Top 50 stories of 2015: Part 2
The countdown of the top 50 stories on NRL.com in 2015 continues with the graduating class of the 2015 Holden Cup, Hayne-mania getting into full flight, Andrew Voss having his say on the grand final and the 10 preliminary final heartbreaks that hurt the most.
40. Broncos back-up for Bunny blockbuster
He would later call it the defining moment of the Broncos' season and Wayne Bennett's decision to keep his Brisbane players in Sydney ahead of their Round 25 clash with the Rabbitohs was a masterstroke. Edged out by a gallant Roosters in a brutal encounter in Round 24, the Broncos went into camp in Coogee and set about planning their premiership tilt. Their first assignment was the defending premiers who had humiliated them in Round 1 and with Greg Inglis absent they were given every chance of emerging victorious.
39. Class of 2015 gets their coronation
The level of talent emerging through the under-20s Holden Cup competition was again of an exceptional standard with five members of the Team of the Year making their NRL debuts in 2015. Wests Tigers half Te Maire Martin and Newcastle's Danny Levi joined a select group of players to be named in the Team of the Year in two consecutive seasons while first-time coach Cameron Ciraldo was named Coach of the Year.
38. Hayne plane hits the heights
One of the biggest stories of 2014 carried into 2015 with Jarryd Hayne incredibly making his NFL debut with the San Francisco 49ers in the opening week of the season. It's a story that has captured the imagination of the entire nation and when we asked former Eels teammate Daniel Mortimer to measure Hayne's feat after his second starring role in a pre-season match, even he was left stunned by his accomplishment. "It's still so surreal seeing him over there. I'm going to San Francisco in October so hopefully he makes the squad and I can catch up with him over there."
37. Two teams eye fairytale finals run
Between them there was the grand total of zero Telstra Premierships between the Cowboys and Sharks so it was little wonder fans were excited at the prospect of advancing to the Preliminary Final. Having just missed out on a top-four finish the Sharks deposed the defending champs in Week One of the finals while the Cowboys were in recovery mode after a pulsating Qualifying Final against the Broncos in Brisbane. And although the trip to Townsville is daunting at the best of times, Cronulla ventured north full of confidence having come back from 18-0 down to win 24-18 in Round 16 and then in Round 22 triumphed 30-18 on their home turf. A grand final berth was just two wins away...
36. Vossy declares: Best. Grand. Final. Ever.
Somehow rugby league managed to save the best until last and in the mind of at least columnist Andrew Voss, the Cowboys' 18-17 golden point win over the Broncos was the best premiership decider he had ever seen. "The '89 decider had Benny Elias hitting the crossbar; Michael Neil ankle tapped, and Chicka Ferguson's try, among a host of memorable moments and then 20 minutes of extra time. But for Sunday night you have to add to the story a crowd of 83,000; the history of the night as a first all Queensland grand final, and the fact that it came down to a kick from the sideline attempted by the sport's biggest superstar. I can't imagine it could ever get any better."
35. Horror reading, but you couldn't look away
When you get thumped by a record 52-6 scoreline in the most hyped game of the season the ratings of each individual's performance are never going to make for pleasant reading, yet you couldn't help yourselves. In retrospect we might have even been a bit generous towards the beaten Blues but perhaps we subconsciously figured they'd suffered enough. Or perhaps it was just delirious Queenslanders who kept going back to look at them time and time again.
34. Falling at the final hurdle
I've had many arguments with friends debating my belief that it is worse to lose a Preliminary Final than a Grand Final, and I stand by that. For these 10 teams bound for grand final glory, coming up a week short cut so deep that many players and fans never fully recovered. Yes Bears fans, I'm talking to you.
33. Queensland delivers a Week One classic
It was considered the best game of the finals series until the Broncos and Cowboys met up again three weeks later in what many would consider to be the greatest grand final of all time. As it was, the Qualifying Final at Suncorp Stadium on the first Saturday of the Finals Series was an end-of-year classic in its own right. There were talking points at every turn but we went with the super sub, Broncos' brick wall and a rivalry to savour.
32. Storm throw finals race wide open
If ever there was an example that the Finals Series is the start of a whole new competition, Melbourne's upset of the minor premiers, the Roosters, proved the point yet again. Melbourne's grinding 20-18 win at Allianz Stadium threw the finals race wide open and left eager beavers to plot the respective courses their teams would now take. For Melbourne it represented a week off and home Preliminary Final, for the Roosters a sudden-death showdown with the Bulldogs.
31. Centres start the new year in style
It's hard to pin-point the exact reason a story seems to take off but we'll put this one down to thousands of new year's resolutions to read more rugby league in 2015. The very first story of the year was a countdown of the top centres in the game and you took advantage of the day off to see who came out on top. Do you remember who that was?
Stay tuned for Part 3 on NRL.com tomorrow