On February 7 2013 both the National Rugby League and Australian Football League were implicated in Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s year-long investigation into widespread use of drugs in Australian sport. Sports scientist Stephen Dank was the main focus of the investigations with his associations at Essendon, Cronulla Sharks and Manly Sea-Eagles. Newcastle, North Queensland, Penrith, and Canberra were the other clubs under scrutiny. Former Raiders, Roosters and Panthers winger Sandor Earl was the first to be issued with a breach notice in August. Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and trainer Troy Elkin were this week suspended following preliminary findings. This story will continue to gain momentum going into 2014 with the likelihood of further breach notices to come.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS DOMINATION
Sydney Roosters were deserved NRL Premiers. Rookie NRL coach Trent Robinson was aided by off-season rugby union recruit Sonny Bill Williams, former New Zealand Warrior James Maloney and ex-Panther Michael Jennings. Not only was Maloney and Mitchell Pearce’s combination a factor in the Roosters domination, defensively the Roosters kept their opposition to nil on six occasions. One of those occasions was in an epic 4-0 win against Manly in the first week of the finals. The Sonny Bill Williams side show didn’t cause too many distractions for the Bondi club. SBW was indecisive about playing for the Kiwi’s during the World Cup until he made himself available. He recently announced he would ‘hop’ codes in 2015 to join rugby franchise Waikato Chiefs. Rival coaches and their assistants will be closely working out how to shut down the Roosters in 2014.
DORGUSON, DUGAN AT CROSSROADS
Three young mates falling into trouble. Blake Ferguson, Josh Dugan and Sandor Earl. Ultimately Raiders coach David Furner fell on his own sword after backing Blake Ferguson through incident after incident. In a troubled year Ferguson produced some damaging displays which saw him selected for the Blues. But the Raiders board had enough and showed Ferguson the door. Good mate Josh Dugan started the year with the Raiders and was sacked in early March for numerous off-field incidents. His mid-season move to the Dragons saw the troubled fullback represent the Blues in the final two Origin games. The final piece of the puzzle is Sandor Earl in the much publicised ASADA investigations was handed a breach notice. Three mates at different crossroads of their career. Incumbent coach Ricky Stuart has a lot of work to get this side back on track.
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE FOR COWBOYS
Cowboys fans at the end of 2012 were left irate at referee blunders during their semi-final clash against Manly at Allianz Stadium. Nothing changed in 2013 when beaten by two points against the Cronulla Sharks at the same venue. The lead-up to Beau Ryan’s opening try for the Sharks came off the seventh tackle after referee’s Matt Cecchin and Henry Perenara got the count wrong. It was a disappointing send off for Neil Henry. Henry was told he was not wanted by the Cowboys next season in late-July as the club looked like missing the finals. A whirlwind back end of the season led by Jonathan Thurston saved the Cowboys season but not the coach. Will the Cowboys live to regret letting the coach go?
BENJI MARSHALL PACKS HIS BAGS FOR RUGBY
Benji Marshall left rugby league to try his hand at rugby by signing with the Auckland Blues franchise. After eleven years in the NRL and 201 games, Marshall will best remembered for his great skills which were best displayed in the 2005 Grand Final setting up Pat Richards for a long distant try. It appeared Marshall at the back end of his NRL career was struggling to keep motivated in a inconsistent Tigers team. There will be some interest whether Marshall can adapt to rugby. I’m sure the NRL will happily open the door if Marshall can’t find his feet.
VALE GRAHAM MURRAY
Graham Murray was top of the list of rugby league identities passing away during 2013. Murray will be best remembered for guiding the Illawarra Steelers to their first finals series, North Queensland to their only Grand Final appearance in 2005, and Leeds through to the 1998 Grand Final loss to Wigan.
PLAYER WELFARE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
West Tigers rookie Mosese Fotuaika’s death shocked rugby league on February 28. And the Cowboys were rattled by the premature passing of Alex Elisala on April 29. Both cases emphasise the increasing issue of player welfare in the NRL as the intensity and pressures of the game becomes greater.