Top 100 stories of 2016: 30-21
As we get closer and closer to the biggest stories of 2016 we delve into your fear of the unknown, preview the Cowboys-Broncos blockbuster, see Parramatta issued their ultimate punishment and highlight the key points in the Kangaroos' win over the Kiwis.
The first story posted on NRL.com this year also proved to be one of our most popular as we looked into the great unknowns facing each of the 16 teams in 2016.
After an unprecedented number of off-season moves between clubs which included Ivan Cleary's shock axing from the Panthers, question marks hung over every club including the halves at the Bulldogs, the expectation now on the Raiders and whether the era of the 'big three' in Melbourne was almost over.
We examined Issac Luke's departure from South Sydney, how captain Ben Creagh fit into the Dragons' puzzle and whether the new recruits would cure the Warriors of their recent ills.
Nearly 12 months on and some questions remain unanswered.
Predicting a Country or City Origin team is always fraught with danger as you are unsure who will be considered and which big names omitted but nevertheless we gave it a shot, and you seemed to like it.
Our combined Country Origin team from the NRL.com staff writers finished as this: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Akuila Uate, 3 Jarrod Croker, 4 Jack Bird, 5 Michael Gordon, 6 James Maloney, 7 Jackson Hastings, 8 Ryan James, 9 Mitch Rein, 10 Aiden Tolman, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Joel Thompson, 13 Shaun Fensom.
Interchange: 14 Jack de Belin, 15 Paul Vaughan, 16 Shannon Boyd, 17 Dale Finucane.
The team eventually picked by Country coach Craig Fitzgibbon was: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Kane Linnett, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Jarrod Croker, 5 Isaah Yeo, 6 James Maloney, 7 Jack Bird, 8 Shannon Boyd, 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 Jack de Belin, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Boyd Cordner, 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14 Jordan McLean, 15 Paul Vaughan, 16 Tariq Sims, 17 Mitch Aubusson.
Time and again these great Queensland rivals delivered over the past 12 months and in the Semi-Final at 1300SMILES Stadium the Cowboys and Broncos were at it again.
In the lead-up we dubbed it the greatest rivalry in modern rugby league given their extra-time grand final extravaganza book-ended by matches in which they could often only be separated by a single point, and regularly after 80 minutes of regulation.
The Cowboys were installed as strong favourites pre-game but with only a few minutes remaining it was Brisbane who led by two. That deficit was erased by a Johnathan Thurston penalty goal and then in 10 minutes of extra-time, this happened:
More than two months after the Parramatta Eels were issued with breach notices pertaining to salary cap breaches dating back to 2013, the NRL handed down its final determination on Saturday, July 9.
One of the biggest stories of the year had been bubbling along in the background for months before NRL CEO Todd Greenberg announced that the club would be docked all of its 12 competition points, fined $1 million and required to be salary cap compliant before they could again begin accruing competition points.
"We have to take a stand to demonstrate that the NRL will not tolerate contraventions of the salary cap which plays such a crucial role in giving us one of the closest competitions in Australian sport," Greenberg said.
Mid-season player movements are nothing new in the modern game but for some reason Tariq Sims's switch from the Knights to the Dragons in mid-June piqued interest among supporters from both teams.
Thrust into the Dragons' 17 to play Melbourne just days after being released by Newcastle, Sims came off the bench in St George Illawarra's 10-point win and then opened up about how quickly his change of club had transpired.
"You know me, mate. I love Newcastle. I love the place and the people that are involved with the club," said Sims, who had three weeks earlier agreed to join the Dragons for the 2017 season.
"But the club opted to go in a different direction. Things changed and they changed quickly.
"I expected to see out the season there and I didn't want to leave. But a week is a long time in the NRL and it's happened the way it has."
First i want to thank all of my family and friends for the well wishes for my 100th game on Monday night. I was so proud playing infront of my 3 girls, Ash, Lakia and Vayla 😘 i will try to reply to all the msgs of support asap. I never thought I'd be a footballer in my wildest dreams. I've been lucky enough to experience some great highs, but ive also gone through some big lows, but i wouldn't change a thing. To play at the club I watched my big brother play at, is a dream come true. I want to say a BIG thank you to the Cowboys and the Knights for allowing me to be apart of their club and helping me get to where I am. I cant wait to keep ripping in wearing the new colours 🔴⚪️🔴⚪️🔴🐉 @nrl_dragons #dragonsarmy
Amidst the salary cap crisis that was enveloping the club, star recruit and captain Kieran Foran was going through some personal difficulties that would ultimately see him play just nine games for the club.
Foran was initially granted indefinite leave to address personal issues less than a week after the Round 8 loss to the Cowboys but after returning a month later suffered a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his season.
It was a tumultuous time for the club but CEO John Boulous stressed the club's regard for Foran's welfare as being paramount.
"If he needs any help we've got a wonderful team of welfare officers and career people here that can really help Kieran and he knows that offer's there," Boulous said.
"I think most of his teammates were aware he may have been struggling with some issues. They're very close knit and as a group of people… they're thinking about Kieran at this time and they're very supportive of the club's decision to allow him the time.
"We need to give him the time he needs, he needs to take the time personally and to do that it's in all our interests to give him that time and privacy and respect."
We live streamed a number of games and events in 2016 and with such a large and passionate supporter base it is not surprising that the press conference to announce the Eels' punishment for their salary cap indiscretions attracted so much interest.
With a strong start to the season hanging by a thread, Parramatta supporters were waiting anxiously to hear whether their side would have any chance of playing finals football this year while league fans in general tuned in to see how tough the NRL would come down.
The decision was 12 competition points and a $1 million fine with the Eels ultimately finishing nine points out of the finals series with 13 wins for the season.
It's an insatiable beast that grows larger every year so when the Queensland selectors released their team for all-important Game Two at Suncorp Stadium the Maroon faithful flocked to see who their representatives would be.
The only change made from the team that won Game One 6-4 was one that was forced on the selectors due to a knee injury suffered by Nate Myles, Josh McGuire earning elevation into the starting team and Jacob Lillyman coming onto the bench.
Although an argument can be made that the Country-City showdown is built for the boys from the bush, intrigue always surrounds the selection of the City Origin side with an eye to potential Origin bolters.
As he did previously City coach Brad Fittler handed a host of youngsters with little NRL experience their first senior representative jerseys mixed with some seasoned campaigners looking for greater recognition.
But the staff writers weren't to know that at the time and our collective exercise in dart-throwing conjured the following hypothetical team: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Brad Takairangi, 4 Dylan Walker, 5 James Roberts, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Nathan Peats, 10 Junior Paulo, 11 Bryce Cartwright, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: 14 Matt Moylan, 15 David Klemmer, 16 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 17 Tepai Moeroa.
No one picked eventual four-try hero Aaron Gray in their team.
It was suggested in the lead-up to the mid-year Test between the Kangaroos and Kiwis in Newcastle that South Sydney fullback Greg Inglis was "out of form". He was shifted to the centres to accommodate Darius Boyd at the back and the result was a return to the devastating 'GI' of old.
Semi Radradra's controversial inclusion was a talking point before and after the game following his early trip to the sin bin while both teams were left to defend the 6-4 scoreline that highlighted the ability to absorb pressure in defence.
"That was a real Test match. That's what Test match footy is and people who haven't played Test match footy don't quite understand that. It's rugged, it's physical, sometimes it's a dour event," said Mal Meninga after his first game as Kangaroos coach.