Who Missed the 2020 NRL Finals and Why?

It’s been eighteen weeks since the 2020 season resumed, and the finals are approaching. For the bottom eight teams, it’s time for a break, and then start a long, hot summer preparing for 2021.

Which clubs can look forward to a better 2021?

Which clubs are rebuilding?

Which clubs are set for more pain?

Gold Coast (9-11) = The Titans are a contender for fairytale team of 2020, with new coach Justin Holbrook transforming their attitude and tenacity: unlike their Brisbane cousins, the 2020 Titans refused to wilt, even when the game was lost.

They more than doubled last year’s win tally, winning their last five games to sit just outside the top eight (wouldn’t they have loved four more rounds to push for the finals?). They also won the “Queensland Minor Premiership”, beating the Broncos twice and North Queensland once. By the end of the season, they were in better form than top eight teams Newcastle and Cronulla-Sutherland.

With their exciting new signings Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita, the Titans should make the finals in 2021.

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NZ Warriors (8-12) = Assessing the Warriors’ season should come with a big disclaimer: if if wasn’t for their sacrifice, we’d probably still be watching Classic games on NRL.com and Fox League. Based on the Central Coast, the Warriors had every excuse to turn up their toes and fall away, but they were still an outside finals chance entering the last few weeks: a credit to their tenacity. Arguably their biggest win was in round 16 against Newcastle, scoring six tries in a 36-6 rout. A high-scoring last round win against Manly was a fitting way to end their season, with Nathan Brown taking over as coach in 2021.

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Wests Tigers (7-13) = Another disappointing season for the inconsistent Tigers: they missed the finals for the ninth straight year, and they didn’t even finish ninth this time. The Tigers lost five of their last six games, broken by an incredible comeback win against Manly. Their biggest win was against Brisbane in round 10 (48-0).

The 28-23 round four loss to the Titans summed up their season: they led 23-22 with a 76th minute Benji Marshall field goal, only for Phillip Sami to steal the win a minute later. An angry Michael Maguire dropped Marshall for a month, hoping to show that nobody was safe. While Marshall returned, he won’t be a part of of the Tigers in 2021. His farewell game – against Parramatta – was ruined by injury: a sad way for him to finish his time at the Tigers, if not his career. The Tigers also said goodbye to Chris Lawrence, after 253 games in the black, orange, and white.

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St George Illawarra Dragons (7-13) = The Dragons started the year in crisis, with four straight losses and almost everyone calling for Mary McGregor’s head. While Mary survived (until August), and the Dragons improved, they never won more than two games in a row, so they couldn’t build enough momentum to push for the finals. At least they sent Mary out a winner, with a round 14 win over Parramatta. While Dean Young took over as interim coach, he will be replaced by Anthony Griffin in 2021.

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Manly Warringah (7-13) = While the 2019 Sea Eagles nearly made the preliminary final, the 2020 Sea Eagles crashed hard. Their finals hopes all but ended in round six, losing Tom Trbojevic to injury during their win over Canberra. Tommy Turbo returned in round 19 against the Titans, but was injured again. Manly won just three games after round six: lowlights included heavy losses to St George Illawarra, Penrith, Souths, and Melbourne; they also – somehow – blew a 32-18 lead against the Wests Tigers with 13 minutes left, losing 34-32.

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North Queensland (5-15) = It wasn’t a great 25th anniversary for the Cowboys, spending most of the season in the bottom four. Valentine Holmes and Michael Morgan’s seasons were ruined by injury, Paul Green was replaced by interim coach Josh Hannay (with Todd Payten taking over in 2021), and they only won three games at their fancy new home at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. There was some good news: Kyle Feldt finished second in the Ken Irvine Medal (as top tryscorer), behind Souths’ Alex Johnston, and Jason Taumalolo was as consistent as ever, with 1,407.4 post-contact metres in 16 games.

The Cowboys finished their season with a Golden Point win over the Dragons (round 17) and a big final round XXXX Derby win over the Broncos: the perfect way to farewell Gavin Cooper.

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Canterbury-Bankstown (3-17) = After their strong finish to 2019, the Bulldogs’ three-win season was deeply disappointing. They were in trouble even before the season started, with Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor stood down due to an off-field incident during the trial game period. While Okunbor returned in round 18, CHN went to Canberra, where he played eight games. They also lost their new major sponsor Rashays, leaving them with a bare jersey (at least on the front) for most of the year before Laundy Hotels stepped in.

While Canterbury tried hard, they almost forgot how to win, regularly blowing favourable positions. They also had heavy losses to Manly Warringah, the Wests Tigers, the Sydney Roosters, Melbourne, and Penrith. They avoided the wooden spoon with a famous round 19 win over Souths, when put them above the Broncos on points differential. Not surprisingly, there were some coaching movements too: Steve Georgallis took over as interim coach after Dean Pay left in July, with Trent Barrett taking over in 2021.

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Brisbane (3-17) = Where to start with the Broncos’ nightmare season? Only winning one game after the COVID-19 resumption? Losing their last 11 games? Winning just two games at Lang Park? The off-field scandals that reached soap opera-levels of absurdity (most of it aimed at former coach Anthony Seibold)? Or every opposition fan death-riding the Broncos to their first wooden spoon?

The worst thing about Brisbane was their regular capitulations, turning winning positions into embarrassing losses. They conceded 50 points in both games against the merciless Sydney Roosters, lost 48-0 to the Wests Tigers, 46-8 to Melbourne, and led Canberra 8-6 at halftime before falling 36-8. The closest they got to a fourth win was a 28-24 loss to the Dragons in round 15.

While the Broncos may be wooden spooners, put your house on Channel Nine giving them another decent run on Thursday and Friday nights in 2021.

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