The NRL has lauded Indigenous star Josh Addo-Carr for highlighting racist abuse he received on social media, confirming the matter has been referred to police.
The highly anticipated draw for the 2022 NRL season has been released and for 15 teams, the quest to stop the Penrith Panthers repeating as champions has begun in earnest.
Another COVID-19-interrupted season saw the league shift its operations north to Queensland in the second half of the year, and it was the mountain men who reigned supreme as they claimed their third title with a 14-12 win over the Rabbitohs in the grand final in Brisbane.
A whole new era will also begin at Redfern, with Jason Demetriou now given the responsibility of presiding over the Pride of the League, which will have a new halfback and captain following the departure of Wayne Bennett and Adam Reynolds.
After two seasons on the road, the Warriors will hope to finally return to New Zealand in the middle of the season, with their first true home game since 2019 set to be a Saturday night blockbuster clash against the reigning premiers in Round 15.
Here are just some of the key moments you simply cannot miss in 2022.
For the first time since 2004, the season will kick off at the foot of the mountains, when the Panthers begin their premiership defence against last year’s preliminary finalists, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
They’ll be without at least four of their premiership stars, with Kurt Capewell, Matt Burton and Paul Momirovski having switched to the Broncos, Bulldogs and Roosters respectively, while Tyrone May was sacked last week.
The following night, we’ll have our first grudge match of the season when Adam Reynolds leads a new-look Brisbane Broncos side against the club with whom he won the 2014 premiership, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
After two consecutive bottom-three finishes, there are high hopes at Red Hill, although Kevin Walters will have to appoint a new captain after the retirement of Alex Glenn.
Earlier that night, the Canberra Raiders will return home for the first time since June with a clash against the Cronulla Sharks, which will pit 2002 premiership coach Ricky Stuart up against the Clive Churchill Medallist from that year, Craig Fitzgibbon, in the coaches box.
Fitzgibbon takes the reins at Shark Park following a 2021 season in which John Morris was controversially sacked, while on the field, the club finished ninth, sitting out September for just the second time in the past decade.
The Warriors, who will be based in Queensland for at least the first half of the season, begin their second season under Nathan Brown with a clash against the Dragons, who have stocked up as they attempt to put three years of mediocrity behind them.
Arrivals at Kogarah include Moses Mbye, Jaydn Su’A, Francis Molo, George Burgess and Aaron Woods, while Cameron McInnes, Matt Dufty and Paul Vaughan all left the club at the end of their tumultuous 2021 season.
The Wests Tigers’ quest to end the league’s longest finals drought gets off to the most brutal start possible as they come up against the Melbourne Storm, who handed them a 66-16 humiliation on the Sunshine Coast back in June this year.
2005 premiership coach Tim Sheens is back at Concord Oval to support under-siege coach Michael Maguire, who won a stay of execution after many thought he’d be sacked in the wake of the club’s dismal season.
Last year’s two worst-performed clubs, the Cowboys and Bulldogs, face each other to finish the opening round, with high hopes and expectations for the latter club which has stocked up in its bid to return to finals football for the first time since 2016.
Home sweet home
After two COVID-interrupted seasons saw the club play only seven home games, the Storm return home for the first time since April this year when they face the Rabbitohs to kick off Round 2.
Craig Bellamy’s side illustriously leapt over every hurdle they were faced with in that period, winning the 2020 premiership and racking up a record-equaling 19 consecutive victories last season before falling foul of Panthers in the preliminary final.
The loss marked a bitter ending to what was otherwise a season of domination, made even more remarkable considering club legend Cameron Smith had retired.
It means the Bunnies start their season with consecutive road trips to Brisbane and Melbourne in what will be a challenging start for new coach Jason Demetriou, though knowing the inner sanctum of the club he will be up for anything.
Also in Round 2, Cronulla return to Shark Park for a Saturday twilight engagement against the Parramatta Eels, after redevelopment works at the Sharks Leagues Club forced them up the road to Kogarah Oval, which they had to share with the Dragons.
But the biggest homecoming will no doubt come in Round 15 where, after two-and-a-half seasons on the road, the Warriors will be at Mount Smart Stadium for the first time since August 2019, with expectations of a sell-out crowd.
A grand final rematch and the tenth anniversary of the Melbourne Storm’s 2012 premiership
The grand final rematch will take place on Friday, April 1, in Round 4 when the Panthers host the Rabbitohs.
Also in Round 4, the Storm will commemorate the tenth anniversary of their 2012 premiership with a home game against the Bulldogs, which will see new Dog Josh Addo-Carr tackle some of his former teammates for the first time.
The Brisbane Broncos will also make the short road-trip north for a clash against the Warriors in Redcliffe, while the Dragons will look to emulate last year’s upset win against the Eels at CommBank Stadium (formerly Bankwest Stadium) among the other matches in the round.
Public holiday matches
The first of the traditional public holiday matches comes on Good Friday, when the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs square off at Stadium Australia in Round 6, with the expectation of a large crowd given it will take place concurrently with the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
The two clubs have had their fair share of memorable and sometimes controversial matches since the fixture was introduced in 2012, not least in 2015 when the Bunnies won a spiteful clash played in heavy rain after Adam Reynolds potted the winning penalty goal at the death.
Another annual Easter clash that takes place in this round is between the Parramatta Eels and Wests Tigers, which will be played at CommBank Stadium, while the Roosters and Warriors will resume hostilities at the SCG.
The Anzac matches also return in Round 7, with the Dragons hosting the Roosters at the SCG before the Storm and Warriors clash in the evening.
We’ll also see a change in the Queen’s Birthday clash, with the Parramatta Eels replacing the St George Illawarra Dragons in facing the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on the second Monday of June.
The festival of footy returns to Suncorp Stadium in Round 10, with all clubs to play at the venue as Brisbane becomes the rugby league capital of Australia for the weekend of May 13-15.
As was the case this year, each day will feature a Queensland-based club, so as to maximise commercial and financial benefits.
Friday night sees the Brisbane Broncos relegated to the visitors’ sheds as the Sea Eagles play their ‘home’ match against them at the ground, following an earlier clash between the Bulldogs and Newcastle Knights.
We’ll also see rematches of the 2020 grand final, with the Storm and Panthers facing off for the first time since their preliminary final showdown on the Saturday, and the Wests Tigers facing North Queensland in the twilight slot on Sunday.
With no Thursday night match, Channel Nine will instead televise the Saturday night clash between the Storm and Panthers, while they will also cover the Sea Eagles vs Broncos and Roosters vs Eels matches on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively.
The grand re-opening of the Sydney Football Stadium
Rugby league fans in Sydney will have to wait until the final round of the season, in which it’s hoped the brand new Sydney Football Stadium will be open for business when the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs clash on the first Friday night of September.
It will complete a full circle of sorts for the knock-down and rebuild of the stadium, with the two sides having met in front of a record crowd of 44,380 in the 2018 preliminary final, the final match of rugby league played at Allianz Stadium.
In the meantime, the Roosters will continue to share the SCG with the AFL’s Sydney Swans, who have first priority to the ground they have called home for four decades, while it’s expected the Bunnies will return to Moore Park at the end of the 2022 season after 17 seasons at Homebush.
The earlier-season clash between the two bitter rivals, to be played at Stadium Australia in Round 3, will mark the return of Latrell Mitchell from suspension after he had cleaned up Joseph Manu in the teams’ Round 24 meeting at Suncorp Stadium this year.
The final round will also see several teams tussle it out for the final remaining places in the top eight with the finals just around the corner, with an expected pre-finals entree between the Eels and Storm at CommBank Stadium to kick it all off on Thursday, September 1.
For the first time since mid-2001, Channel Nine will not televise a match between the Dragons and Broncos, with their Saturday twilight clash to be exclusive to Fox Sports, while the final match of the regular season will see the Wests Tigers and Raiders square off at Leichhardt Oval.
State of Origin
After the entirety of this year’s series was played in Queensland due to the pandemic, Origin will return to Sydney for the first time since Game 2, 2020, with Game 1 to be played at Stadium Australia on Wednesday, June 8.
That is then followed by Game 2 which will again be played on a Sunday night, at Perth’s Optus Stadium, before Suncorp Stadium hosts what is hoped to be the deciding game on July 13.
The women’s Origin will also return as a standalone fixture on Friday, June 24, with a venue for that match still to be decided.
The NRL finals
Finally, 25 rounds of jam-packed action will culminate in four weeks of finals, the pinnacle of which is the grand final scheduled for Sunday, October 2 at Stadium Australia.
The Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and Eels are among the other clubs expected to feature in September, with questions to be asked of whether the latter club can break what is currently the league’s longest premiership drought, 35 years having passed since the blue and golds last saluted.
Next year’s league decider will take place one week after the AFL’s, meaning the sport will have the lead-up week all to itself.
After this year’s competition was prevented from going ahead, fans will be treated to two competitiions next year – one before the start of the men’s season and another during the men’s finals series.
Three new teams – the Eels, Knights and Titans – join the competition in the first expansion of the league since it was established in 2018, while the Warriors have sadly been forced to, for the moment, fold.
In the early season, teams will face each other over a five-week period, followed by a preliminary final and the grand final to be played in the weekend of Round 5 of the men’s season, likely to be on a Sunday afternoon.
It all starts with a grand final rematch between the Broncos and Roosters, in between which the Dragons will face the Titans, while new clubs the Eels and Knights will square off in a triple-header at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.
Among other highlights, we’ll have a Queensland derby between the Titans and Broncos in Round 4, while former Dally M Medallist Jessica Sergis, who switched to the Roosters during the off-season, will face her old side, the Dragons, at Kogarah Oval in the final round.
— Women's Rugby League (@WRugbyLeague) November 9, 2021
Those are just some of the highlights of the 2022 NRL fixture, which is always filled with excitement and intrigue.