That’s it. We knew it was coming, and earlier this week the coronavirus-imposed lockdown spread to the NRL – and all professional sport in Australia, for that matter.
It’s left rugby league fans with plenty of spare time on their hands. There is no better way to pass the time than to go through the library of matches from what was a thrilling 2019 season and rewatch the best of the best.
To save you the time of flicking through the round-by-round results sheet to find the pick of the bunch, I’ve done it for you. Here are the best games to rewatch from the 2019 season.
Round 3, Brisbane Broncos 24 defeated by St George Illawarra Dragons 25
I remember this game being described during The Roar’s live blog as “a cracking game with moments of lunacy”, and it sums it up perfectly.
It would eventually come down to a Corey Norman field goal at the death, but it was a game that ebbed and flowed, and both teams would have felt they were going to run away with it at various points.
The Dragons at one point led 10-0 before the Broncos clawed their way back not once, not twice, but three times to set up a grandstand finish, all with Gareth Widdop suffering another serious shoulder injury.
Norman’s field goal sparked raucous celebration for the Dragons at the death in what was the first genuinely down-to-the-wire game of the season.
Round 4, Manly Sea Eagles 13 defeat South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
One week later and there was another game decided by a field goal. At this early point of the season no-one really knew what to expect from the Sea Eagles.
They were still widely tipped to finish in the bottom four or at very least in the bottom eight, but when they knocked over South Sydney, one of the premiership contenders, it made the public sit up and take notice.
It may have been low scoring, but it came with a style of play which fans would get used to from Manly throughout the year – doggedly determined.
After 80 minutes of regular time, it was two tries apiece, with the teams unable to be separated, before a field goal from Daly Cherry-Evans, who was just starting to run into form that could take him all the way through the season, overcame the situation to pick up the two competition points.
Round 6, Melbourne Storm 20 defeated by Sydney Roosters 21
A grand final rematch on a Friday night in Melbourne was tipped to be a doozy of a game, and it lived up to all expectations, running into golden point.
But it wasn’t looking that way early. Latrell Mitchell, who played one of the best games of his career to date, scored the first try in the fourth minute and was backed up shortly afterwards by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and James Tedesco on the scoresheet, putting the Tricolours up 20-0 after half an hour.
Melbourne then hit back with three tries and a penalty on either side of half-time to Josh Addo-Carr, Tui Kamikamica and Curtis Scott to tie the game up.
From there it was a defensive affair, with neither team able to be split until Mitchell kicked a field goal in the first minute of golden point from 40 metres out, closer to the sideline than the middle.
Round 8, Cronulla Sharks 20 defeat Melbourne Storm 18
This was a game that interests most for its study on the Storm as a defensive outfit. They had just 43 per cent of the ball, and in normal circumstances teams would lose games like that by plenty.
But not Craig Bellamy’s Storm. Sure, the Sharks attack was futile at times, but Melbourne just held out raid after raid, making 361 tackles with only 24 missed and ten ineffective. Numbers like that are hard to find. Ever.
And then there was the fact that the purple horde managed to score three tries with only that much footy, including Ryan Papenhuyzen’s late one to send them back into the lead.
The Sharks and Storm have become one of the NRL’s best modern-day rivalries, and there is no question this game lived up to all expectations.
Round 13, North Queensland Cowboys 20 defeated by Manly Sea Eagles 22
By virtue of their style of play in 2019, the Sea Eagles were involved in a lot of close games and sharp turnarounds.
After letting in three tries in just seven minutes on the run to half-time against the Cowboys, it was going to require more Des Hasler magic to turn things around, and that is exactly what they go, with the Sea Eagles reclaiming the lead 20 minutes from full-time.
Then, as only Manly could do, they ground and fought their way to the death, allowing zero more points in the final 20 minutes to win by just two against a Cowboys side that struggled with their attack at times in 2019.
What stands out from this game was the battle between Jason Taumalolo and Martin Taupau, with the former running over 300 metres.
Round 15, New Zealand Warriors 18 defeated by Penrith Panthers 19
This one won’t win any prizes for the best game in history, but it was a high-quality game of rugby league between two teams who at this point of the season were absolutely desperate for victory.
Both were sitting in the logjam outside the top eight on 12 competition points, and the pressure was on for victory, with the Warriors by this point really needing to win all their home games.
And so they should have. They had the lead and the benefit of two sin-binnings through the middle of the game for Penrith, with the men from the foot of the mountains reduced to 11 players for a couple of minutes.
Despite that, Penrith, on the back of two tries in the last half hour from Brent Naden, including one three minutes from full-time, managed to force extra time before James Maloney stepped up with an 84th-minute sin-binning in what was a true story of a team winning against all the odds.
Round 19, Newcastle Knights 26 defeated by Wests Tigers 28
In what was Robbie Farah’s 300th game, the Tigers headed north to the Hunter looking to heap further pain on the Knights and came away achieving the result.
But in a game that brought ten tries and late controversy, it was anything but straightforward, with Newcastle racing away to a 12-0 lead inside eight minutes.
The turnaround began though as the Tigers fought their way into the contest to the point they held an 18-12 lead by half-time.
They managed to extend it further after the break with a try to Farah before the Knights hit back. Another try to each side to go with missed conversions from Kalyn Ponga left the Tigers up by two points with 12 minutes to play.
With just minutes remaining the Tigers went onto the attack, and an ensuing shoulder charge off the ball from Ponga wound him up in the sin bin and the Knights with no chance to claim the vital two points.
Round 21, Canberra Raiders 18 defeated by Sydney Roosters 22
In what will be forever remembered Super Sunday, the top four teams were all locked into face-off in Round 21, and the Raiders-Roosters game in the nation’s capital didn’t disappoint.
With both teams playing a free-flowing, open style of footy, errors came during the first 40, but so did tries – five of them in fact.
By half-time it was the Roosters up 18-12, and they would extend that shortly afterwards as Daniel Tupou scored his second of the afternoon.
The Green Machine didn’t lose hope, though, as Elliott Whitehead scored shortly afterwards. However, their attack in the last quarter left a little to be desired and they ended up four points short.
Round 23, Canberra Raiders 14 defeated by Manly Sea Eagles 18
With apologies to Raiders fans for being featured in another loss here, they played in some cracking games of rugby league at the back end of the season.
For a long time neither team could work out how to run up points in this game, with defensive lines holding strong despite both teams throwing the kitchen sink.
Jarrod Croker scored the only try of the first half, with penalty goals meaning the Raiders went into the sheds leading 8-4.
The shackles would be broken in the second half by Manly, though, with Reuben Garrick and Jake Trbojevic scoring tries which were both converted, to go with another penalty goal. Leading by ten with ten to play, Manly looked to have it in the bag – that was, until Croker scored again, setting up a grandstand finish.
For the second time in a fortnight though the Raiders made some crucial late errors and were thwarted by an outstanding defence.
Finals Week 1, Melbourne Storm 10 defeated by Canberra Raiders 12
Week 1 of the finals in Melbourne. It’s undoubtedly one of the toughest assignments on the rugby league calendar – and I say calendar, because you can just about set your watch to one team having to face it each year.
And while controversy enveloped the end of the game as Suliasi Vunivalu was ruled to have gone into touch after grabbing a short kick-off, it may not have made a difference given how strong Canberra’s defence was throughout the contest.
The game was action-packed from the start, with Bailey Simonsson having to take the place of Joey Leilua at the last minute after he copped a firework to the eyeball.
Simonsson would then score the first try of the game just three minutes in before three penalty goals and a Suliasi Vunivalu try left the Raiders behind by four.
That status quo would remain all the way to the last five minutes, when John Bateman found a way over to give the Raiders a week off.
So there it is. My ten games to rewatch from 2019. Roarers, which games are you going to spend the lockdown replaying?