This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
Eight teams can now look forward to end-of-season holidays in Bali, with the other eight sides starting finals football.
Rugby league is the game that keeps on giving, both on and off the field, and 2019 was no exception. So before we say goodbye to the eight bottom teams, here are some of the biggest moments that shaped the 2019 season.
Jack de Belin and the introduction of the no-fault stand down policy
Unfortunately for Jack de Belin and the St George Illawarra Dragons, this year has not been a good one.
It began just prior to the season kicking off with De Belin being charged with sexual assault. With several other incidents through the offseason, the ARLC came down hard and introduced the no-fault stand down policy for offences carrying a maximum jail term of at least seven years, which made De Belin unavailable to play for the Dragons for the season.
With another offseason coming up, hopefully this policy acts as an appropriate deterrent with the ARLC making player behaviour a real priority. The next piece of the puzzle is the NRL’s punishment matrix, which is yet to be revealed in full.
The opening of Bankwest Stadium
Easter Monday was a special day for the Parramatta Eels family with the official opening of Bankwest Stadium.
In front of 29,047 fans, the Eels beat the Tigers 51-6 and certainly made their homecoming one to remember.
The stadium has revitalised the Parramatta area and the Eels have made it a fortress, having only lost two games there this year. This weekend the ground will host its first NRLW game and first finals fixture.
Nathan Brown departs the Knights
With Jesse Ramien and David Klemmer joining star 2018 recruit Kalyn Ponga, this was finally meant to be the year that the Newcastle Knights made the top eight.
Nathan Brown finally had his squad and there was plenty of positivity leading into the season. It was not to be.
The highlight of their year was a six-game winning streak in the middle of the campaign. The season has ended with the Knights out of the eight, Nathan Brown’s dramatic departure and a new coach in Adam O’Brien who is charged with cleaning up the mess.
The NSW Blues win Game 2
After the Blues’ shock 18-14 loss in Game 1 this year, Brad Fittler swung the axe with several changes leading into Game 2, including the dropping of Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker. Out of NSW’s starting backline, only three players retained their spots.
While some fans panicked, Freddy kept his cool and the Blues travelled to Perth, beat the Maroons, and then in the dying moments of Game 3 sealed the series thanks to a James Tedesco try.
The big question leading into next year’s series is whether Kevin Walters (and his coach whisperer) will keep their jobs.
Women’s State of Origin
Speaking of Origin, if you thought last year’s women’s clash was a night to remember, this year was even better.
The crowd announced was 10,515 – either that was incorrect, or there’s no way that North Sydney Oval has a capacity of 20,000.
The Blues won this game 14-4, and similar to last year, there were scenes after the game with people running onto the field to celebrate with the players. It was the perfect teaser ahead of the second NRLW season, which starts this weekend.
Cameron Smith and his record
Love him or hate him, there is no other player in NRL history that has achieved what Cameron Smith has.
This year he became the first player to reach 400 NRL games. With the advances in sports science and players being able to compete for longer than ever, others will reach this milestone.
But Smith is the first to do it and he shows no signs of slowing down – the Melbourne Storm have lost only four games this season, with their highest losing margin being just four points.
Upheaval at Penrith
Flashback to where the Panthers were this time last year, ready to play finals football.
Despite that, the club still made the monumental decision to hook their coach Anthony Griffin a few weeks before finals.
The plan became clear: retain Nathan Cleary and get his dad along to coach too. Where has it left the club, though?
Not playing finals football, losing a couple of players along the way including Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, the departure of Gus Gould and a sex-tape scandal that was the source of much unrest heading into the season.
Was Ivan Cleary the right choice? The writing is on the wall.
Sharks vs Tigers in the final round
Could you have scripted a better finale for the regular season? Do or die for both teams. Both teams with milestone men retiring and a game at one of the most old-school rugby league grounds, Leichhardt Oval.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they honoured their No.9 by finishing ninth on the ladder and the Sharks live on to play finals footy.
Now onto finals and the NRLW.