Monday Morning Halfback: Round 25
Jarryd Hayne shows the power of player brand, the Bulldogs lose their halfback for the season, two of the game's greats bow out as champions, rugby league is immortalised at Wembley and the Warriors dramatic slide continues.
Hayne-mania shows brand potential
The hype around Jarryd Hayne has once again shown the potential for player brand in the NRL. Hayne's number 38 jersey has been selling quickly and it isn't even in official production yet, with Nike ready to go into full-scale manufacture mode if he makes the San Francisco 49ers roster. It shows the power of player brand, rest assured if he makes the team, demand for his jersey will be hot. The NFL sent a targeted EDM to Australian fans on Monday morning encouraging them to pre-order the Hayne No.38 jersey.
While squad numbers have been discussed previously at NRL HQ, it is definitely something the game should consider seriously in the future. The ability to buy your favourite player's jersey whether it be a Slater No.1 jersey, a Thurston No.7 or a Johnson No.7 is certainly a great way to connect fans with players and also provide more revenue in the game. In years gone past it might have been the number 6 of Lockyer, Daley or Fittler. The pulling power of Hayne has shown once again that fans are willing to get behind their favourite athletes.
The best model revolves around clubs picking their top 30 players in order at the start of each season. That means when a star player goes down injured, the youngster coming in has his own jersey and not the added pressure of wearing Thurston's famed No.7 for example. It also adds a level of prestige to each position that the club and player can leverage in the future.
Hayne the messenger
Still on Hayne, if you want to know why it is such a big deal for Rugby League, highlights of Hayne playing for the Eels were shown on the big screen and during the broadcast of his last NFL trial on Sunday. The exposure of our game to a new and much bigger audience was priceless. It won't convert the masses, but if even a small portion of those who saw it start picking up an interest in this 'weird little game played Down Under' - then that is a great start.
The interest will increase tenfold if he can make the NFL and come up with the occasional big play.
Dogged by injury
It is so hard to win an NRL Telstra Premiership. So many things need to go right, which is probably why we haven't seen any team go back-to-back in a unified competition since the Broncos in 1992-93. You need to survive the gruelling regular season in an age when more teams are competitive, you need to peak at the back-end of the year as the finals begin and most of all, you need your star players to avoid injuries.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs were the latest team hit with a high profile casualty on the eve of the finals with halfback Trent Hodkinson out for the remainder of the season due to a wrist injury suffered in the 20-18 victory over the Newcastle Knights on Saturday.
Hodkinson suffered the injury in the first half of the match and scans on Sunday morning revealed a dislocation of a bone in his wrist, with minor surgery required.
While Moses Mbye is a handy replacement by any means to partner Josh Reynolds, the experience of Hodkinson in the big games will be sorely missed. How will the Bulldogs respond?
Challenge Cup inspiration
The Challenge Cup final was a mismatch with Leeds Rhinos running out 50-0 winners over Hull Kingston Rovers at the iconic Wembley Stadium, but it wasn't without its memorable moments.
The rugby league community was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Keighley Cougars player Danny Jones in May. The Wales international felt unwell during a match and later died aged just 29. His widow, Lizzie Jones, sang an emotional rendition of 'Abide With Me' before the final. It was a spine tingling moment felt around the ground with the fans standing as one to applaud her bravery.
Goodbye to legends of the game
The Challenge Cup Final also signalled the beginning of the end for two of rugby league's greatest servants. While they may not be household names in Australia, Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield played in their last ever Challenge Cup. The pair have been an ornament to the game in England and were always gracious with their time during countless Four Nations and World Cup Tournaments. They'll be missed when they hang up the boots at the end of the year.
Sinfield captained the Rhinos in all of his seven finals appearances in the Challenge Cup, breaking St Helens great Eric Ashton's record for most appearances as a skipper.
Peacock, at 37, also appeared in his seventh Cup final, he'll join Hull KR as football manager next year, while Sinfield will end his illustrious career playing rugby union.
It's been a pleasure watching both play over the years, from near and from afar.
Bobcat turns back the clock
291 game NRL veteran Andrew Ryan put the boots back on to play for Souths Newcastle at the weekend.
The "Sleapys Day" event is an annual fundraiser for cancer research where the business community and rugby league come together to support those affected by cancer and adversity.
The 36-year-old was solid coming off the bench, but not good enough to lift Souths to a win. But the event was a massive success, managing to raise over $70,000. Great stuff.
Rugby League immortalised at Wembley
Rugby League was immortalised on its 120th birthday a few hours before the 2015 Challenge Cup final with a statue unveiled at Wembley.
Five of the most prominent northern hemisphere players have been honoured with a statue commissioned in association with Rugby League Cares.
Eric Ashton MBE, Martin Offiah MBE, Alex Murphy OBE, Gus Risman and Billy Boston MBE make up the illustrious five who will forever stand on the Wembley Stadium concourse.
The five players were selected by an extensive poll which engaged stakeholders from across the sport, including current players, former players, MPs, administrators, the media and tens of thousands of fans.
"There's been nothing but great support and goodwill from the people at Wembley Stadium in enabling this to happen," RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood said.
"Wembley is an integral part of the sport's history with the Challenge Cup final having being hosted here since 1929, sculptor Stephen Winterburn was asked to create an image capturing what is great about Rugby League and he has done just that. The statue is exceptional.
"The statue will become a focal point for generations of fans who will come to Wembley and meet 'at the Rugby League legends statue'. Everyone in the game should feel extremely proud."
Warriors déjà vu
The Warriors season continues to nosedive after such a promising start. In Round 24 they lost to the Cowboys 50-16 at home after leading 16-0. On Sunday, they started well again against the Wests Tigers with the opening try, but capitulated badly to amazingly repeat the 50-16 scoreline two weeks in a row.
The Warriors were fourth after 18 rounds and seemingly on their way to a home semi-final. Incredibly they haven't won since, a sequence of seven consecutive losses. Only the Titans have a worse for and against record in the competition.
They'll be happy when the season is over.