Top 50 stories of 2015: Part 3
The countdown of the 50 most-read stories on NRL.com in 2015 continues with rugby league minnows making some noise, the build-up to Origin I, post-season autopsies of where your team needs to improve and North Queensland fans sensing history in the making.
30. Minnows make plenty of noise
NRL.com was the only to place to watch the World Cup qualifier between Tonga and the Cook Islands and footy fans with an internet connection didn't miss their chance. More than 40,000 people viewed the page where the live stream was housed and they witnessed an enthralling contest capped off by some Solomone Kata class.
A spot in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup is up for grabs when Tonga v Cook Islands 7:30pm tonight at Campbelltown. pic.twitter.com/PoTCg0n4gN— NRL (@NRL) October 17, 2015
29. Any news is good news for Tigers
They boast one of the most passionate supporter bases in the NRL so at a time when the Robbie Farah saga was well and truly dominating the headlines news of some signings for 2016 was apparently music to the ears of Wests Tigers fans. They may have known very little about the trio of Michael Chee Kam, Jack Littlejohn and Jesse Parahi but given how many times the page was viewed, Tigers fans are very eager to see how they go in 2016.
28. Top clubs plot their English invasion
The grand final combatants, Brisbane and North Queensland, along with the minor premier Sydney Roosters are confirmed as the NRL representatives to travel to England in February to face Super League heavyweights Leeds, Wigan and St Helens. Andrew Hill, the NRL's General Manager League Integration and Development said: "Last season was a great start to the expanded series but in 2016 we will have the Premiers, and Runners-Up and the Minor Premiers, meaning next year's tournament will truly be for the best of the best," said the NRL's General Manager League and Integration Development, Andrew Hill.
27. Grand Final spot goes on the line
It was billed – admittedly by yours truly – as "the most anticipated end to a trilogy since Tina Turner joined Mad Max in the Thunderdome" and the build-up was worthy of that of a premiership decider. For much of the season this was the grand final many predicted and after two pulsating clashes during the regular season with honours shared one apiece we thought perhaps home ground advantage would be enough to get the Broncos home. What we weren't expecting was the gift from Roosters winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall in the opening 90 seconds.
26. Here we go again
Talk of 'Origin bolters' and 'shock selections' were finally put out to rest as the two teams for the opening game of the 2015 Holden State of Origin Series were named and we pored over stats and sleeping patterns to try to decipher a winner. For the first time since 2006 the Blues went into a series in possession of the shield and with home ground advantage first-up a great opportunity to start on the right note. "At home and with Laurie Daley again the master of his domain we'll tip the Blues to grab a low-scoring arm wrestle by two points."
25. Fans flood to view team autopsies
The Cowboys had barely begun their trophy tour of North Queensland when we began pulling apart the performances of all 16 teams in 2015 and boldly declaring what was needed to improve their fortunes in 2016. In Part 2 we dissected the Eels, Panthers, Raiders and Sea Eagles and decided that the Eels were inconsistent, the Panthers injury prone, the Raiders need to tighten up and Manly had to somehow find a replacement for Kieran Foran.
24. Big clubs go under the knife
Some of the game's biggest fan bases saw their team's credentials investigated in Part 3 of our look into the future with the Rabbitohs, Sharks, Bulldogs and Dragons. In addition to what each team needed we highlighted what they are already getting, which for the Dragons was the handy pick-up of Kurt Mann from Melbourne, the Rabbitohs snaring Damien Cook, the arrival of James Maloney raising questions about where Jack Bird fits in a Sharks line-up and the Dogs... Well, the Dogs hadn't signed anyone until Will Hopoate lobbed on their doorstep in December.
23. Townsville types start to get excited
A lot of questions were asked of the North Queensland Cowboys as they prepared to host Cronulla in Week Two of the Finals Series in Townsville. Could they handle the hype? Would the finals curse of years gone by cruel another run at glory? Would the underdog Sharks loaded with wily veterans strike in the tropics as they had earlier in the season. The answers were a resounding no, no and absolutely not.
22. 'Pack your bags Deidre, we're going to Sydney!'
The only negative about North Queensland qualifying for their second grand final in an all-Queensland blockbuster was the exorbitant costs that flights from Townsville to Sydney seemed to become overnight. Despite having won just twice in 11 previous visits to Melbourne previously the Cowboys took command of the game to lead 16-12 at half-time and on the back of a virtuoso performance by Johnathan Thurston won their way through to a second grand final 32-12. Much of the headlines post-game centred around hot favourite Thurston attending the Dally M Awards in Sydney.
21. Poignant pic behind Brisbane's forgotten man
It was a moment captured by Mitch Lewis in the aftermath of Brisbane's Preliminary Final triumph over the Roosters that secured their passage into the 2015 Telstra Premiership Grand Final. It was supposed to be a moment of pure joy but the pain of missing out due to injury was too much for Josh McGuire to hold back. He fell into the arms of Sam Thaiday and in Grand Final week McGuire's teammates made sure he received the credit he deserved for helping them to achieve their goal.