The 2021 NRL Telstra Premiership has been run and won, but what was the biggest highlight of the season?
From individual feats to the standout teams, to the departing greats and the successful relocation of the entire competition, here's what we loved most in our final experts' view article of 2021.
Experts' view – Highlight of 2021
Definitely the return of Tom Turbo for Manly after his late start to the season his influence with Manly and Origin was outstanding. Then he won the Dally M. That’s special
Brett Kimmorley (former Test halfback)
The way the clubs, families and everyone in Queensland has helped get the games played in Queensland has been great. It took a lot of organising but it worked out very well in the end.
The way the Panthers were able to fight back from the disappointment of losing the 2020 grand final was great to see. Having all those local juniors in the team made the win all the more special.
Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers legend)
The end of the Wests Tigers-South Sydney game in round six. It was the craziest way to finish a game. Tom Burgess either scored or dropped the ball and Luke Brooks scooted down the field to win the game for his side. I'd never seen that before.
Burgess wins it for the Bunnies
Ever since I found out women could play footy at the elite level, all I wanted was a Parramatta Eels NRLW team to support. And now I do. It was certainly my most emotional moment of 2021 and I can’t wait to cheer these incredible women on next year.
If I had to choose a single moment, it would be the mass haka performed by Warriors, Eels, Rabbitohs, Raiders and Bulldogs players in honour of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as he farewelled his team and the NRL to return home to New Zealand before the borders closed.
Rugby league was the winner – it gave 110%, took it one week at a time and played the full 80 minutes for 25 rounds, as well as the finals and four State of Origin matches. Getting to the end of the season was an achievement in itself, especially considering 13 teams were relocated mid-season.
The fortunes of professional sport are small fry compared to the ravages of a global pandemic but rugby league should be set up to thrive if the correct decisions are made to ensure its future.
NSW making amends for their shock campaign defeat in 2020 by beating Queensland in Origin I and II by record margins in Queensland.
No Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary hurt them in the final game but watching players like Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell excel in sky blue again sets up a big task for new Maroons coach Billy Slater next year.
The series of brilliant displays from Tom Trbojevic will only grow in mystique as the years advance. While he had a couple of quiet nights in the finals, his performance for both Manly and NSW before that were extraordinary.
2021 Dally M Medal winner - Tom Trbojevic
The sight of packed houses in Mackay, Redcliffe, Rockhampton and Toowoomba with fans lapping up the sunshine and free flowing afternoon footy helped to lift the spirits of those fans stuck in lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne. Amid the upheaval and uncertainty, the decision to relocate to Queensland in July saved the season.
The premiership-winning Cleary combo. The hug between Ivan and Nathan after the Panthers’ grand final victory on Sunday night was one of the most memorable moments in rugby league history. The emotional embrace signified how much the win meant to them and the Cleary family – given what the father and son combination had to overcome over the past couple of years. Ivan’s ugly exit from the Wests Tigers, last year’s heartbreaking grand final loss to Melbourne and other setbacks were all suddenly forgotten at full-time on Sunday.
The Roosters’ resilience in the face of a near-unprecedented injury toll and the premature retirements of three legends defined a season where no matter what happened, the game continued to move forward. Coach Trent Robinson’s class and compassion was outstanding.
Of millions to choose from, one that sticks with me is the father-and-son Arthur moment in Magic Round. Eels coach Brad hands his young son Jake an NRL debut, with Jake scoring an impressive try in a big win over the Warriors.
The teary coach, not known for showing emotion, wraps his boy in a huge embrace as he walks off the field to the delight of Eels teammates. What a moment.
Arthur's praise for son Jakob after winning debut
The rookies. Sam Walker, Reece Walsh, Josh Schuster, Daine Laurie, Xavier Savage, Jayden Campbell, Blake Taaffe, Joseph Suaalii, Selwyn Cobbo, Will Penisini, Stefano Utoikamanu. The game’s in good hands.
We had to wait a long time for a string of close, high-quality contests this season so it was a treat when a bunch of them arrived in the finals – first with the Roosters’ one-point thriller over the Titans and then each of Penrith’s games on the road to the premiership.
The way everyone worked towards keeping the season going (again!) was without doubt the best thing about the 2021 season. In rugby league, egos are big, feuds are long and agendas are rampant, so to see everyone park their self-interest and do what was needed to deliver another cracking season shows we all know there is a bigger picture, and we are all capable of doing what’s best for the game.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.