Another day, another fan submission. This time it’s from passionate & vocal Cronulla Sharks fan, Dan Nichols. His club has been through the wringer of late with the ASADA scandal, as he casts his eye over the biggest stories in league in 2013. What would you regard as the biggest stories of 2013 for the NRL?
Itâ€™s fair to say 2014 was a year like no other for the NRL and Rugby League in general. Former banker David Smith was named the new CEO of the Organisation with former Bulldogs boss Todd Greenberg installed as his right hand man. The â€˜Darkest Day In Sportâ€™ press conference sent shockwaves through the code with the focus of the investigation focusing mainly on the Cronulla Sharks. It was announced that next year will feature the inaugural 9â€™s competition, meaning the yearly All-Stars Game will no longer be the official launch of the NRL season.
The Sydney Roosters, led by their returning superstar Sonny Bill Williams and rookie coach Trent Robinson completed a rare and well deserved Minor Premiership/Premiership double, whilst the year ended with the mighty Australian Kangaroos dominating the World Cup Tournament. Weâ€™re going to take a look at 11 of the biggest stories of 2013, although there could easily have been 20 or so after an exciting and newsworthy year for Rugby League â€¦ Unfortunately not all for the right reasons:
1. The On Going ASADA Investigation: Without a doubt, the unfortunate black cloud that has positioned itself over our code all season.
It all started with the infamous â€˜Darkest Day In Sportâ€™ press conference all those many months ago and shows no signs of wrapping up any time soon. As it stands, only Sandor Earl has been issued with an infraction notice, although Sharksâ€™ coach Shane Flanagan, former President Damian Irvine and members of the Sharkâ€™s support staff have all become victims of the investigation.
Former Sharksâ€™ trainer turn whistleblower Trent Elkin, has been rubbed out for at least 2 seasons and faces a life ban. The Sharks were able to overcome the intense media scrutiny to finish 5th and advance to the second round of the finals series, however, the worst may be yet to come.
The club have been fined a million dollars, however have indicated they will appeal. With ASADA yet to issue their findings, unfortunately for fans of the club and the game, will be left without closure over Christmas and the New Year.
Paul Gallen and Wade Graham were unfairly made the faces of the Sharks scandal whilst the man who is truly responsible for the entire scandal, Stephen Dank, is yet to face the music. Until ASADA question Dank, who has threatened all sorts of legal action, this may drag on for a long time to come.
2. Sandor Earl comes clean: After pleading guilty to using and trafficking banned substances, former Panthers and Raiders flyer Sandor Earl came clean so to speak in a tell all interview on Channel 9â€™s Footy Show. Earl faces a long suspension, although he is hoping his testimony will help land the big fish in the aforementioned Dank, hence shortening any penalty laid against him.
Although Earl has plead guilty to the charges, he is no closer to knowing his punishment, frustrating both the player himself and fans. Opinions were split on Earlâ€™s Footy Show interview but you have to admire his courage to face the music. Earl signed to play Rugby Union next season, but his playing future is far from decided.
3. Burgess Clan: Sam Burgess was as well known for his appearances in Sydney Confidential as he was for his performances on the field for the Rabbits but in 2013, he truly came into his own. A true superstar of the game, Burgess was instrumental in his sideâ€™s run to the finals.
This season he was joined by all three of his brother and their mother, when the Rabbits took on the Tigers. Although the whole affair was repeated ad nauseum by Channel 9 and print media outlets, it shouldnâ€™t take away from the amazing achievement. This will not be the last time we see Sam, George, Luke and Tom on the field at the same time.
4. SBWâ€™s Return: Another story that both excited and drove fans crazy in 2013. Cross code superstar Sonny Bill Williams lived up to and far surpassed the hype off his off season signing.
Sonnyâ€™s on field performances helped lead his Roosterâ€™s side to Premiership Glory and his off field presence lead to a surge in membership numbers and corporate interest at the club. A masterstroke in every sense, Sonnyâ€™s signing put rugby league on the front pages across Australia and New Zealand more than once this season. He is expected to return to Rugby in 2015, however, the Roosters were able to do what many thought impossible by keeping Williams in league for 2014.
There were concerns about his fitness and defensive capabilities brought about by his time in union, but they were all for naught. Sonny is amongst the gameâ€™s elite and will continue to dominate Channel 9â€™s coverage for one more season.
5. Ricky Stuart Sacks Half The Side Then Leaves: Ricky Stuart has always been a polarising figure. His decision to publicly sack a large number of Parramattaâ€™s playing roster shocked the rugby league world and split opinion.
Long suffering Eels fans initially seemed to support the roster shake up, however they soon grew tired of Stuartâ€™s excuses and warnings to expect to be belted off the park at times during the season. No fan wants to hear that they should expect to be beaten by 50 points by the teamâ€™s coach. Stuart was touted as the next Jack Gibson by those who signed him but 2013 was a horror season for the Eels and their fans.
2014 has to be better, it couldnâ€™t be much worse. William Hopoate returns to the code and Jarryd Hayne seems to have refound his mojo with his excellent performances in the World Cup. Stuart has moved to the Raiders for personal reasons and although there was initial anger from Eelsâ€™ fans, that seems to have turned to relief. Stuart wonâ€™t return to Pirtek Stadium in 2014 with the game moved to Darwin, meaning Eelsâ€™ fans will have to travel thousands of miles to vent their anger.
6. QLD Continue Record Winning Streak Despite Gallen 1-2: Paul Gallenâ€™s infamous 1-2 to the chin of Maroons star Nate Myles changed the game forever as the NRL acted to adopt a zero tolerance policy when it came to the â€˜Biffâ€™.
Although NSW won Origin 1, they were unable to stop the QLD juggernaut who continue their record of series wins. Itâ€™s up around 100 now, or so it seems as itâ€™s been so long since NSW have won a series that it has fans and experts alike reaching for the record books. For the record, QLD have won the past 8 series and will be confident of making that 9 as they have 2 home games next year. NSW seem to be heading in the right direction although injury and off field issues tore their campaign apart after the Game 1 triumph. Theyâ€™ll need everything to go right next year to be in with a genuine shot at ending the dominance.
7. Roosters Win Rare Double: With a large section of the media focusing on a certain cross code star for the majority of the season, you can be forgiven for overlooking the fact Trent Robinson led his side to a title in his first year as a senior NRL coach.
Boyd Cordner has established himself as a major star both at club and representative level whilst Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney proved themselves to be amongst the gameâ€™s best halves partnerships. There were success stories across the park for the Roosters but none more than the return to form of Michael Jennings.
Sacked by Penrith after a string of off field incidents, Jennings seemed to have lost interest in the game. Change was a good as a holiday for the NSW superstar who scored the try that sealed the grand final win for his new club.
8. 7th Tackle Try Mares Emotional Win: The reports should have been about the brave performance by the ASADA-hounded Sharks who held on to beat the fast finishing Cowboys side to advance to the second round of the finals. John Morrisâ€™s last ditch try saver should have been the play of the year, but instead a ridiculous counting error by refereeâ€™s Henry Perenara and Match Cecchin took a lot away from the victory.
A genuine error had those north of the border claiming a conspiracy for an all NSW final. Although common sense would dictate the NRL would be far more concerned about the under investigation Shire Side having to have a title striped should they have gone on to win, petitions were circulated on the back of the conspiracy theories. The Cowboys were robbed plain and simple but the incident took part in the first half and neither team was aware at the moment.
The Cowboys were arguably the better side on the day and much of their frustration stemmed from their not being able to put away the Sharks at the time. For the record, I am more than confident there was no NRL conspiracy – it was just an unfortunate error that robbed the Cowboys of a shot of victory and the Sharks the right to celebrate a huge victory.
9. Roos Dominate World Cup: There were many talking points come out of the world cup. The validity of the tournament, the length of the tournament, Billy Slaterâ€™s over reaction to being pushed in the face at a nightclub, the horribly short in goals and player eligibility being just a few, but one thing that was not in question was the total dominance by the Kangaroos.
After a shaky start against the hosts England, the Roos never looked like being topped. New Zealand had a brilliant tournament but in truth were belted off the park by the Roos in the final. Hell-bent on returning to their mantle as the worldâ€™s best side, nothing was going to stop the superstar Australian side. The Pacific Island nations took huge steps forward, whilst the USA was the surprise packet. For organisers, it went pretty much to plan with England and the Kiwis playing off for a chance to play the highly fancied Roos in the final, although unfortunately the game of the tournament was the semi final and not the final.
The New Zealand fans should be proud of their team as they were only beaten by a side that contains 5 future Immortals.
10. Cooper Cronk Wins Dally M: The â€˜lesserâ€™ name of Melbourneâ€™s â€˜Big 3â€™ won the gameâ€™s highest individual honour after a brilliant season. He beat the fast finishing Daly Cherry-Evans and brilliant Todd Carney to capture the well deserves medal.
Cronk has established himself as the gameâ€™s best halfback after Thurston moved to 5/8th to take over Lockyerâ€™s place in the rep sides. Cherry-Evans made a play at the Australian number 7 jersey, although Cronk held off the challenge and produced an amazing tournament. Cronkâ€™s career best season saw him win the Dally M medal and a World Cup winnerâ€™s medal.
11. 9â€™s Announced: An exciting innovation brought about by private investment in New Zealand will kick off the NRL Season in 2014. As the name suggests, competing teams will field 9 players for 9 minute halves in weekend tournament with huge prize money on offer.
Fans of the old 7â€™s will be happy, whilst those who are too young to remember the 7â€™s tournaments will have much to look forward to. If you like length of the field breaks and tries in big numbers, this tournament is for you. Donâ€™t expect too many front rowers to play in the tournament, although the make-up of sides is going to be of huge interest. Some clubs will field back rowers, whilst others will field mainly their backline.
One thing is for sure, the prize money and contracts signed, mean this will not be reduced to reserve graders, something that plagued the 7â€™s. With tens of thousands of tickets already sold, this looks like an exciting innovation and will be the talk of the town in February of next year.
2013 was a big year, 2014 could be bigger. ASADA should (may) wind up their investigation and finally announce their findings, something that could have a far ranging effect for not only the Sharks but the game in general. QLD will be looking to win their 50th series in a row, the 9â€™s will excite and help clubs balance their books, and we can look forward to seeing the gameâ€™s next stars establish themselves.