Top 100 stories of 2016: 80-71
The countdown of the stories that captured the imagination in 2016 continues with Wayne Bennett expressing his displeasure with golden point, two judiciary hearings with major finals implications, a Burgess departing and how we rated the Queenslanders in Origin I.
In August Sydney Roosters recruitment guru Peter O'Sullivan was issued with a notice of intention to cancel his registration relating to alleged breaches of NRL rules. The Roosters immediately suspended O'Sullivan whilst the investigation was ongoing.
On October 25 the NRL handed down its findings, cancelling O'Sullivan's registration effective immediately.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was criticised in the wake of the 2015 Grand Final for his views on the golden point system but if consistency counts for anything it is a stance since first adopted more than a decade ago.
So when the Broncos won the grand final rematch against the North Queensland Cowboys in Round 4 that eerily echoed the circumstances of the Cowboys' triumph three months earlier, Bennett reiterated his distaste for players having to play extra time.
"I just can't believe we have to play another 10 minutes of football after what they've already produced. It's not like we get three months off after an effort like that," Bennett said.
"We used to be happy with a draw and a lot of people still are. My position on the matter hasn't changed and it won't change."
It was a hit that ended the season of Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco and divided the rugby league community but in the end Titans forward Ryan James was found guilty of a careless high tackle yet escaped suspension in sensational circumstances.
Charged with a grade two offence, the judiciary panel heard James' not guilty plea before ruling against him, only to prompt his counsel to seek a downgrade.
The Titans did, the panel down-graded the charge and James was free to play against the Knights the following week where he scored two tries.
"We came down here, thinking the speed at which it happened [meant] it wasn't a careless action by Ryan," said Titans coach Neil Henry.
"We had a fair hearing. We're disappointed in one regard. But the speed these things can happen at in the game means there was no malice on Ryan's behalf."
Drafted into the New South Wales Origin camp ahead of Origin II in Brisbane was an indicator of Bryce Cartwright's Origin prospects for the future but his history with the interstate clash was one spent almost exclusively at home.
The Panthers back-rower/five-eighth was the subject of a strong push for inclusion in the Game Three dead rubber back in Sydney but while in camp with the Blues in Coffs Harbour revealed that it would be only the second time he had watched an Origin game from the stands.
"I watch it at home with the family a lot," Cartwright told Chris Kennedy.
"The last one [I attended] was when Shaun Timmins kicked the field goal. I was right behind the posts when that happened and it's the last and only Origin game I've been to.
"The ball fell two or three seats down from us so that was pretty special, I'll never forget that moment.
"It made me think it'd be awesome to be out there one day. I've always wanted that and this [being picked to join Blues camp as a development player] is a step in that direction."
James Roberts' first season at the Brisbane Broncos came to an end a week earlier than he was hoping when he was found guilty of a contrary conduct charge by the NRL judiciary days out from the semi-final against the Cowboys.
Desperate to have their strike centre on deck for the elimination clash, the Broncos entered a not guilty plea and attended the hearing but the judiciary held up the grade one charge stemming from kicking out at Titans forward Ryan Simpkins in Week One of the finals.
It would prove to be a tumultuous end to the season for Roberts who a few weeks earlier was fined $20,000 for an incident at a Brisbane pub and later checked himself in to a Thai rehabilitation clinic to address his issues with alcohol.
There were five Englishmen by the name of 'Burgess' in the NRL in 2016 so when it was announced that one would be heading back to their homeland interest was spiked for those visiting NRL.com.
The prospect of losing either Sam, George or Tom would have sent shudders through South Sydney fans and with Luke already in England with Salford it left Roosters winger Joe Burgess, who had been granted an early release to return to his former club.
Ironically, Burgess would first join South Sydney where the England international scored five tries in nine games and showed plenty to indicate he could handle a future stint in the NRL.
Tensions between the two coaches neared boiling point ahead of the Storm hosting the Cowboys in Week One of the Finals Series for the right to host a preliminary final a fortnight later.
Speaking in the days before the game and with the Jason Taumalolo egg-throwing incident dominating headlines Cowboys coach Paul Green made a pointed reference to how the Storm control the speed of the ruck, a statement Storm coach Craig Bellamy took exception to 24 hours prior to kick-off.
"It was a very pre-conceived message from him, which at this time of the year is very predictable," Bellamy said.
"We played them five or six weeks ago and he didn't have a problem with the ruck then, he didn't mention it, we haven't changed anything in those five weeks, we haven't changed in 24 weeks to be honest, so he's just trying to get an advantage from the referees, but the referees will referee how they see it.
"I didn't think coaches and players were allowed to criticise referees in press conferences, and that sounds like criticism to me."
For 19 seasons Canberra Raiders faithful had followed their team but never seen them get to even within one game of the NRL Grand Final, until they accounted for the Panthers in Week Two of the finals series.
Jumping out to an 18-0 lead it appeared nothing could stop the Green Machine but the Panthers gallantly fought back into the contest, a Jarrod Croker penalty goal eventually giving the Raiders the buffer they needed to book a preliminary final date with the Storm.
Incredibly, in the history of the NRL since 1998, the Raiders were the last team to progress that far in a season.
It is the cold, hard reality of rugby league sometimes that for some players, opportunities are few and far between.
Despite a stellar NRL career that began back in 2008, Wade Graham had not yet been invited into the Origin arena but was told on live TV in the minutes after Cronulla's Monday night win over the Cowboys that he had been selected for the Blues for Game Two.
The only issue that was hanging over Graham's head was a high tackle on Cowboys five-eighth Johnathan Thurston which the NRL match review committee believed warranted a charge for a grade one careless high tackle.
He fought the charge, lost, and was ruled out of Origin II, prompting Blues coach Laurie Daley to state that his Origin career could have ended before it began.
"I think that we do need to look at minor offences and whether people miss big games," Daley said. "Grand finals and Origins, they don't happen all the time. Who knows, Wade may never get another chance to play Origin."
The biggest show on television had the nation enthralled as both the Maroons and Blues fought tooth and nail to open the 2016 Series with a win and first step towards interstate bragging rights.
Johnathan Thurston kicked an early penalty goal that would prove to be the difference as Queensland held on to their 6-4 half-time lead to keep the Blues at bay in a scoreless second half.
There were plenty of courageous performers on both sides but we had Matt Gillett as the stand-out for the Queenslanders.