#5. ASADA Strikes:
It took one and a half years, but finally ASADA ended their investigations, resulting in 17 players serving suspensions. However, for most of them this meant missing a mere three rounds after receiving back-dated suspensions (to November 23rd, 2013). It capped off a dismal season for the Cronulla Sharks and ruined the chances of Jonathan Wright playing in the finals for the North Queensland Cowboys.
#4. Ricky Flops:
For the second year in a row Ricky Stuart has been considered the saving grace and for the second year in a row he has failed to live up to expectations. After leaving the Parramatta Eels with the wooden spoon in 2013 he returned to Canberra as their new head coach. Fans were delighted to see one of their favourite sons return and overlooked the fact that Stuart has a winning percentage of less than 50% since leaving the Sydney Roosters in 2006.
Stuart has come out several times this year and suggested that in order for the Raiders to be successful they will need to attract ‘rep’ players to the club. But after watching what Ivan Cleary has done with a ‘moneyball’ style roster at the Penrith Panthers, we all know that this is not the case.
#3. Dynasty Diminish:
For the past 10 years the two dominate teams in the NRL have been the Manly Sea Eagles and the Melbourne Storm. But is their time at the top limited? It might be too early to suggest that either of these teams are no longer the premiership force they once were, but it is obvious that the tides are turning and both clubs are going through a transition stage.
Melbourne are known for their clinical performances and have always been the team to watch in the finals. But this year it became more evident that with the ageing of the Big Three (Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk) there is a need for someone else in the Melbourne side to step up. Jesse Bromwich has established himself as the leader of the Melbourne forwards, but despite the talent in their backline no one outside of Slater or Cronk have put their hands up. Signing or developing a young half will also be important to Melbourne’s success as they head into the unknown – a life without the Big Three.
Manly, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag at the moment. They’re clearly still a premiership force but issues inside the club and player retention is set to take its toll. Manly finished second throughout the regular season but were bundled out of the finals in straight sets, going down to the South Sydney Rabbitohs 40-24 and then to the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in golden point, 18-17. Manly have already lost the services of Glenn Stewart and may well see Anthony Watmough exit the club, leaving them with a somewhat inexperienced back-row. But the real issues will come once Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans come off contract at the end of 2015, as both players can and will demand big money from the club.
#2. A Year to Forget:
The West Tigers started 2014 with high hopes. They had released the inconstant Benji Marshall and were looking to the future with Luke Brookes. The 2014 season started off well for them despite losing their first round clash with the Cronulla Sharks. By round five they had comprehensively beaten the eventual premiers, the Rabbitohs, and the runners-up of 2013, Manly, but it was all downhill from there. Off-field drama once again caused issues at the club, affecting their on-field performances.
Coach Mike Potter was fired prior to the completion of the NRL season. The West Tigers then appointed Jason Taylor as head coach. Taylor, despite having a reasonable record as a coach, will be up against it in his attempt to turn this struggling club’s fortunes around.
#1. We’ve Waited a Long Time for This:
It has been 43 years in the making but on October 5th, 2014, at approximately 9:30PM, the Rabbitohs claimed their 21st Premiership, defeating the Bulldogs 30-6.
For 57 minutes the game was in the balance, until a barnstorming run from George Burgess sparked the Rabbitohs as they claimed the 2014 NRL Premiership.
The game truly showed what Rugby League is all about, highlighted through the Clive Churchill-winning performance of Sam Burgess. The English international was not only the first non-Australian to claim the prestigious award, but he also played 80 minutes with a fractured cheek bone, cementing himself in Rabbitohs and Rugby League folklore. Although Souths’ will see a number of players depart this year, Sam will no doubt be their biggest loss. He came to Australia in 2010 to help Russell Crowe fulfil his ambition of restoring Souths’ to their former glory, and in 2014 he achieved that very aim.