Top 100 stories of 2016: 70-61
The top 10 players in the game as voted by NRL.com, Latrell Mitchell's post-season splurge, a lesson from Jarryd Hayne all players can heed and a Sea Eagles signing all feature in our continued countdown of the biggest stories of 2016.
They were handed their Test debuts when both Aaron Woods and Josh Mansour returned to Sydney for wedding commitments but Shannon Boyd and Valentine Holmes gave Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga reason to ponder with their starring roles in the October Test win over New Zealand.
Two of the bolters of the Four Nations squad picked for the tour of England, Boyd and Holmes played like Test veterans against the Kiwis in Perth, impressing not only Meninga but their experienced teammates in the process.
"Mal has some tough decisions to make ahead and that is one of the hardest things about being a coach," said Greg Inglis.
"But then it is a good position for us to be in."
Have we mentioned how you love a list? How about a list of the top 10 players in the game today? Yep, you loved that one.
Whether you agreed with our ranking of the game's elite or shook your head at our omissions, it was a story that grabbed your attention and featured the two men who would the share the Dally M Medal.
But who was No.1?
With two wins from their first three games and a 24-20 victory on the road against the Raiders in Round 4, Titans fans took a deep breath when it emerged that at one point during the game they had 14 players on the field.
With Tyrone Roberts down injured prop forward David Shillington came onto the field but as he did so Roberts resumed his place in the defensive line.
Titans coach Neil Henry said post-game that both players were on the field for "no more than five seconds" and while they were not stripped of their two competition points, the NRL did issue a fine for the interchange bungle.
"While it did not impact significantly on the game, we do take matters of this nature seriously," said the NRL's general manager of football operations, Nathan McGuirk.
"Ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring there are 13 players on the field at any one time rests with the club."
It was a rookie season of the absolute highest calibre and Roosters teenager Latrell Mitchell knew just how he wanted to celebrate.
"Maccas. I'll rip into it. A large double quarter pounder, six nuggets and a chicken and cheese," Mitchell told NRL.com after his 24th and final game of the year against the Broncos in Round 26.
It was an extraordinary season for a talent who had long ago first appeared on the rugby league radar but whom was asked to assume a heavy workload in his first year in the NRL, playing 16 matches for the Roosters at fullback.
But while he was looking forward to his McDonald's feast, Mitchell promised to come back even better in 2017.
"It's more diet. I'm pretty slack on that," he said. "The fitness is a massive thing in the game now because the fullback role and the wing role, everything has gone up a level and you have to be on the ball with everything."
I'm honestly so proud of how far I've come in life, the struggles the hard times but to get through all of that with guidance from my parents I have made it, i am honestly privileged to of been awarded @steggles try of the year so honoured and greatful for the award. 👌🏾😇🏆 #Represent #GRATITUDE bigger better things to come in 2017 🐔
To be on the Gold Coast when the 'Hayne Plane' touched down on the Glitter Strip was a rugby league writer's dream come true.
In a 20-minute press conference to announce that he was now a Titan for the foreseeable future Hayne drew criticism from some circles for his regular references to his disappointment at not returning to the NRL with Parramatta.
Two days later he spoke for a further 10 minutes prior to his first training session, with his first involvement brought Bodene Thompson down in a stunning goal-line tackle, brushed a referee and told the media post-game exactly what he thought had happened.
For this writer, it was living proof that players need not be hidden from the media but shown how to control it.
"There are very few players currently in our game with the magnetism and marketability of Hayne but it is a position he has cultivated by virtue of his conduct," I wrote.
"He rarely speaks in clichés, he says exactly what he's thinking and neither the teams he plays for or his bank balance have ever suffered because of it.
"If I could urge other players to take one lesson from Hayne it is this: Own the message."
With the stinging Game Three thumping of 2015 still fresh in his mind, Blues coach Laurie Daley went for five new faces in his 19-man squad for Origin I and his skipper Paul Gallen liked what he saw.
Adam Reynolds, Josh Mansour, Tyson Frizell, Matt Moylan and Dylan Walker all got their call-ups into the New South Wales squad which Gallen said was inevitable given the result of the most recent meeting with the Maroons.
"We were embarrassed up there. But there was always going to be changes. You can't be beaten by as many points as we did and not see some change," Gallen said.
"You see after every Origin loss there's one or two changes but obviously a loss that big was hard to take."
When a grand final rematch kicks off Week 2 of the Finals Series you know interest is going to be high but when there are two great finals rivalries to take in, expectation goes to a whole new level again.
Dating back to their grand final clash in 2015 the past three match-ups between the Cowboys and Broncos had been decided by a single point while the following night saw the Raiders and Panthers scheduled to do battle, the two teams playing consecutive grand finals against each other in 1990 and 1991.
We also learned that in Week 3 the Sharks would be hosting the winner of the Cowboys-Broncos clash while the Storm had home ground advantage for their Preliminary Final against either the Raiders or Panthers.
With heavy defeats at the hands of the Bulldogs and Cowboys in the weeks prior, pressure was already beginning to build on the 2014 premiers South Sydney but it was a penalty against talisman Sam Burgess that raised the ire of Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire.
The Rabbitohs trailed 14-0 at the time and Burgess's decision to aggressively fall on Broncos forward Joe Ofahengaue as he lay on the ground having not been tackled sparked his team to life, fighting back to trail 14-8.
Brisbane would eventually run out comfortable 30-8 winners courtesy of two tries in the final 10 minutes but Maguire was left wondering why Burgess was penalised in the first place.
"Is it rugby league? There'd be a lot of old-time players looking at that thinking, Where is the game going?" Maguire said.
"We have a tough game and when you fall down on a player, it was a surrender, he just fell down on top of him.
"Then all of a sudden you have people running in and there's a penalty. I'm not quite sure how they come up with that one."
Perhaps it was some blind hope that the player Manly had signed went by the initials of 'JT' but the mid-season signing of Matthew Wright registered strongly on the dial of Sea Eagles fans (and perhaps Cowboys fans for that matter).
The former Shark played 34 games for the Cowboys across two seasons before joining Manly in April, going on to play 15 games for the club in the 2016 season, the first in a three-year deal.
"Matthew is a quality player who can easily play full-back, wing, centre, and five-eighth. When he became available, we didn’t hesitate to sign him," Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett said.
It had Broncos players and officials seething as it went unpunished on the field and the explanation of Sam Kasiano's suspension for lashing out with his boot and connecting with Corey Parker's head created plenty of debate.
The Bulldogs forward pleaded guilty to the grade two charge of dangerous contact to the head or neck and the resulting two-match ban ruled him out until Week One of the Finals Series, NRL match review committee coordinator Michael Buettner describing the force as "moderate".