Johnathan Thurston with fans during the Cowboys' premiership trophy tour of North Queensland.

Top 50 stories of 2015: Part 5

Our countdown of the 50 most-read stories of 2015 reaches its conclusion with widespread accolades for JT, a trip inside the mind of Wayne Bennett and some Nathan Friend acrobatics that captured the attention of the world.

Top 50 NRL.com stories of 2015: 50-41
Top 50 NRL.com stories of 2015: 40-31
Top 50 NRL.com stories of 2015: 30-21
Top 50 NRL.com stories of 2015: 20-11

10. Robinson gamble backfires badly

When the New South Wales Origin halfback says he is fit to play in a Preliminary Final, the NSW Origin halfback gets picked to play the Preliminary Final. Having been absent for a month with a hamstring injury Mitchell Pearce returned for the Grand Final qualifier against the Broncos but barely lasted the first half as the Roosters became the first team in NRL history to win successive minor premierships and fail to qualify for the grand final both years. "There was about five minutes before half-time and something happened and I could see that he was sore and he didn't have enough strength in it at half-time. Obviously in the end, not the right call from us," said a forlorn Roosters coach Trent Robinson after the game.

Roosters coach regrets playing Pearce

9. Friendy flip goes global

Whittling down the spectacular and sublime tries of 2015 into one concise list is always a challenge but even the good folk at ESPN in America agreed with our choice as the best try of 2015. Sure, there were better crafted tries from a purist's perspective but Nathan Friend's extraordinary upside-down-backflip-between-the-legs pass that hit Sam Tomkins on the chest was the build-up to a try the like of which we had never seen before. As the No.1 item on ESPN's Plays of the Day, millions of Americans were introduced to rugby league courtesy of the 'Friendy flip'.

The top 10 tries of 2015

8. Inside the mind of Wayne Bennett

One of my personal highlights of 2015 was attending the weekly press conferences with master coach Wayne Bennett in his first year back at the Broncos. He can be dismissive and expansive in a matter of moments and as a journalist he challenges you to not only come up with decent questions but to do deliver them in the right way. As the finals approached I thought it might be interesting to dissect one of these weekly sermons and share what goes on beyond the scope of the TV cameras and – thankfully – readers liked it. Or at least clicked on the headline.

What on earth is Wayne Bennett thinking?

7. Pre-season guessing game that never ends

A late-comer to this list, our predictions for how each of the 16 NRL teams will line up in Round 1 is still an evolving document that continues to capture your imagination. If James Roberts signs with the Broncos will Dale Copley have to move on? If he goes to the Dragons will they have to shed an outside back and where will they end up? With each piece of the premiership puzzle that gets moved the Round 1 shuffle starts all over again.

Predicted 2016 NRL line-ups

6. JT and the Cowboys' crowning glory

What is there left to be said? One of the greatest players of all time played a major role in the try one second before full-time, hit the post with the conversion attempt, kicked the premiership-winning field goal two minutes into extra time and then graciously accepted the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the park. We'll never forget it and more than just Cowboys fans couldn't get enough of it.

Thurston kicks Cowboys to premiership

5. One medal down, one to go

The truth of it was that given the year the Cowboys had enjoyed in 2015 there was only ever going to be one winner of the Dally M Medal so the lead-up was dominated by whether Johnathan Thurston would even attend. His stance on player welfare raised the prospect of a boycott but in the end a Preliminary Final in Melbourne and a Grand Final to prepare for in Sydney on Sunday meant that Thurston claimed his record fourth Dally M Medal live via satellite from Townsville. The 11-point margin between a tearful Thurston and Michael Ennis, Benji Marshall and Aaron Woods was a record under the current system and was another chapter in the extraordinary year of 'JT'.

Thurston wins 2015 Dally M Medal

4. Broncos bound into decider on back of Kenny-Dowall shocker

In many people's eyes the Grand Final of the two most dominant teams of the regular season came a week early at Suncorp Stadium when Brisbane hosted the Roosters in the Preliminary Final and weren't there some talking points. Shaun Kenny-Dowall's misdirected pass at the end of the first set of the game was gleefully accepted by Broncos fullback Darius Boyd and simultaneously stunned Roosters fans while bringing Broncos supporters to their feet. There was also the not-so small matter of Justin Hodges being suspended for the final game of his career.

Broncos v Roosters: Five key points

3. Breaking down 2016 club by club

There are many questions to be answered when the draw for the upcoming season drops and the team at NRL.com endeavoured to do much of the grunt work by breaking down the key points for each team's draw for 2016. Whether it was a tough start, a mid-year period affected by Origin or which teams you get to play twice, it was there ready to be digested and you all gorged on what lies just around the corner.

Club-by-club draw: What you need to know

2. Who made our team of the year?

It's a question it appears many of you wanted the answer to given its position as the second-most read story of 2015 on NRL.com. Published at the end of the regular season, eventual champions North Queensland had three representatives in Johnathan Thurston, Jake Granville and Jason Taumalolo while Corey Parker was the sole player named from fellow grand finalists Brisbane.

NRL.com's 2015 Team of the Year

1. The ultimate question gets answered

This is what it all comes down to; why we all engage in this crazy passion called rugby league: Where will my team finish this year? Given one of the tightest premiership races in the game's history we waited until seven weeks from the end of the regular season and used the NRL.com ladder predictor to come up with our final finishing order. How'd we do? Let's just say that Shaun Johnson's injury played havoc with our Warriors prediction and the Sharks far exceeded our expectations.

NRL.com predicts: Where your team will finish