From the success of the new Canadian franchise in the Rugby League Championships, through to the emergence of the game in Papua New Guinea; the game of rugby league had some monumental achievements in 2017.
#RunWithThePack – Toronto Wolfpack revolutionises North American football
When businessman Eric Perez approached the RFL in 2014 to enter the Rugby League Championship it was a bold move. Their introduction in 2017 was met with mixed emotions from traditional rugby league followers. They let their footy do the talking which resulted in a comprehensive League 1 Championship win. While the club boasts rugby league cult-hero Fuifui Moimoi and the handy Ryan Brierley, it’s the excitement of utility and Canadian-born Quinn Ngawati that marks the first steps to developing the game in North America. Only the bid team for New York City Rugby League can dream of earning a franchise and walking the same steps as the Wolfpack.
Hunters and Kumuls put PNG rugby league back on the map
For so long the game in Papua New Guinea has struggled on-field despite boasting the most passionate rugby league fan base in the world. In the space of six weeks the game received a boost with the PNG Hunters breaking through in their fifth year to win the Intrust Super Cup thanks to a last minute try to the ‘Freight Train’, Willie Minoga. The national side’s first appearance at the Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals since 2000 came on the back of excellent crowds at the National Football Stadium. With James Segeyaro committed to the national side and the emergence of Rhyse Martin in the second row, momentum must continue with more regular test rugby league and maybe the NRL to play one game in the nation’s capital.
Jason Taumololo’s defection boosts the International game
This year’s Rugby League World Cup tournament was turned upside down when the game’s best forward, Jason Taumololo turned his back on David Kidwell’s New Zealand side in favour of his Tongan heritage. The Kiwis might have been the biggest losers out of the decision but it was a shot in the arm for rugby league at the International level. The level of interest in Tongan games throughout the tournament with their passionate support provided a rare highlight in a somewhat mediocre event. With the influence of players with Islander heritage coming through the National Rugby League, the game could be one generation away from the World Cup Champions being won by a Pacific Nation.
Mighty Cas’ come out of the wilderness
It was an outstanding 2017 for Super League club Castleford Tigers who were arguably the best side in this year’s competition, only to go down on Grand Final day to fellow Yorkshire side Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford. Greg Eden’s return from the NRL after a short stint with the Brisbane Broncos saw him take out top tryscorer with 38, seventeen ahead of next best Liam Marshall. Luke Gale dominated the season on his way to winning the Man of Steel ahead of fellow Tiger Zak Hardaker and Leeds newcomer Matt Parcell. With the fallout of Hardaker’s failed drug test, 2018 will present some unwanted challenges to breaking through for their maiden title.
North Queensland’s herculean effort after free-falling mid-season
North Queensland Cowboys looked certain to miss out on making the NRL Finals until the second last game of the regular season when St George-Illawarra lost to Canterbury Bulldogs. An amazing run through the finals series thanks to Michael Morgan saw the Townsville boys take out defending premiers Cronulla in week 1, the red-hot Parramatta in week 2 and the disappointing Sydney Roosters in the Qualifying Grand Final. This was done with a mounting injury toll and season ending injuries to Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott. Full credit to Paul Green and his coaching team for rallying against adversity. Could 2018 with Thurston’s pending retirement see the return of the trophy to the north?