A LOOK AT THE STORIES THAT DOMINATED HEADLINES IN THE NRL IN 2019
CAN THE ROOSTERS KEEP CROWING WITH A THREE-PEAT?
Not since the famous Parramatta side between 1981-83 has the NRL seen a team lift the Provan-Summons trophy three years in a row. But it's now the challenge for the Sydney Roosters, who became the first team to claim back-to-back titles in almost 30 years when they ended Canberra's fairytale run to the grand final. But the 14-8 triumph was shrouded in controversy after the referee incorrectly ruled six-again for Canberra moments before the Raiders turned the ball over and James Tedesco raced away for the dramatic game-winner, which also left retiring halfback Cooper Cronk with three straight premiership rings.
NRL GETS TOUGH WITH NO-FAULT STAND-DOWN POLICY
The NRL's summer of shame resulted in Jack de Belin, Dylan Walker and Tyrone May all being stood down after the league controversially introduced a new no-fault stand-down policy, with Manase Fainu joining them after the season. But despite the hardline stance, the game's off-field issues spilled into the next off-season, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona and David Fifita also involved in separate brawls at the same Bali nightclub within the space of a month. It could all come to a head when de Belin faces trial for rape just before the start of next season.
TEDESCO STUNNER GIVES QUEENSLAND ORIGIN BLUES
Tedesco's grand-final game-winner wasn't close to his most dramatic of the season. The NSW vice-captain stunned the Maroons when he finished a length-of-the-field team effort on the final play of the game-three decider at ANZ Stadium, resulting in the Blues' first successful Origin shield defence in 15 years. It was the start of a remarkable season for the Roosters star, who finished the year wearing the Brad Fittler (NSW), Wally Lewis (State of Origin), Dally M (NRL), RLPA (players union) and Jack Gibson (Roosters) medals. But will the return of Valentine Holmes from his NFL stint shift the balance of power between the states?
TONGA DOWN KANGAROOS TO ESTABLISH NEW WORLD ORDER
A Tonga invitational team ensured it was a year to remember after becoming the first tier-two nation to down the Kangaroos in an emotional 16-12 triumph at Eden Park in November. The result knocked the world champions off their perch atop the international rankings, usurped by New Zealand. The upsets kept coming late in the year, with Papua New Guinea also reeling off a famous 28-10 victory over Great Britain in Port Moresby. The likely match-up between the Mate Ma'a and the Kiwis next year will be must-watch viewing.
INJURIES TOO MUCH TO SHOULDER FOR RABBITOHS DUO
Paul Gallen, Robbie Farah and Cooper Cronk led one of the best retiring classes in recent memory. But the premature exit of champion South Sydney duo Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess, as well as Brisbane veteran Matt Gillett, due to shoulder injuries may give league central some concern. It could present supercoach Wayne Bennett with the challenge of keeping a suddenly inexperienced Rabbitohs side - John Sutton also hung up the boots - relevant next season.
BROWN AXING PAVES WAY FOR NEW KNIGHT
Few questioned Gold Coast's decision to become the first NRL club to punt a coach, Garth Brennan, in July. But when Newcastle showed Nathan Brown the door a month later, club legend Andrew Johns accused Knights hierarchy of sabotage. "They were on the verge of making the semi-finals and that has been sabotaged," Johns said.
GUS OVERTHROWN IN PANTHERS COUP
Phil Gould wanted Wayne Bennett, but the Panthers board wanted Ivan Cleary. Cleary returned last November, Gould was gone by April and by the following November, Penrith missed the finals. Within the same time-frame, the four local juniors on long-term deals - negotiated by Gould - all found new clubs. Questions will be asked if Cleary fails in his second season in charge.
WHO WANTS LATRELL MITCHELL?
For sale: A reigning league pointscorer, two-time premiership-winner, current Kangaroos and former NSW State of Origin representative. The NRL silly season went into overdrive the moment the Sydney Roosters sensationally withdrew a lucrative $800,000-a-season extension for their star on November 6. Even Rugby Australia were reportedly in the mix. But one-by-one the suitors fell off, leaving Gold Coast as the only NRL club currently interested in the embattled centre. Could Mitchell be the saviour the Titans desperately crave?
CAN HARPOONED BRONCOS BOUNCE BACK?
Many thought Brisbane had earned a pass-mark when they scraped into the finals under new coach Anthony Seibold. But their historic 48-0 elimination-final embarrassment, plus revelations a number of stars were on the pokies at Harpoon Harry's until late the night prior to their biggest game of the year, was all the ammunition critics needed for the 2019 underachievers. Will the late signing of unwanted Melbourne No.7 Brodie Croft be the solution to their problems?
NRL BANKS ON NEW STADIUM OUT WEST
The first fruits of the NSW government's controversial $2 billion stadia plan was heralded a success following the unveiling of Bankwest Stadium in April. A sellout crowd of 29,047 descended upon the $360-million venue for Parramatta's clash against the Wests Tigers, who join Canterbury and South Sydney as clubs who will call Bankwest home next season once ANZ Stadium undergoes a refurbishment after State of Origin.
Australian Associated Press