2015 is a year to remember in more ways than one. Breakthrough premiership wins were tinged with sadness and a growing list of issues for administrators to resolve in our game.
Here’s my five highlights for the year.
1. North Queensland celebrate 20 years with maiden premiership
Finally the Sydney finals hoodoo was broken for the North Queensland Cowboys with their Grand Final victory over Brisbane Broncos at ANZ Stadium in early October.
This was the best grand final since the epic 1989 Grand Final where Canberra Raiders also won their first title.
A dramatic finish with Kyle Feldt scoring in the corner was followed by Ben Hunt dropping the ball from the kick-off. Johnathan Thurston won the game in a year where he swept the various awards on offer.
I wouldn’t put it past the Cowboys to go back to back for the first time since their big brothers in Brisbane achieve it in the 1990’s.
2. Leeds treble
Leeds Rhinos had a phenomenal season in Super League as they took out their tenth League title, third League Leaders Shield and thirteenth Challenge Cup.
In one of the most lopsided Challenge Cup finals it was winger Tom Briscoe who made history by becoming the first player to score five tries on the famous Wembley Stadium turf.
‘Sir Kev’ left the club on a high as he ventures into rugby union, while Zak Hardaker was nominated for the Golden Boot and gave English selectors a headache with a fantastic series at fullback in their victory over an injury hit Kiwis.
3. Super Eights format
It was a #NewEra for Super League in England with the formation of a two-tier Championship which included a Super Eight format.
Championship side Leigh Centurions looked certain to be promoted after a big winning streak which included knocking off Super League side Salford Red Devils in the middle part of the Challenge Cup.
Unfortunately for the Centurions they were disappointing in the Super Eights and all Super League teams survived relegation.
If there was one criticism, the amount of transfers to ‘prop up’ Super League sides during the Super Eights at the back end of the season is something Super League General Manager Blake Solly will need to look at in the future.
Maybe the introduction of trade week could be an option.
4. Kiwis ANZAC Day win
New Zealand’s win in the ANZAC Test match at Suncorp Stadium was a breakthrough.
Traditionally the Australian side wins the mid-season test, however they were off their game and were belted accordingly by their Tasman counterparts.
What was most impressive about the Kiwis was their attitude. It resembled the qualities that saw Queensland’s State of Origin side dominate for so long. They ended the year as the number one ranked side in the world despite their 2-1 loss in the test series to England in November.
5. Return of Test Series
I’m a stickler for things rugby league did in the past and should now do more often. For me, the return of the three match test series when England hosted New Zealand was a triumph.
For the first time since 2008 when England won 3-0 at home against the Kiwis, rugby league fans were treated to a tense and sometimes controversial test series. England winning the series 2-1 thanks to a double by Canberra-bound Elliott Whitehead at DW Stadium in the final test.
Australia missed out on an opportunity to play a series against one of the emerging league nations in the Pacific, opting to give their rugby league stars a season off to recover after a ‘heavy’ schedule.
Let’s hope the Ashes Series can be revived for the first time since 2003 sometime soon.