This story was first written for and published by The Roar.
Not that long ago, I was waiting in anticipation for the Parramatta Eels’ first game of the 2017 season, against the Manly Sea Eagles at Lottoland. Now, more than 26 weeks later, only eight teams remain in the hunt for premiership glory.
The final eight, in order, are the Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters, Brisbane Broncos, Parramatta Eels, Cronulla Sharks, Manly Sea Eagles, Penrith Panthers, and North Queensland Cowboys.
For the rest of the eight teams, it’s time to celebrate (or forget) the season that was and begin looking forward to 2018, making it a good opportunity to reflect on some of my most significant moments of the season.
And then there was one…
If I was a betting human, my money would not have been on Jason Taylor to be the first coach to be sacked in 2017, but that’s exactly what happened in March.
That was only the start. Not only did the Tigers lose their coach, there was also plenty of movement on the player market. Out of the supposed ‘big four’ of Luke Brooks, Aaron Woods, Mitch Moses and James Tedesco, only Brooks will remain at the club in 2018, with Moses departing mid-season to join the Eels.
Despite the controversy and noise surrounding the Tigers, they finished the year on a high with a win over the Warriors.
If you’re a fan, jump ‘on the bus’ with Ivan Cleary – with players like Tui Lolohea, Josh Reynolds, Ben Mautalino, Matt Eisenhuth and Elijah Taylor, I’m expecting plenty from them in 2018.
Will Des stay or will he go?
It’s been a funny old season for the Canterbury Bulldogs. The resignation of CEO Raelene Castle, losing one of their favourite sons in Josh Reynolds, boardroom squabbles, and the most boring and predictable team when in attack all add up a year that fans would rather forget.
While Des was re-signed earlier this year, whispers suggest things are still not calm at Belmore.
NSW women’s team win the Interstate Challenge
The New South Wales women’s team defeated Queensland in the Interstate Challenge for the second year in a row, the first time in the history of the fixture the Blues have won consecutive series. While it may have taken NSW 17 years to post their first win, their dominance in July suggests that this team is about to start a dynasty of their own.
There were plenty of stand-outs, but none more so than Jessica Sergis, who in only her sixth game of rugby league scored a hat trick in her State of Origin debut.
Parramatta Eels play finals football
When the Eels run out on Saturday afternoon to face the Melbourne Storm, it will be the first time since 2009 that they have played finals football. Even more significant is that their top-four finish is the first for the club since 2005.
After a year from hell in 2016, it has been outstanding to see Brad Arthur lead this team to a finals berth. With talent like Bevan French, Mitch Moses, Corey Norman and Nathan Brown at their disposal, the Eels will give September a real shake-up.
State of Origin heartbreak
The less said about this the better – but after defeating Queensland at Suncorp Stadium in Game 1 this year, the series was there for NSW’s to win.
Unfortunately, a second-half capitulation, which included two tries to Dane Gagai and an injured Johnathan Thurston nailing a conversion from the sideline, saw Queensland win 18-16 and then go on to steamroll the Blues in Game 3.
Melbourne reassert their dominance
At the start of this year, I thought the Storm would be good. What I didn’t account for was a 34-year-old Billy Slater returning in the best form of his career, I didn’t account for the next generation of talent like Brodie Croft and Brandon Smith coming through, and I certainly didn’t account for Cameron Munster becoming the potent attacking weapon that he is.
The Storm are absolutely the benchmark, both on and off the field, and it’s perhaps the first time since the 2001 Parramatta Eels that a team has gone into the finals as the most dominant team by far.
The Knights go back to back
They may have finished with the wooden spoon, but there were plenty of moments of celebration for the Newcastle Knights this year. With their victory over Parramatta in Round 23, the Knights posted their third win in a row for the first time since the 2015 season. It was also the first time since 2015 that the Knights have won a game away from home.
Contemplate that stat for a moment – for plenty of players in that Knights team, that was the first time they experienced a win away from McDonald Jones Stadium.
With plenty of new faces at the club next year including Connor Watson, Kalyn Ponga and Tautau Moga, I won’t be backing the Knights to get the spoon next year.
And the award for the most disappointing team in 2017 definitely goes to the Canberra Raiders. It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong for the team many predicted would win the grand final in 2017.
Is it down to Joseph Leilua and his errors? Is it the coach? Is it the fact that plenty of their games were decided by the narrowest of margins? Or a combination of the above?
Whatever the reason, plenty of Raiders fans will be left scratching their heads, wondering about a year that could have been.
Jarryd Hayne under fire
The king of controversy lived up to his name, and it all came to a head a couple of weeks ago when it was clear that only one of Neil Henry and Jarryd Hayne would survive the season.
Jarryd will remain at the Titans next year, but perhaps the biggest question is which club takes him on next (if any)?
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement
This is an ongoing issue, but we still don’t have a Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current deal expires on 31 October and I’m hopeful that the NRL and RLPA can sort something out ahead of this deadline.
Let’s avoid a repeat of the cricket debacle please?
Honourable mentions also go to Shaun Johnson’s injury late in the regular season and the impact it had on the New Zealand Warriors, Matt Moylan and his shift to the halves, Nick Cotric’s emergence as one of the most exciting young players in the competition, and the Dragons’ absolute capitulation after sitting on top of the NRL ladder early in the season.
As a Parramatta fan am I dreaming in thinking that perhaps my most significant moment is yet to come?
Bring on the finals.