The NRL’s biggest stories in 2015

No domestic sport produces as much constant drama as rugby league and yet again, it was a very big year.

JOHNATHAN THURSTON THE KING OF NORTH QUEENSLAND

Superstar playmaker Johnathan Thurston finally led the Cowboys to the NRL title courtesy of a field goal during golden point extra-time against Brisbane, earning him the Clive Churchill medal in one of the most dramatic and memorable grand finals ever. After a miracle offload from Michael Morgan created a last-gasp try for Kyle Feldt, Thurston’s missed conversion sent the decider into extra-time. A Ben Hunt knock-on from the restart gave the Cowboys perfect field position and Thurston did the rest.

MAROONS REGAIN ORIGIN SUPREMACY

Queensland handed out one of the greatest footballing lessons of all time in thumping NSW 52-6 in the series decider at Suncorp Stadium in July to ruthlessly reclaim their interstate crown. Although NSW lost Origin I 11-10 at ANZ Stadium they bounced back with a 26-18 win at a soldout MCG for game two. But any thoughts of the Blues entering of a period of Origin dominance were obliterated by the Thurston-inspired Maroons in the decider.

DCE’S BACKFLIP

In one of the most controversial contract sagas in recent memory, Daly Cherry-Evans reneged on a four-year, multi-million deal to join the Gold Coast to re-commit to Manly. The Sea Eagles knew they couldn’t afford to lose Cherry-Evans after Kieran Foran signed with Parramatta and acted accordingly, offering their man a lifetime $10 million deal and leaving the furious Titans stranded at the altar.

DRUGS DRAMAS

South Sydney duo Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray were rushed to hospital in the early hours of a Tuesday morning in September after overdosing on pain medication following end-of-season surgery. Walker and Gray both made a full recovery and were released form hospital days later. Walker was released by Souths in November after a board review of the incident. At the other end of the season before a Steeden had even been kicked several Gold Coast players including Greg Bird and Dave Taylor faced cocaine allegations that cast a pall over much of another below-par year from the Titans.

ROBBIE FARAH AT WAR WITH THE TIGERS AND COACH JASON TAYLOR

Tigers fans were left stunned when favourite son Farah was told in July he was free to negotiate with other clubs for 2016 and beyond despite being under contract to the club for two more years. But somehow club and player patched up their differences, with Farah re-included in the Tigers’ leadership group for the upcoming 2016 campaign.

SAM BURGESS RETURNS TO THE NRL

The best news in a forgettable year for Rabbitohs fans came in November when 2014 Clive Churchill medallist Burgess announced his return to the NRL after just a year away in rugby union. Burgess was welcomed back warmly to the 13-a-side game but won’t be missed by the rah-rahs following his role in England’s ill-fated Rugby World Cup campaign and his acrimonious exit from his club side Bath.

ALEX McKINNON UPSET WITH CAMERON SMITH

Alex McKinnon’s disquiet over comments from Australia, Queensland and Melbourne captain Cameron Smith as he lay injured on the AAMI Park turf last year bubbled over in a television interview in July, three days before the State of Origin decider. The issue dominated headlines in the lead-up but Smith refused to respond before the game. The duo are said to have sorted out their differences.

CLUB LEGEND GEOFF TOOVEY SACKED BY MANLY

Speculation was rife through much of the season that despite an impressive coaching record that included a preliminary final, a grand final and a semi-final in his first three years in charge, Toovey would be pushed out of Brookvale for Trent Barrett for 2016. Manly missed the finals for the first time in 11 years in 2015, but by then ‘Toovs’ had already lost his job in favour of Barrett.

DAVE SMITH EXITS

From the time he couldn’t name the Kangaroos captain upon his appointment as NRL CEO three years ago, Dave Smith was never the most popular boss of rugby league. His decision to quit in October wasn’t a great surprise nor was it met with great dismay. The former banker was at war with several clubs over funding and had put pay-TV partner Fox Sports, and its owner Rupert Murdoch, offside after nutting out the free-to-air rights on the side with Channel Nine.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Rhys Wesser and Hazem el Masri were among a number of NRL figures hit with allegations of domestic violence in 2015. Kenny-Dowall was admitted to hospital over concerns for his health after the charges were laid and missed several matches for the Sydney Roosters. He has pleaded not guilty to a string of charges levelled against him by ex-girlfriend Jessica Peris, the daughter of Labor senator Nova Peris. The charges remain before the courts.

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