The 2020 competition is gradually drawing to a close and it has been an eventful year, to say the least.
With the 2019 season coming to a close, so does a decade filled with moments that will be remembered for as long as rugby league continues to breathe.
Dynasties were made, droughts were ended, records were broken, players became legends and legends became immortals.
Like all eras of rugby league, they must come to a close. We have and will continue to say goodbye to some of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of footy boots.
We’ve already said goodbye to Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, with Cooper Cronk and Paul Gallen to come by the end of this final series.
That’s over 1,500 first grade games experience between those five alone. This generation of footballers will go down in history as one of the greatest the game has ever seen.
One of the beauties of rugby league is that no hole stays unfilled. With one generation moving on, there’s always the next generation waiting to explode and from what we have witnessed from a mere few, it’s hard not to get excited for what the 2020s have in store.
Over the last few years, we have seen the emergence of players like Cameron Murray, the Trbojevic brothers, Latrell Mitchell, Kalyn Ponga, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Payne Haas just to name a few. These players have already made an impact in the NRL.
The scary part of it all is a few of the players named have not even settled into a full year of NRL football.
The others still have yet to reach their full potential while also having Origins, Tests, and premierships under their respective belts.
It’s crazy to think right after we see one of the greatest fullbacks of all time in Slater hang up the boots, not even a year later Melbourne show us Papenhuyzen. The unwanted Wests Tigers junior is using his opportunity to full advantage. Despite playing few games at fullback, he has all but made that jersey his own.
Not too long ago, the Sea Eagles had the Stewart brothers.
Brett and Glenn for years were the two key factors to Manly’s success for over a decade. With Brett’s ability to score tries and Glenn’s incredible ball-playing ability – while also able to play through the defensive line – Manly were near unstoppable.
You’d think a brother combination like that would be once in a lifetime, but in NRL it only takes a season or two, as shown with the emergence of the Trbojevic brothers.
Jake and Tom are considered to be in the top tier of their respective positions on the field, with Tom at fullback and Jake at lock.
They both have been the shining lights in one of Manly’s darkest periods. With the return of coach Des Hasler, it’s only a matter of time before we see the Trbojevic brothers with a premiership ring.
Just when you thought you couldn’t get a player in the backs as explosive as Inglis, here comes Mitchell.
Mitchell has continued to shock with his ability to create a try out of absolutely nothing. Just when you think a set is going nowhere, Latrell will fend off multiple defenders, make a break and score right under the posts.
In just his fourth season and at 22 years of age, Mitchell already has a premiership.
He has represented his state and country on numerous occasions. He is in a Roosters side showing all signs of achieving back-to-back title wins.
The terrifying thing is he has yet to reach his full potential despite already achieving so much. Along with his goal-kicking ability, Mitchell could emulate Inglis’ amazing career.
Then there’s Cameron Murray. There’s very little that needs to be said about Cameron Murray.
What he has done for the Rabbitohs so far in his short career at lock speaks for itself.
Since Wayne Bennett arrived at Redfern, we’ve seen Cameron Murray’s stock rise to another level.
His showing of on-field leadership has not gone unnoticed. He has been touted as not only a future Rabbitohs captain but also a future leader of the Blues by Boyd Cordner.
Staying with top-quality forwards, two further leading lights are Payne Haas and David Fifita.
Haas, a serious Rookie of the Year contender, at 19 years of age and with ten NRL games experience, made his State of Origin debut for NSW, becoming the second least-experienced player ever to do so.
It is considered by many that he has ‘carried’ the Broncos into the finals in 2019 along with David Fifita.
Fifita made history this year by becoming the first player born in the 21st century to play State of Origin.
Then there is Kalyn Ponga. There is nothing to say that hasn’t already been said multiple times over.
The potential he had was enough for the Knights to risk it all by paying money that had never been given to a young player before, which made him the highest-paid teenager in NRL history.
That alone says it all. In his first two seasons with the Knights, it can be argued he’s only showed glimpses of what he can do – these glimpses alone have earned him a QLD jersey on three occasions already.
At 21 years of age, the demand for Ponga has gone beyond league clubs to include rugby union but AFL as well.
It is uncertain where Ponga will be at five years from now, but one thing that is certain is that wherever he goes success awaits.
While these are some of the shining lights, there are plenty of others like the Bronson Xerris, Victor Radleys, Sam Verrills and Campbell Grahams who look excellent. There’s a whole junior system at Penrith that just explodes with rugby league talent.
There’s another Trbojevic brother coming through the ranks. And of course teenage, there’s play-maker Sam Walker who is expected to be Cooper Cronk’s long-term half replacement at the Roosters.
The next decade of rugby league is shaping up to be one of the most sensational decades the game will have ever seen.