NRL.com's top 10 matches of 2016
Inspired by Sunday's epic grand final between the Sharks and Storm, here's a look back at the 10 best games of the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season.
10. The Bryce is right (Round 5, Eels v Panthers)
The Panthers headed into Round 5 with a 1-3 record and faced a red-hot Parramatta side that had won three on the trot. Nothing could separate the western Sydney rivals in the first half, but the Eels looked to have sealed the two points when Isaac de Gois scored 14 minutes from full-time to open up a six-point buffer. A 76th-minute try to Josh Mansour gave Jamie Soward the opportunity to tie things up, but his sideline conversion attempt sailed wide. Not for the first time in his career, Soward's left boot would have the final say as his cross-field kick was reeled in by Waqa Blake who offloaded out the back to Bryce Cartwright, who dummied and spun out of a tackle to score with one second left on the clock to give the mountain men a famous win in the local derby.
9. Air Jordan seals Canberra comeback (Round 17, Raiders v Knights)
No lead is safe when you've lost nine games in a row. Just ask the Knights. Up 22-0 after 25 minutes, Newcastle looked certain to leave the nation's capital with just their second win of the season. But when Blake Austin pegged one back on the stroke of half-time, you just got the feeling that a comeback was brewing. Jack Wighton made it back-to-back four-pointers for the Green Machine before a Jarrod Croker double made it 24-all with five minutes to play. The comeback was complete 60 seconds from full-time when Austin potted a one-pointer, but a short kick-off paid off for the Knights leading to a clutch Trent Hodkinson field goal to send the teams to golden point for the second time in 2016. Losing any match in extra time is painful, but when your opponent ends the game unintentionally, it really cuts deep. That's exactly what happened when Austin's field goal attempt sailed wide, took a wicked bounce and landed in the arms of Jordan Rapana who dived over to seal the deal.
8. Reality Sheck (Round 5, Roosters v Warriors)
Winless after four rounds, the last thing the Roosters needed was to have a former teammate return to break their hearts in the cruellest way imaginable. This game nearly had more momentum shifts than the other 200 Telstra Premiership matches combined. The Roosters got off to a fast start, then the Warriors piled on three tries in seven minutes to hit the lead, only for the Tricolours to grab the next three before the Kiwis crossed and kicked a late penalty goal to level the scored at 28-all. In a year that saw the Warriors produce rocks or diamonds footy, it took just one play for them to come up with a golden moment in extra time to win the game. Tuimoala Lolohea's footwork and a broken defensive line equals trouble for any opposition, and the winger made them pay with a scything run from a kick return before linking up with former Rooster Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who fended away from Shaun Kenny-Dowall to win the game for his new side.
7. Martin's dream debut (Round 3, Panthers v Broncos)
You could say 2016 was the year of the debutant, and perhaps no first-gamer had a better start to his career than Te Maire Martin. The battle between the unbeaten Broncos and winless Panthers looked to be going to script when Anthony Milford inspired his troops to a 22-6 lead after 37 minutes. But a try either side of half-time gave the mountain men a sniff, and with the game on the line they turned to their rookie five-eighth to get them home. Chilling on the right wing because of fatigue, Martin collected a pass from then teammate Elijah Taylor and stepped his way to the line to lock up the scores. Jamie Soward missed the subsequent conversion and then pushed a penalty goal wide, but there would be no such problem for his rookie halves partner who piloted his drop goal attempt between the sticks to pull off the monumental upset.
6. This is my house! (Round 23, Wests Tigers v Titans)
It took just two games back in rugby league for Jarryd Hayne to stamp his mark on the NRL. This game had everything from long-range tries, lead changes and a season-ending injury to Tigers fullback James Tedesco. Gold Coast looked home and hosed with an 18-10 lead at a pumping Campbelltown Oval before two tries to David Nofoaluma drew the hosts level with 10 minutes to play. There was late drama galore as Mitch Moses hit the post with a conversion attempt and then missed a penalty goal, while both teams traded wayward shots at a field goal. And then, with literally seconds on the clock, the boy from Minto booted a drop goal from 30 metres out that never looked like missing to secure his side a crucial two competition points that ultimately earned them a place in the finals at the Tigers' expense.
5. Raise your shoes and celebrate (Grand Final, Storm v Sharks)
If games were ranked purely on the final 10 minutes alone then this would be a clear-cut number one. Not that there was anything wrong with the first 70 minutes as a near-faultless Cronulla side pounded the Storm line throughout the first half but only mustered an eight-point cushion at the break. It took just 10 minutes for the inevitable comeback to begin, with Jesse Bromwich barging over from close range, before Will Chambers sliced through to give the Storm its field lead in the 64th minute. Their advantage wouldn't last long as powerhouse prop Andrew Fifita crashed through to score under the posts to put Cronulla in front by two, before the Sharks had to withstand a five-minute assault at the death to seal their first premiership win in club history. No one in the Shire has drunk out of anything but footwear since.
4. Taylor-made situation for Titans rookie (Round 13, Rabbitohs v Titans)
Perth, you're welcome. If you wanted to impress people in the wild west, this was the game to do it. Five tries apiece, four goals each and a couple of individual performances that had Fantasy coaches cheering for 88 minutes. Led by Ryan James's two tries, 193 metres and 48 tackles, the Titans held an 18-0 lead after 47 minutes. But on the back of Sam Burgess's mind-boggling 260 metres and 53 tackles, the Bunnies clawed their way back into the contest with four tries in 17 minutes to pull with two points. A try to Josh Hoffman pushed the margin back out to six, but Cameron McInnes's four-pointer and a clutch conversion by Adam Reynolds after the siren sent the game to golden point. Reynolds looked to have clinched the famous win with a wobbly field goal in the first period of extra time, but his celebrations were short-lived after the Bunker ruled that Nathan Brown had illegally blocked the Titans from getting to the kicker. On a night that had already seen him score a try, set one up and nail a 40/20, Titans youngster Ashley Taylor showed poise beyond his years to bang over a drop goal in the 88th minute to confirm his status as Rookie of the Year.
3. The streak… is over (Round 21, Titans v Sharks)
At 12-0 up and with a numerical advantage, it looked like the Sharks would romp to their 16th straight win of the season against a Gold Coast side battling for a spot in the top eight. Three Titans tries in the space of 20 minutes turned the game on its head to give the hosts a deserved lead, but just like he did in the grand final, Andrew Fifita produced a huge play late in the game to score under the posts to draw his side level. Golden point was as thrilling as it gets even though neither side could land the telling blow. It started with drama at the coin toss, then James Maloney hit the post with a field goal attempt, Konrad Hurrell was held up in goal and a combined 10 drop goals were missed before the referee called an end much to the relief of 34 physically spent players.
2. Milford magic makes Good Friday great (Round 4, Broncos v Cowboys)
How do you follow up a classic like the 2015 grand final? By putting on a dramatic Good Friday blockbuster in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium. Four penalty goals and an Anthony Milford try had the Broncos up by eight early in the second half, but some Michael Morgan magic put the Cowboys in front late in the contest. A length-of-the-field try to James Roberts helped the Broncos reclaim the lead with five minutes to play, but an offside penalty allowed Johnathan Thurston to knock over the two points to once again send the Queensland foes into golden point. A freakish bat back by Kyle Feldt looked to have set up Thurston for the match-winner, but after being denied at one end, the Cowboys had to watch on as Milford landed a 40-metre 85th-minute field goal that earned the Broncos redemption, but not revenge for last year's heartbreak.
1. The king in the north (Finals Week 2, Cowboys v Broncos)
Nothing will ever top their meeting in the 2015 grand final, but boy did this go close. With both teams' seasons on the line, the Cowboys and Broncos added another chapter to their seemingly endless run of epic contests on a night that ended the career of Brisbane great Corey Parker. Things looked good for the Broncos as they went to the sheds with a 14-6 half-time lead, before momentum swung North Queensland's way through an unlikely source. A rapid-fire double to centre Justin O'Neill turned an eight-point deficit into a four-point lead, until a runaway try to Corey Oates gave the exhausted Broncos a shock lead with 11 minutes to play. It looked like the visitors would keep their premiership defence alive until a Matt Gillett trip on Johnathan Thurston allowed the champion halfback to slot a 79th-minute penalty goal to once again send the Queensland rivals into extra time. With golden point no longer in use, the maestro dummied through and backhanded a flick pass to halves partner Michael Morgan for what proved to be the match winner in the 85th minute. While Thurston received much of the praise in the immediate aftermath of the Townsville epic, it was fellow 'JT' Jason Taumalolo's monstrous haul of 265 metres and 12 tackle breaks that confirmed his status as the most damaging ball-runner in the NRL.