Top 100 stories of 2016: 20-11
As we approach the culmination of our countdown of the top 100 stories of 2016 anticipation builds ahead of Origin I, live coverage of the Dally Ms and Australian Schoolboys, the Downer Auckland Nines squads are unveiled and all the controversy surrounding Eels winger Semi Radradra.
The defending champs against the team who had never tasted premiership success; it's no surprise that the build-up to the Sharks-Cowboys preliminary final had fans excited at the possibilities that lay ahead. Chris Kennedy dissected the chances of both teams, debated how Chad Townsend would bounce back from his last start benching against the Raiders and whether the week off for the Sharks or the 90-minute thriller in Townsville would be the better preparation.
New South Wales coach Laurie Daley rang the changes while new Maroons coach Kevin Walters stuck with the tried and true, leaving many of us to ponder whether this would finally represent the changing of the guard.
Only eight players from the NSW team humiliated 52-6 in the 2015 decider made it back for Game One this year while the retirement of Justin Hodges and injury to Will Chambers paved the way for Justin O'Neill and Corey Oates to make their debuts for Queensland.
The Blues went or the big boppers, the Maroons had the brains trust of Smith, Cronk and Thurston and on that basis alone we thought Queensland would take a 1-0 series lead at ANZ Stadium. Just.
From the red carpet arrivals right through to the anointing of Cooper Cronk and Jason Taumalolo as the premier players of 2016 we had full coverage of rugby league's night of nights from start to finish.
Canberra skipper Jarrod Croker was bust early picking up three awards, Kezie Apps was named the Female Player of the Year and Anthony Milford's 40-metre field goal in the grand final rematch between Brisbane and North Queensland won Headline Moment of the Year.
There sure was a lot to celebrate.
17. Live stream: Australian Schoolboys v England Academy
The only place to watch the England Academy's two-match tour to face the Australian Schoolboys was on NRL.com and tens of thousands of you tuned in to watch the youngsters do battle.
Thankfully for Aussie fans there was plenty to cheer about with two comprehensive victories, the first a 50-26 thumping at Redcliffe's Dolphin Oval followed up by a 50-12 demolition at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Cronulla.
Nic Cotric scored four tries and Zac Lomax three across the two Tests with Sean O'Sullivan kicking 14 goals and snaring a four-pointer for an individual tally of 32 points.
For two years these teams treated us to epic encounters that someway, somehow proceeded to exceed all those who had come before them.
For the fifth time in 53 weeks we witnessed the Cowboys and Broncos engage in enthralling contests decided by the smallest of margins and after playing 80 minutes in Week Two of the finals and locked together at 20 apiece, they picked themselves up and played 10 minutes more.
We marvelled at the courage of players from both teams, were in awe of the power of Jason Taumalolo, praised the influence 10 minutes of extra-time had on the way the match was decided and heralded the start of an NRL career whilst at the same time honouring the end of one of the game's greats.
For anyone who witnessed it it was a night we shall never forget.
As the 18 squads representing the NRL teams, Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns trickled in you kept coming back to see which new – and old – faces would be taking to Eden Park for the third instalment of the Downer NRL Auckland Nines.
Braith Anasta was called back to lead a young Roosters squad, Raiders legend Jason Croker got to play alongside nephew Lachlan in the famous lime green for the first time (along with another Croker in captain Jarrod, who is no relation) and Matt Bowen made a return and final farewell with the North Queensland Cowboys.
The 2016 season has only just come to a close but it appears you are all salivating at the prospect of the start of the 2017 NRL season (which is why we love you all so much).
The defending premiers Cronulla are going to begin their defence at Redcliffe against Brisbane on February 4 before both teams head to England for the World Club Series with the traditional Charity Shield clash between St George Illawarra and South Sydney confirmed for February 19 at ANZ Stadium.
Other regions that will host NRL clubs in the pre-season include Alice Springs (Parramatta v Titans), Hobart (Storm v Bulldogs), Sunshine Coast (Storm v Warriors) and Mackay (Cowboys v Roosters).
With all that was going on at the Parramatta Eels in 2016 a wayward winger who had just been elevated to status of Kangaroo and accusations of domestic violence only compounded the misery on loyal fans of the blue and gold.
Radradra's selection in the Australian team to play New Zealand in May was deemed a controversial inclusion in its own right and from that point onward the Fijian sensation was caught up in all manner of headlines.
In the Eels' statement made on June 29 they addressed the police investigation into Radradra and emphasised their support for the welfare of Radradra and his family whilst in the statement dated June 18 the club clarified their star winger's visit to Fiji during a bye week as rumours circulated of a proposed move to French rugby union.
Like the Eels in 2016, Semi was never too far from the headlines and the interest in his future remains ongoing.
In the new era of Mal Meninga's stewardship of the Kangaroos and with the Four Nations just around the corner a team laden with NRL superstars was assembled to represent the Prime Minister's XIII against the PNG PM's XIII and the result was a 58-0 thumping by the Aussies.
While Meninga unleashed the likes of Greg Inglis, Semi Radradra, Boyd Cordner and Josh Dugan the local team was made up entirely of locally-based players who either play for the PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup or in PNG's Digicel Cup.
The result was one-way traffic despite the bravery of the home side who fought all the way against NRL players they consider as idols.
The fact that this story almost edged into the top 10 stories of the year shows just how important it is continue to develop the game in PNG and raise the Kumuls up in the international arena.