogs as competition favourites
The story would run a little like this...
After years of trying to claim his highly successful teams were "flying under the radar", two-time premiership-winning coach Des Hasler has thrown his own rule book out the window. "I'm clearly the best coach in the NRL and I'll be buggered if there's a better roster out there than the one we've got at Belmore," Hasler declared. Having guided his teams to five of the past eight grand finals, the Bulldogs mentor added: "The only way we won't take it out this year is if we lose 20 blokes to injury because I can't see any other team out there that can match us."
We did say this is headlines we'd like to see, not necessarily ones we will see...