Here’s a quick A to Z guide to remind you of what you saw in the 2020 NRL season.
A. Andrew Abdo was appointed as CEO of the NRL in early September after serving in that role on an interim basis for six months, following the long overdue departure of Todd Greenberg.
An accountant, the former NRL Chief Commercial Officer has been credited with bringing the NRL’s finances and expenditure back under control and playing a significant role in getting the game back on the field following Covid lockdown.
B. Craig Bellamy is a great coach but his antics in the coaching box are both boring and boorish. Surely he can’t think that his behaviour is suitable for an adult, regardless of his job.
Only the visually impaired wouldn’t be able to understand his expletive ridden rages. Time to take a good, hard look at yourself Craig.
C. Coaches. Five coaches are moved on in what can only be describes as a major clean out. Anthony Seibold became the most unpopular person in Queensland, just ahead of Annastacia Palaszczuk, before he was run out of town; Paul McGregor’s overly long and unsuccessful gig at the Dragons thankfully came to an end; Paul Green pulled the pin before the grenade went off; and both Dean Pay and Stephen Kearney had their clip boards confiscated. I wonder who’ll be un the firing line next year?
D. The Dally M was awarded to Canberra’s Jack Wighton, beating more fancied rivals in Clint Gutherson and Nathan Cleary. No one apparently saw this coming, with the exception of the Daily Telegraph, but Wighton was a deserved winner.
E. Electric, Exciting, Entertaining. The diminutive Ryan Papenhuyzen has had a break out season for the Melbourne Storm, setting the grand final alight with one of the most exciting tries ever, snatching the Clive Churchill medal from the hands of sentimental favourite Cameron Smith, picking up a premiership, and being selected in the NSW Origin squad.
Papenhuyzen is an absolute excitement machine and I can’t wait to watch him carve it up again next year.
F. Addin Fonua-Blake takes his game to a new level by being the first player, that I can recall being, sent off and suspended for abusing the referee.
A talented player, Fonua-Blake will need to turn over a new leaf if he’s going to stay on the field long enough to make an impact with the Warriors next season.
G. G.O.A.T. Is Cameron Smith the greatest of all time or just a lucky survivor who has managed to play the most NRL games, score the most NRL points, captain QLD and Australia with great success, and win multiple premierships?
The argument rages on and probably will long after he finally hangs up the boots. I guess by the time he notches up his 500th NRL game we will have a decision.
H. Hairstyles. The Covid bubble has a lot to answer for and the current craze among NRL players for bizarre and downright ugly hairstyles tops the list. Jai Arrow, Apisai Koroisau, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Viliame Kikau, and virtually every Sharks player seemed to be cutting and dying each other’s hair to relieve the bubble boredom. Tevita Pangai Jr. tried to do the right thing and visit his local barber, but was stood down for the rest of the year for his trouble.
I. I hate the bunker. There have been a number of excellent NRL innovations over the years and some failures, but the biggest blight on the game continues to be the bunker. Despite untold technology and slow motion replays they still get it wrong almost as many times as they get it right. Surely the League don’t need the KFC advertising dollars that much!
J. Alex Johnston. After Wayne Bennett informed Johnston to find a new club in 2021, the Souths’ flyer showed his true myrtle and green colours and ultimately had the last laugh, by both picking up a new contract with the Rabbitohs and streaking away to be the season’s top try scorer.
I guess even Wayne Bennett can make a mistake at times. After all, he did sign James Roberts.
K. King Gutho. The Parramatta fullback and captain had his best season yet and nearly dragged his Eels teammates into the grand final. Gutherson is a high energy player who is never off the ball and may just force his way into the NSW starting team for Origin. Watch out QLD!
L. Latrell Mitchell achieved human headline status in the last off-season with barely a day going by without new speculation regarding where he was going to play in 2020. Once signing for Souths, the headlines continued after his poor start in his preferred full back position and then his lockdown breach and firearms faux pas.
Fortunately, by the time he was eventually ruled out for the season with injury, he’d silenced his critics and was in great form for the Bunnies. Who knows how the season may have ended for Souths if Mitchell had played out the season?
M. Melbourne Storm do it again. Melbourne underlined their reputation as the most successful team of the decade with their third premiership from five grand final appearances.
They had too much experience and class when it mattered most, and put paid to the chances of Parramatta, Canberra and Penrith on their way to the title. Can they do it again next year?
N. NZ Warriors. The Warriors have certainly taken one for the NRL team this year by moving far from home and playing most of the season from their Central Coast bubble. Their selfless sacrifice has won them many admirers, and perhaps resulted in some far greater team bonding and belief that led to their much improved on field performances towards the end of the season.
O. Origin. For the first time ever, Rugby League’s showpiece State of Origin series will be played at the end of the season, with players selected for their state to enter a new bubble. Let’s hope that the long season, mounting injuries, playing game 1 in Adelaide, and lack of motivation for some players doesn’t ruin the spectacle.
P. Penrith Panthers had a season to remember but a grand final to forget. After winning 17 games on the trot, the young Panthers fell at the final hurdle after a poor start to the premiership decider.
The fact that they only finished 6 points behind at the end should give them the confidence to go one better next year and take out the title.
Q. Queensland teams didn’t have much to celebrate this year with the Titans, Cowboys and Broncos finishing in 9th, 14th and 16th place respectively, in what was probably the worst combined performance by teams from across the border ever.
The only ray of sunshine for the sunshine state was the premiership winning performance by that fourth QLD team, the Sunshine Coast Storm.
R. Recorded crowd noises became a reality when teams were playing in empty stadiums following lockdown. This was a great innovation and improved the experience for the viewing public. Let’s hope the NRL now takes the next step and introduces recorded commentary.
S. Sonny Bill Williams. The circus came to town when $BW briefly returned to the NRL to save the day for the Roosters. Has there ever been a bigger media circus over a player who is well over the hill?
Things unfortunately didn’t go to plan for either the Roosters or $BW, but I guess he can at least comfort himself by returning to the ESL on his mega dollar contract.
T. Threepeat. The Sydney Roosters have achieved the premiership threepeat twice before, 1911 to 1913 and 1935 to 1937, and were well on track to adding another to their long list of achievements until they were slaughtered 60 – 8 by South Sydney in their round 20 encounter.
They never looked like seriously contending for the title after that.
U. Unprecedented. Prior to the arrival of the virus courtesy of the Wuhan wet markets bat sandwich, the use of this word was, itself, unprecedented. Now it’s hard to write a sentence on anything, including Rugby League, without slipping this adjective in there somewhere.
V. Peter Vlandys. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” pretty much sums up the impact Peter Vlandys has had on the game, and its survival and resurgence this season.
Coming from a high-achieving horse-racing background, Vlandys was appointed chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission in October 2019, and has been at the forefront of not only getting the game back on its feet after Covid lockdown, but also thinking outside the square and introducing rule changes in order to improve the game as a commercial product.
One shudders to think where we’d be now if former ARLC Chairman Peter Beattie was still at the helm.
W. The wooden spoon was deservedly handed to the Brisbane Broncos for the first time in their 33 year history. The Bulldogs gave the Broncos a run for their money in the race to the bottom, but in the end, the pride of Brisbane were clear winners (losers?) with just three wins for the year, and a points differential of minus 356.
If the Broncos were ever going to get the spoon this was to be the year, as their season never really got off the ground after lockdown, they lost their coach Anthony Seibold, and witnessed high priced players performing like park footballers. The question is, can they back up next year and make it two in a row?
X. Bronson Xerri was one of League’s most exciting prospects heading into the 2020 season after bursting onto the scene for Cronulla in 2019. With pace, size, skill and footwork to burn, the world was at his feet, he was firmly on the Roosters’ recruitment radar, and was a strong chance to play Origin this year for NSW.
Unfortunately, all this came to a shuddering halt when it was announced just two days before the NRL’s return from lockdown that he had returned a positive test to a drug sample. He remains stood down from the game pending the outcome of his case.
Y. Yawn! The captain’s challenge. Say no more.
Z. Zane Tetavano nearly had the last laugh at the Roosters expense by finishing just six points away from his own personal threepeat. The rugged front rower was cut by the Roosters after winning premierships with them in both 2018 and 2019 and headed west to Penrith, nearly picking up a third title in as many years.