NRL month in review: January
There were premiership-winning internationals changing clubs, new captains appointed, season-ending injuries, an executive shake up at the NRL, and even a touch of Hollywood. They call it the off-season but in reality, it was only January.
Unlike your favourite television drama, the NRL doesn't have an off-season. It is an ever-evolving, ubiquitous beast spanning 52 weeks of the year and is now its own self-fulfilling 24-hour news service.
Sure the time honoured pre-season clichés are still there, but they are hard pressed to get a decent run in such a dense and dynamic news cycle. When you consider that we don't have a 'footy-free' weekend from now until the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final on October 2, the news cycle is about to go into full blown overdrive.
If you are still living in an afterglow of New Year's celebrations, you may have missed many intriguing developments and plot twists in the never-ending NRL saga.
James Roberts trained with the Broncos for the first time on January 4 after signing just before Christmas following an unbelievable turn of events with the Titans. With a contract extension – that would have made Roberts one of the cornerstones of the Gold Coast outfit – null and void due to a forged signature, Roberts decided to walk out of the Titans and ply his trade at local rivals the Broncos, who were just one second away from winning the Premiership in 2015.
The following day Gold Coast's big hope, halfback Kane Elgey, was ruled out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the first training session of the new year. The innocuous injuries always seem to be the worst.
Two days later the Titans signed youngster Cameron Cullen on a train-and-trial contract to attempt to cover the loss of their star youngster who carried the hopes of the franchise following Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans' high profile backflip last year.
Tim Grant signed with Wests Tigers, hardly big news in a rapidly moving landscape, but an important signing for the Tigers and their fans who have had their fair share of speculation and innuendo since the conclusion of the 2015 season.
Queensland and New South Wales showed their hands with respective emerging Origin squads, an impressive list of names that shape as the future flag bearers for their state and possibly the code itself. But the notable omissions sent the NRL universe (read: blogs and twitterverse) into somewhat of a light tailspin.
Gareth Widdop was named St George Illawarra Dragons captain, highlighting his importance to the club, but also announced the changing of the guard at the Red V as one of the club's all-time stalwarts Ben Creagh looks set to call time on his distinguished career in the not too distant future.
Exciting youngster Jack Bird ended months of speculation by inking an important, if not small, extension with Cronulla, holding the wolves at bay for at least another year and giving fans at the Shire reason to believe that a maiden NRL premiership is no longer a pipedream but a realistic opportunity after a stellar 2015 campaign was ended by eventual premiers North Queensland.
The Eels officially appointed a CEO before the one-two combination that had been rumoured for some time was inevitably made official. Superstar centre Michael Jennings left the Roosters to head to Parramatta, while the Roosters snapped up Dale Copley from the Broncos as a straight replacement for the Test and Origin star.
Copley of course had to make way at Brisbane with the arrival of Roberts, meaning the Broncos lost a player they had once earmarked as a future club captain.
The next three days added further intrigue for the 2016 season both on and off the field.
Johnathan Thurston was ruled out of the All Stars and replaced as captain by Greg Inglis, Hollywood actor and South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe was forced to hose down a rift between himself and Rabbitohs half Luke Keary, Lachlan Maranta was ruled out for two months with a fractured wrist, while there were two changes to the NRL's executive team with Head of Strategy Shane Richardson announcing he was quitting his post to return to South Sydney, and the NRL's strong focus on an ever expanding digital landscape was strengthened with the announcement of Rebekah Horne as Chief Digital Officer in a newly created role at NRL HQ.
The Titans poached highly respected Roosters executive Brian Canavan to become their new Chief Executive Officer, Dane Nielsen was 'thrown a lifeline' and signed with South Sydney, Penrith named Matt Moylan as their club captain, while Test matches for Newcastle and Perth were announced.
The Roosters stood down captain Mitchell Pearce for an incident on Australia Day, which is likely to cause a backline reshuffle for one of the competition favourites in 2016.
All this with no footy.
The story continues in February as the Downer NRL Auckland Nines are set to kick-off another season that will include the World Club Series, NRL trials, the NRL Telstra Premiership season, Holden State of Origin and the end of year Four Nations tournament.
Off-season? What off-season?
Previously in the NRL...
Jan 4 - James Roberts first training session with new club Brisbane
Jan 5 - Kane Elgey ruled out for season after being injured in the Titans first training session of 2016
Jan 7 - Titans sign Cameron Cullen as cover for Elgey
Jan 8 - Wests Tigers sign Tim Grant
Jan 12 - Maroons name emerging Origin squad
Jan 13 - NSW name emerging Origin squad
Jan 14 - Gareth Widdop announced as Dragons captain
Jan 15 - Jack Bird re-signs with the Sharks, extending deal until 2017
Jan 17 - Eels appoint John Boulous CEO
Jan 18 - Michael Jennings signs with Eels on a four year deal
- Dale Copley signs with the Roosters on a three year deal
Jan 19 - Johnathan Thurston ruled out of All Stars, Greg Inglis named captain
- Lachlan Maranta ruled out for up to two months with a fractured wrist
Jan 20 - Russell Crowe apologises for rant aimed at Luke Keary
- NRL announces a record 40 ambassadors for community programs
Jan 21 - Shane Richardson announces he is leaving his role of NRL Head of Strategy to re-join South Sydney as head of football
- NRL announces Rebekah Horne as Chief Digital Officer
Jan 22 - Titans sign Brian Canavan as COO, poaching him from the Roosters
Jan 25 - Representative round fixtures released by the NRL including a Test at Newcastle and Country-City at Tamworth
Jan 25 - Dane Nielson signs with South Sydney
Jan 27 - Matt Moylan named Penrith captain
Jan 27 - NRL announces Perth Test match between Australia and NZ in October
Jan 28 - 2016 NRL Fantasy launches
Jan 28 - Roosters stand down captain Mitchell Pearce after Australia Day incident
Jan 28 - Martin Kennedy banned for two years for doping violations
Jan 29 - Matt Bowen named amongst a host of NRL Auckland Nines squads
- Newcastle sign Pauli Pauli from Parramatta on a two-year deal