Reflecting on NRL in the 2010’s

As we approach 2020, it’s time to reflect on the last 10 years. The Sydney Roosters and the Melbourne Storm dominated, with three premiership to the Roosters (the first back-to-back NRL premiers) and two to Melbourne. Both sides had off-field controversy, but played in seven of the ten grand finals, and played each other in the 2018 decider.

2010 – The Dragons Break Through Despite Storm Controversy

While super coach Wayne Bennett led St. George-Illawarra to their first premiership as a joint venture (winning the minor premiership and beating the Sydney Roosters 32-8 in the grand final), 2010 will be remembered for Melbourne’s punishment over massive salary cap breaches. The Storm lost their 2007 and 2009 premierships, their 2006, 2007 and 2008 minor premierships, and were barred from earning any competition points in 2010, guaranteeing them the wooden spoon. While they could have focused on rebuilding for 2011 and beyond, they finished the season 14-10 (good enough to make the finals), a credit to coach Craig Bellamy’s professionalism.

Queensland won their fifth-straight Origin with a 3-0 sweep, while New Zealand shocked Australia 16-12 in the Four Nations final at Suncorp Stadium.

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2011 – Manly Dominates as the Warriors Surprise

Manly-Warringah won their eighth premiership, beating the Warriors 24-10 in the grand final. The New Zealanders were the surprise of 2011, finishing sixth, and beating minor premiers Melbourne in the preliminary final.

Queensland continued their Origin winning streak, winning the decider 34-24 at Suncorp Stadium.

Australia regained the Four Nations title in the UK, winning all four games, including a 30-8 victory over England in the final.

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2012 – Melbourne are Back

Two years after the salary cap nightmare, Melbourne won their second “official” premiership. While Canterbury-Bankstown won the minor premiership, Melbourne won when it mattered, beating the Bulldogs 14-4 in the grand final.

The controversial McIntyre finals system was replaced with a much simpler format borrowed from the AFL, with the top four teams playing each other in the first week, and earning a second chance if they lose.

Queensland won their seventh straight Origin, farewelling Petero Civinoceva with a 21-20 win in the decider at Suncorp Stadium through a Cooper Cronk field goal. It was the closest NSW had come to a series win since Queensland’s streak began in 2006.

Australia played just two Tests, both against New Zealand, winning 20-12 and 18-10.

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2013 – Sonny Bill Leads the Tri-Colours to Victory

Five years after leaving Canterbury-Bankstown, Sonny Bill Williams returned to the NRL, this time with the Sydney Roosters. The hype was justified, as Sonny Bill led the Roosters to the minor premiership (edging South Sydney on points differential), and a 26-18 grand final win over Manly-Warringah (coming from 18-8 behind).

Queensland made in eight Origin titles in a row, winning the ANZ Stadium decider 12-10.

Canberra Stadium hosted the mid-season Trans-Tasman Test as part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations. Australia won 32-12.

Australia dominated the World Cup, played in the UK in October and November. They went through Group A undefeated (beating England, Fiji, and Ireland); thrashed the USA 62-0 in the quarter-final; Fiji 64-0 in the semi-final; and New Zealand 34-2 in the final.

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2014 – Sammy’s Bravery Breaks Souths’ Drought

South Sydney won their first premiership in 43 years. Finishing third, they beat Canterbury 30-6 in the grand final. Englishman Sam Burgess smashed his cheekbone in the game’s opening tackle, but played on to claim the Clive Churchill Medal. At the opposite end of the table, Cronulla-Sutherland finished last after their peptides scandal, also losing coach Shane Flanagan to a 12-month suspension.

North Queensland won the first NRL Nines tournament (nine players each team, with two nine-minute halves), played in Auckland in February. The Cowboys beat Brisbane 16-7 in the final.

It was a tragic year for Newcastle’s Alex McKinnon, injuring his spinal cord against Melbourne (breaking his C4 and C5 vertebrae).

Queensland’s Origin domination finally ended, with NSW winning their first series since 2005. Under new coach Laurie Daley, they won 12-8 in Brisbane and 6-4 in Sydney, before Queensland won the final game 32-8 back in Brisbane.

New Zealand won the Four Nations title, going through undefeated and beating Australia 22-18 in the final in Wellington.

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2015 – The Queensland Classic

The 2015 season was painted maroon: North Queensland beat Brisbane 17-16 in a classic grand final, and Queensland won their ninth Origin series in ten years.

While the Roosters won their third straight minor premiership, Brisbane and North Queensland came from second and third respectively to play the second grand final with no Sydney teams (though over 80,000 packed ANZ Stadium). Brisbane led 16-12 with a minute left before the Cowboys somehow scored through Kyle Feldt. While Johnathan Thurston missed the sideline conversion, he got another chance in Golden Point, with Brisbane’s Ben Hunt knocking the ball on from the kick off. Three minutes later, Thurston kicked the winning field goal, giving North Queensland their first premiership.

Queensland had revenge on the minds in the 2015 Origin series, smashing NSW 52-6 in the Suncorp Stadium decider.

Speaking of Suncorp Stadium, the one-off Test against New Zealand had to be rescheduled due to bad weather. Originally scheduled for Friday May 1, consistent rain forced the match to be moved to the Sunday afternoon, which New Zealand won 26-12.

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2016 – Turn the Porch Light Off

On October 2, 2016, it was time for Cronulla-Sutherland fans to turn the porch light off (after Jack Gibson famously joked that “waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt.”), with the Sharks beating Melbourne 14-12 in the grand final.

Canberra were the surprise of 2016, finishing second and losing the preliminary final by two points to Melbourne.

At the other end of the table, Parramatta’s season was ruined by salary cap breaches, losing 12 competition points (crucial as their 13-11 record would have seen them make the finals), and stripped of their 2016 NRL Nines title.

It was also a bad year for the Sydney Roosters: the winners of the last three minor premierships were in turmoil pre-season, when Mitchell Pearce was suspended after his drunken Australia Day shenanigans. The Roosters never recovered, finishing second-last with just six wins.

Queensland won their second straight Origin title, winning 6-4 in Sydney and 26-16 in Brisbane. NSW won the final game 18-14 in Sydney.

Australia went through undefeated in the UK Four Nations, beating New Zealand 34-8 in the final.

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2017 – Melbourne are Irresistible Despite North Queensland’s Fairytale

The 2017 season was one for fairytales: North Queensland benefited from a last round capitulation by St. George-Illawarra to finish eighth, then went all the way to the grand final. Minor premiers Melbourne stopped the Cowboys’ run, winning 34-6.

It was a massive year for Parramatta: they recovered from the salary cap drama to finish fourth, but lost to Melbourne and North Queensland in the finals.

Queensland made it three straight Origin wins: they lost the opener 28-4 in Brisbane, but won 18-16 in Sydney and 22-6 back at Brisbane. Meanwhile, the final NSW City v NSW Country game was played, with City winning 20-10 in Mudgee.

Australia hosted the 2017 World Cup (sharing the duties with New Zealand and PNG), and sailed through undefeated. They beat England, Lebanon, and France in Group A; beat Samoa 46-0 in the quarter final; beat Fiji 54-6 in the semi-final; and beat England 6-0 in the final at Suncorp Stadium. The finals format was controversial, with Ireland missing out, despite winning two of their three games in Group C. Samoa qualified instead, with two losses and a draw in the stronger Group B. Under the finals format, the top three teams from Groups A and B qualified, joined by the winners of Groups C and D. Tonga was the star of the tournament, upsetting New Zealand to win Group B and narrowly losing the semi-final to England.

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2018 – #EaststoWin as Cronk Beats His Old Club

The Sydney Roosters won their fourteenth premiership (and their twentieth minor premiership), with Cooper Cronk helping them beat his old club Melbourne 21-6 in the grand final. Cronk seemed unlikely to play with a broken scapula, but assumed a virtual on-field player-coach role to guide the Roosters to victory.

NSW regained the State of Origin title, winning 22-12 at the MCG and 18-14 in Sydney. Queensland won the final game 18-12 in Brisbane. For the first time in almost 20 years, Origin was played on a Sunday night, with game two part of a stand-alone rep round, including Women’s Origin and the Pacific Tests.

Australia played two end-of-season Tests: losing 26-24 to New Zealand at Mt. Smart Stadium, and beating Tonga 34-16 at the same venue. Over 26,000 fans – mainly Tongan – attended the Test against Australia, a brilliant sign of Tonga’s growth after a promising 2017 World Cup.

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2019 – It’s Not Six Again as the Roosters go Back-to-Back

The Sydney Roosters were the first team to win back-to-back NRL titles, but it was controversial.

The grand final against Canberra (the Raiders’ first grand final in 25 years), was locked 8-8 with 10 minutes left. Canberra were attacking the Roosters’ tryline when referee Ben Cummins changed his mind on a “six again” call, robbing the Raiders of a fresh attacking set, or possibly kicking for repeat set on the last tackle. The rattled Raiders conceded a try to James Tedesco a minute later and the game was over. Canberra were denied another scoring chance in the opening minutes when a kick ricocheted off a Roosters trainer. The controversial moments caused a couple of rule changes for 2020. The controversy continued with the Roosters’ Jared Waerea-Hargreaves being told he’d won the Clive Churchill Medal, only for Canberra’s Jack Wighton to win.

NSW claimed their second straight Origin series, with a 26-20 win in the decider in Sydney. Perth hosted their first Origin match, with nearly 60,000 attending Optus Stadium for game two of the series on Sunday June 23.

Australia had mixed post-season results: winning the World Nines at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium; beating New Zealand 26-4 in Wollongong’s Trans-Tasman Test; then losing to Tonga 16-12 in Auckland.

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