What. A. Year. 2015 had it all. We take a look at six words that define how special the 2015 NRL season truly was. Be sure to let us know your best and worst moments of the 2015 season in the comments below or on twitter @sports_banter.
While Dave Smith was much maligned right up until the time he departed as CEO of the NRL, the groundwork he laid for the new Broadcast deal cannot be underestimated. Taking the rights to the FTA networks prior to pay TV was a huge risk, but one that ultimately paid off with the NRL getting a reported $2billion over five years once digital and overseas rights are taken into account. This is on par with the AFL’s $2.5 billion over six years and Dave Smith can feel slightly vindicated, albeit out of a job.
This is huge not just for the NRL, but for the viewing public with all matches to now be syndicated on Fox Sports and three live matches, in HD, on the Nine Network from 2016 onwards. From 2017 Foxtel will start a new dedicated Rugby League channel and Monday night NRL will be scrapped in favour of an early Friday night kickoff and live Thursday night NRL every week.
Daly Cherry Evans (DCE) captured the attention of Australia’s sporting public for months for all the wrong reasons as the will-he-won’t-he saga threatened to spiral out of control. The Titans were wrapped when they announced that they had signed the hottest young player in the NRL to a 4-year deal in March 2015 worth circa $4 million, however that was short-lived with the NRL’s much criticised “Round 13” deal coming into play. DCE’s backflip was arguably the darkest day of the 2015 NRL season.
When the Sea Eagles also lost Kieran Foran, they returned to their halfback with a better offer (reportedly a $10million lifetime contract), and the rest is history. Unsurprisingly, the NRL ditched the “Round 13” rule in favour of a 10 day cooling off period on all new contracts, with the buying club not allowed to announce the deal until after this time has passed.
The Warriors were one of the teams to beat heading into the second half of the season with Shaun Johnson on fire and a top 4 spot in the offing. Things changed in round 20 with Johnson suffering a season ending ankle injury against the Sea Eagles and the Warriors didn’t win another game to exit season 2015 meekly.
It looks as if the Warriors have gone all out to avoid this situation against next season with Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck brought into to add some serious quality to their spine. Should one of these players go down injured now at least they’ll have more than one player who can make something happen from nothing and lead the team around the park.
The Sydney Roosters managed to buck the trend and completed a hat-trick of minor premierships from 2013-2015. While this only included one Grand Final and Premiership along the way, this is a massive achievement in a salary capped league. We all know how hard it is to go back to back in terms of Premierships (the Broncos in 1992-93 are the last team to do so), and this achievement should not go unnoticed.
People will quip that the Roosters don’t have a salary cap to work under, however when you look at their player turnover over the three seasons (Minichiello and SBW just to name a couple), and add in the losses of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and James Maloney this season, you can see that this was no easy feat.
The big question will be how they replace half of their 2015 spine for an attack on a fourth consecutive Minor Premiership?
Who would have thought that one addition to the Broncos outfit, and not even on the playing roster, could turn around their fortunes so much. In 2014 the Broncos just managed to make the top 8 after missing out completely in 2013, and you wondered if they would ever get back to being one of the premier teams of the competition. In walked Wayne Bennett and you could sense that just his presence was enough to turn around the clubs fortunes.
Bennett brought good fortune to the Dragons when he left the Broncos at the end of the 2008 season, leading them to a Minor Premiership in his first season, followed by a Premiership in 2010. When Bennett arrived at the Newcastle Knights in 2012, the club were in turmoil and had just been acquired by then mining magnate Nathan Tinkler. While Bennett didn’t make the finals that season, you could see his influence on the side and this continued into 2014 when the Knights made it to within one game of the Grand Final.
The master coach will be looking to take the Broncos one further in 2016 and who would bet against it with his record of improving clubs in their second season….
Undoubtedly the story of 2015 was that of the North Queensland Cowboys and their first ever Premiership, led by inspirational captain and 4-time Dally M Medalist Johnathan Thurston. The Cowboys went into season 2015 as one of the favourites but after years of near misses and refereeing howlers cost them, you wondered whether it would ever happen.
The 2015 Grand Final was arguably the best ever with the Cowboys scoring in the corner at the death, and Thurston given the chance to win the game with a conversion from the sideline. While Thurston was unable to convert on this occasion, he got the job done in Golden Point with Broncos halfback Ben Hunt dropping the ball from the kick off and giving the Cowboys a golden chance to win the match, one that Thurston took with aplomb.
2015 will hard to beat in terms of storylines and on-field action, it will be interesting to see what 2016 provides us!