With the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season almost over, we at NRL.com look back at the standout players, teams and coaches of the year.
Who is your pick for coach of the year?
Tony Webeck: I could honestly give this to any of six coaches but Ricky Stuart's Raiders have shown the greatest improvement in 2016. Shane Flanagan had the building blocks in place at Cronulla but Stuart's canny recruitment to bring Elliott Whitehead and Aidan Sezer to the ACT turned Canberra from a bottom-eight side into preliminary finalists. Ricky put this roster together and got the best out of them, coming up just one game short of a grand final.
Chris Kennedy: The lofty achievements versus expectations of Canberra and Gold Coast puts Ricky Stuart and Neil Henry in the frame, while the major surgery on Penrith's roster followed by immediate results is a huge tick for Anthony Griffin. But for me, the man-management of Eels coach Brad Arthur to guide his rattled club and shredded roster to 13 wins despite the chaos going on around him was nothing short of miraculous.
Martin Gabor: Anthony Griffin. The Panthers mentor moved on senior players, promoted Penrith's next wave of talent and made some inspired positional switches in 2016 to guide his side to the second week of the finals.
Jack Brady: Craig Bellamy. The Storm coach pushed all the correct buttons in 2016. No other coach can lay claim to overcoming a huge shortage of outside backs and still be alive in the competition.
Dominic Brock: Neil Henry gets the nod from me, considering the squad he had at his disposal, a brand new halves pairing, and the fact the Titans lost two of their most promising players in James Roberts and Kane Elgey before the season began and still made the eight ahead of talent-packed teams like the Warriors, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Roosters. Brad Arthur did a pretty terrific job in very tough circumstances as well.
Andrew Bryan: The Raiders' ability to play their unique brand of attacking football and finish second needs to be celebrated. As such Ricky Stuart needs to be applauded for how his team has performed beating more fancied opponents along the way.
Adrian McMurray: The Raiders were expected to improve, but few could've predicted just how far Ricky Stuart would take them. With astute recruitment and a new-found ability to win the tight games (something that was sorely lacking in 2015), Stuart has moulded his side into a premiership contender for the foreseeable future.
Who are the year's biggest overachievers?
Tony Webeck: The Titans were the overwhelming favourites to finish dead last in 2016 but from the moment they won three of their first four games maintained touch with the top eight. Five losses on the trot saw them drop to 13th at the halfway point but Neil Henry's men showed great resolve to drop just one game in six late in the season and qualify for the finals for the first time since 2010.
Chris Kennedy: There are three teams that finished significantly higher on the ladder than I expected – Canberra, Gold Coast and Wests Tigers – but from the time halfback Kane Elgey's season ended before it started I simply couldn't envision the Titans finishing better than 14th, let alone eighth. Bravo to Neil Henry and his men, they really aimed up this year and stuck it to the critics.
Martin Gabor: Most pundits had Gold Coast finishing with the wooden spoon in 2016, but on the back of an unwavering desire to play for each other, a well-disciplined style of football and some astute mid-season signings, the Titans snuck into the finals and are well-positioned to stay there for many years to come.
Jack Brady: If we're going off my ladder prediction from the beginning of the year then the Gold Coast Titans were it. I picked them to come last, they made the top eight. Simple.
Dominic Brock: Nobody expected the Titans to get near the finals this season, even before Kane Elgey was ruled out for the year. Their top-eight run was all the more impressive for the fact they didn't rely on Jarryd Hayne to get them there.
Andrew Bryan: This all comes down to expectations and there is no doubt the Titans surprised many with their unlikely finals appearance after a turbulent off-season that saw them lose first-choice halves in DCE and then Kane Elgey, not to mention their best player of the previous year James Roberts. It was a remarkable season for Gold Coast.
Adrian McMurray: Gold Coast Titans. No one gave the Titans much of a chance at the start of the season, but the club was patient and waited for the right players to add to their roster, pouncing when Nathan Peats and Jarryd Hayne became available. Scraped into the top eight, exceeding all expectations.
The biggest underachievers?
Tony Webeck: The easy answer is the Warriors but given they have failed to make the finals for the past four years it's hardly a great fall. On the other hand, the Roosters came off three straight minor premierships to only finish ahead of the hapless Knights, a dramatic fall from grace for a team that has become accustomed to success.
Chris Kennedy: If we're purely talking results versus expectations then the Roosters take this one easily. Even given the long absences to stars Mitch Pearce, Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, the strength of the forward pack and quality of the coach should have had them in finals contention on the home stretch. They lost any number of narrow games but 2016 was a year to forget for the Bondi Boys.
Martin Gabor: For the umpteenth year in a row, the Warriors failed to live up to the pre-season hype. With a glut of international stars on their books, the Warriors crumbled in the post-Origin period to miss the finals for the fifth year in a row. To add to their concerns, their Holden Cup team missed the playoffs for the first time in club history.
Jack Brady: The Sea Eagles disappointed me dearly considering the players who signed on. Injuries didn't help but the writing was on the wall long before their casualty ward started filling up.
Dominic Brock: The Roosters were disappointing even considering their big-name absentees early on and Manly's new era under Trent Barrett was underwhelming to say the least, but South Sydney's demise is harder to explain. On paper they still bear a strong resemblance to the team that won the comp two years ago and they were genuinely good in the last month of the season, which only emphasised how much they had underachieved before that to be well out of finals contention.
Andrew Bryan: Manly had one of the highest profile recruitment drives in the off-season but failed to fire for the second season in a row, while the Roosters' season imploded before it started and had the biggest fall after three consecutive minor premierships. With still one of the best looking teams on paper, the Tricolours were expected to make the top four at worst, so 15th was an incredible fall from grace.
Adrian McMurray: Sydney Roosters. After three consecutive minor premierships, most expected the Tricolours to drop lower in the top eight or even out of the finals race completely. But few could've expected Trent Robinson's side to end the year in 15th spot. Injuries and suspensions meant many young players were thrust into first grade earlier than expected, which should at least hold the club in good stead for the years to come.