Top 100 stories of 2016: 90-81
Our countdown of the stories that got your attention most in 2016 continues with the Eels' bright start to the season, a grand final berth going on the line and a new home for Robbie Farah.
Another story of interest from St George Illawarra who announced in this particular statement that both Tim Lafai and Siliva Havili had been reinstated to all club activities following a suspension handed down for their respective roles in an off-field incident.
Lafai and Havili were both charged with affray and offensive behaviour following a brawl that spilled out of a Wollongong nightclub and into the street.
The pair were suspended by the club for a period of two weeks and were due to appear in Wollongong Local Court again on October 25.
The reward for the winner of this contest was incredibly rich, which is why there was so much interest in the Qualifying Final between Melbourne and North Queensland in Week One of the Telstra Premiership Finals Series.
For the victor awaited a prized week off and a crucial home ground advantage for a Preliminary Final while the vanquished would be forced into three weeks of sudden death football in order to be crowned champions.
We predicted that the Storm – minor premiers for 2016 – would win by eight, and we weren't far wrong.
It had been more than a decade since Parramatta fans had seen their team hoist any silverware and the record books will technically show that the Eels were not champions of the 2016 Auckland Nines tournament either.
With Bevan French and Semi Radradra running riot the Eels stunned the Warriors in front of their parochial home fans with a 22-4 exhibition that was carried out with the threat of salary cap breaches hanging over the club's head.
After such pre-season success fans could only have imagined a bright season ahead but the title of Auckland Nines champions was stripped from them along with 12 competition points when the extent of the salary cap rorting was revealed.
But for 18 glorious minutes at least the Eels were on top of the world.
To celebrate the Men of League Heritage Round in 2016, the Men of League launched a campaign in conjunction with the Australian Kangaroos to determine the greatest skipper to ever lead the green and gold; the Captains' Captain.
An independent panel of some of rugby league's most respected names and results of a public vote combined to make the final call from a field of 12 wonderful Kangaroo captains.
"It's easy to be wooed by longevity and the number of Tests that they've been captain, but there were a lot of other aspects to it," said rugby league historian David Middleton, a member of the panel.
"We tried to balance it out by looking at their successes and some of their failures as well. We said that the captains would have to bear some of the loss as a coach or any player would.
"Someone might have a terrific record of winning series or World Cups, but if there were significant losses along the way, then it probably detracted a bit from them as a candidate."
A head knock to winger Corey Oates was the most pressing of a litany of injuries to beset the Broncos as a Johnathan Thurston field goal again consigned them to defeat, this time in their Round 11 loss in Townsville. With Origin selections nearing there was plenty of interest in the health of Oates who failed to return to the second half but he wasn't the only one, with Andrew McCullough (shoulder), Jarrod Wallace (elbow) and Jack Reed (concussion) also spending time on the sidelines.
"[Oates] has a bit of a head knock but he should be OK," said Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett.
"Jack Reed came off as well, so they were the major two.
"It had an impact on our performance obviously. It's really hard to replace outside backs today, the way the game is played. But we were brave."
He would be later charged – but not suspended – for the incident in the 15th minute of the Dragons' 13-10 loss to the Bulldogs but Dragons back-rower Joel Thompson said post-game that he was "filthy" to have been prevented from scoring a try due to a trip from Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds.
Neither side had registered a point when Thompson speared back on an angle and appeared to have breached the Bulldogs defence before Reynolds' late leg movement caused him to stumble and be dragged down inches short of the try-line.
With a history of tripping charges Reynolds was hit with a 50 per cent loading but with an early guilty plea to a grade one charge was free to play the following week, leaving Thompson to rue what could have been.
"If it was a good try-saver then fair enough and well done. But if it was a trip then that's not on," Thompson said.
"If it was a trip I'll be dirty. I'd be very surprised if it was a trip when I see it and if it was a trip then I'll probably be filthy."
To celebrate the milestone of the 100th golden point game in NRL history that was reached when Daly Cherry-Evans snuck a wobbly left-footer over in Perth to down the Warriors in Round 19, Martin Gabor trawled the archives for the best 10 extra-time thrillers since its introduction in 2003.
But as is Martin's want, not only did he list 10 thrillers but had the stats to back them up, including the fact that 57 of the 100 games were decided by field goal, noted detractor Wayne Bennett has featured in a record 18 games and Chris Heighington and Frank Pritchard share the record for 16 overtime games as players.
Which games made the list? Here's a hint to one that features prominently:
It's a list. You love them, we love them, and in this one the big blokes who rarely get the plaudits got some well-deserved recognition.
But for the purpose of this article we didn't look at which teams had the best individual forwards on their roster but who as a pack had the qualities we thought in January would take their team a long way in 2016.
Interestingly, neither grand final team featured in our pre-season predictions. We'll try to do better in 2017.
Without question one of the biggest stories of 2015-2016 found its resolution on September 15 when Wests Tigers legend Robbie Farah found a new home for the 2017-2018 seasons at the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
More than 12 months after being told he had no future at the club where he won a premiership in 2005, the terms of Farah's departure from Leichhardt were finally resolved and after finishing his Tigers career in reserve grade, the current New South Wales Origin hooker headed for Redfern.
"Competition for spots is a driving factor for success at any club and, by adding a player of Robbie's ability, we will be increasing that competition within our squad," said Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire.
"Within our organisation, we believe Robbie will strengthen our club and we look forward to working with him when he joins us for pre-season training."
And wouldn't you know it, Farah's first game for his new club will be against the Wests Tigers in Round 1.
It may have been 15 months away but the release of the draw for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup attracted plenty of attention with games to be spread out across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Captains Cameron Smith (Kangaroos), Jesse Bromwich (Kiwis) and David Mead (Kumuls) attended the launch in Brisbane with Suncorp Stadium revealed as the venue for a semi-final and the final to crown rugby league's No.1 nation.
"The decision to take matches to places like Darwin, Perth, Christchurch and Port Moresby were made with the future of the game in mind," said former CEO of the organising committee, Michael Brown.
"They are matches we believe will give profile to the sport in markets that have already shown an appetite for rugby league."