Robbie Farah has a beer on the Leichhardt Oval scoreboard after the Wests Tigers' Round 26 clash with Canberra.

A premiership-winning half leaves the NRL for good, the surprises in the squads for the Downer NRL Auckland Nines, Cameron Smith admits to an uncharacteristic on-field act, the Broncos name their new captain and Robbie Farah farewelled by the Wests Tigers, all in our continuing countdown of the top 100 stories of 2016.

40. Jamie Soward released by Panthers

Ever since bursting onto the scene in the junior grades with the Roosters as a prodigious point-scorer with a powerful boot Jamie Soward was tipped to achieve great things, which he would do over 215 NRL games, the last of which was in Round 13 this year against Melbourne.

After a couple of weeks in the NSW Cup he was granted a release by the Panthers to return to the London Broncos in the Super League where he played seven more games before announcing his retirement at 31 years of age.

In making the announcement of his departure from Penrith, Panthers executive general manager Phil Gould left the door ajar for a role of a different kind.

"Jamie has been wonderful for the Panthers and has done everything we have ever asked of him. He has been a leader, on and off the field, and played a key role in the development of our younger players," Gould said.

"If Jamie sees a future for himself in coaching, once his playing days have come to an end, it is my intention that he will begin that coaching career here at the Panthers."

 


39. Official 2016 Four Nations squads

I'm not sure even Shannon Boyd would have checked this story to see whether he'd made the trip to England but the big Canberra front-rower was one of six Kangaroos who would make their Test debuts firstly against New Zealand in Perth and then in the Four Nations tournament.

The Kiwis had a handful of new Test caps to hand out of their own, Sam Burgess was named by new coach Wayne Bennett to lead an England team boasting eight players with NRL experience and the Scottish selectors called on Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote and Dragons centre Euan Aitken to make their debuts for the Bravehearts alongside fellow NRL stars Luke Douglas and Kane Linnett.

38. Bennett's lament as brave Broncos bow out

Wayne Bennett was left to lament the difficult Origin period for his side's earlier than hoped for premiership exit after they were defeated by North Queensland in extra time in Week Two of the Finals Series.

It was somewhat fitting given their recent history that the Broncos and Cowboys would be the teams to go beyond 80 minutes and play the extra 10-minute period after a mid-year rule adjustment and again it was Johnathan Thurston who broke Brisbane hearts.

After kicking a penalty goal to level the scores at 20-all, Thurston laid on the try for Michael Morgan and kicked the conversion to see his side progress to the Preliminary Final and cause Bennett to reflect on where the season went wrong.

"It happened to me at the Dragons in 2011 as well," Bennett said. "Origin came along and we lost a lot of players to Origin, lost our way a little bit as we did this year and you finish up in fifth or sixth position when you should have been in the top four.

"It just puts you in a place that you don't want to be in."

 

37. Queensland Maroons side for Origin III

The 2016 Holden State of Origin Series may have been secured but there was no mass injection of new blood into the Maroons squad for Game Three with coach Mal Meninga handing a veteran a maiden appearance and recalling one of Queensland's most loyal servants.

 

Having been on the cusp for a number of years Cowboys back-rower Gavin Cooper finally became a bona fide Origin player following the withdrawal of Josh Papalii due to injury while Nate Myles came back for his 31st game for Queensland refusing to consider it could be his last.

36. 2016 Downer NRL Auckland Nines Official Squads

Three months of pre-season ponderings gained some clarity when the 16 NRL clubs named their squads for the 2016 Downer NRL Auckland Nines in February.

Many players were named to make their first appearances for their new clubs after off-season switches while young players such as Wof Lavaka at the Sea Eagles and Shark Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga were introduced to a broader rugby league consciousness.

But, best of all, we got to see the innovative jerseys the teams would be wearing for one wonderful weekend in Auckland.

 


35. Country Origin team named

Perhaps the suggestion that the clash between Country Origin and City Origin in Tamworth this year could have represented the concept's last outing sparked interest in the naming of the Country team.

 

Or perhaps all those footy fans in regional New South Wales simply wanted to see who would be representing the proud history of bush footy.

Either way, plenty of people logged on to see who had been selected by coach Craig Fitzgibbon ahead of what would prove to be a spectacular weekend in the state's west.

And for those who suggest it is no longer a genuine Origin trial, Tyson Frizell and Jack Bird made their Origin debuts this year after first playing for Country while Shannon Boyd finished the year as a Kangaroo incumbent.

  


34. Cam Smith confesses: 'It was out of character'

Two best mates in Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston went to war against each other in the Round 10 double-header at Suncor Stadium and every time Thurston kicked the ball Smith was there harassing him and knocking him to the ground.

What Smith had hoped to go unnoticed was the moments afterwards where he waited a few seconds to help his mate back to his feet.

Grant Trouville's image that captured the moment superbly became one of the most enduring photos of the 2016 season and is there forever to remind Smith of his act of sportsmanship that he didn't want his coach to see.

"I was hoping you weren't going to bring that up," Smith said sheepishly post-game. "Each time I did that I thought, 'I hope Craig didn't see that. He's going to chip me for it.'

"I guess that's a bit of a respect thing but to be honest to answer that question, no I don't do that every time."

  

Awesome shot by @nrl - sportsmanship #QLDspirit @cameron9smith @jthurston06 #marooncrusade #QLDER #NRLstormcowboys

A photo posted by Maroon Crusade (@marooncrusade) on


33. Broncos decide on new captain

Only 21 players had captained the Broncos in the history of the club when Corey Parker went into Queensland Origin camp this year and Wayne Bennett's choice as to who would be the 22nd created quite a deal of controversy.

Branded a "dirty player" by Broncos legend Gorden Tallis for a chicken-wing tackle on club team-mate Sam Thaiday in the mid-year Test for which he was suspended, Adam Blair completed quite a remarkable turnaround by being handed the captaincy for the Round 12 clash against his former club, the Wests Tigers.

"He's a quality bloke and a quality player," said Andrew McCullough, who captained the team in 2015 during the Origin period.

"He does a lot of the things that don't get noticed by the fans. They see tries and line breaks but they don't see kick pressure or inside pressure on the ball-players.

"He's played a mountain of Test football and other high-pressure games where he's exceeded and that's why Wayne has got him as the captain this week and I couldn't be happier for him."

32. Bird: Hayne will boost Titans finals assault

The ink had barely dried on Jarryd Hayne's shock contract signing with the Titans before former Blues teammate Greg Bird declared the superstar fullback would aid the club's quest for a finals berth.

The Titans were sitting in seventh position on the ladder prior to Hayne's arrival and faced must-win games against the Wests Tigers and Knights early in his return to the NRL.

A Hayne field goal that defeated the Tigers saw the club break their finals drought by finishing just one point ahead of Wests on the ladder, confirming Bird's belief that he would prove to be a match-winner for the club.

"He's a game-changer. He brings an ability to score tries on his own and create opportunities and we probably haven't had a real ball-playing fullback in the past. I'm sure he'll fit it into that role," Bird told NRL.com.

31. Farah released by Wests Tigers

Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor vowed to play Robbie Farah in reserve grade if he remained at the club in 2016 and when that finally happened late in the year it became apparent the New South Wales Origin hooker had to find a new home.

One of the Tigers' most loyal and dedicated servants, Farah's treatment by Taylor threatened to tear the club's fan base apart but less than 24 hours before the club's final game of the year it was revealed that Farah would be released from the final year of his contract to take up an opportunity elsewhere.

He was given a rousing reception at Leichhardt Oval as he embarked on a half-time lap of honour and then at full-time took up position on the famous old scoreboard to reflect on life as a Tiger one final time.

The best seat in the world. #YNWA #247

A photo posted by Robbie Farah (@robbiefarah) on