IT’S been a fascinating year for rugby league, particularly with the introduction of promotion and relegation once again and the ‘Million Pound Game’ and the claim made by the RFL that ‘every minute counts’
The YP’s rugby league correspondent Dave Craven looks back on 2015 and discusses a five things that we have learned after the last 10 months ...
1) The “New Era” has been a relative success.
There was plenty of doubt about the merits of the bold new format when it was first announced. Indeed, trying to explain how those Middle Eights worked, incorporating Super League’s bottom four and the Championship’s leading quartet, resulted in severe headaches for some.
Granted, there have been some teething problems with the new set-up but largely it has worked and delivered what it set out to do - keeping the majority of games interesting all the way through the year.
It will need the odd tweak and Championship teams did not fare as well as many hoped but, all in all, it has been positive.
2) Zak Hardaker is a fine rugby league player.
There was fears the Leeds Rhinos full-back was going to self-implode and throw it all away following another off-the-field incident on the eve of the season.
He could have been sacked and would have had no grounds for complaint.
But Leeds handed the 23-year-old another chance and he delivered with a series of brilliant displays culminating in him being named Steve Prescott Man of Steel and winning the treble with the Headingley club.
England No1 now…? He should be.
3) Props have never been so fashionable
There was a time when props just lumped the ball up and that was that.
But 2015 has been a year where the front-row has turned into something altogether different.
They are the new stars of the game, Adam Cuthbertson, the Leeds Rhino so exciting in his first season from the NRL, leading the way with a multitude of improbable offloads and passes that makes him look like a slightly chunkier Andrew Johns.
Alex Walmsley joined the Aussie in the Man of Steel shortlist such was his impact for St Helens, then there was the consistent brilliance of Andy Lynch and Grant Millington at Castleford, Chris Hill proving a juggernaut once more for Warrington, and, of course, JP kept on relentlessly doing what JP does for Leeds in his final career before retirement.
Great to see.
4) Rugby league produces great drama
We already knew it but it has been confirmed once more over recent weeks.
The debate about which is the greater code between league and union is pointless; they are different sports and should be treated as such.
But for sporting drama it is hard to argue anything in the 15-man code can rival league’s recent exploits - the battle to the last-second for the League Leaders’ Shield at Huddersfield as Leeds somehow prevailed, helicopters et al, JT’s heroics as North Queensland Cowboys earned their first-ever NRL title with a stupendous all-Queensland Grand Final against brilliant Brisbane Broncos and then what unfolded at Old Trafford on Saturday - more of which later - can all add up to one adjective: riveting.
5) Fairytales do happen ...
What an utterly perfect send-off for Leeds Rhinos trip Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai. You expected the club to win yet again at Old Trafford on Saturday night but were always fearful, a little nagging pain, that Wigan - such a quality side in their own right - would spoil the party.
They almost did. But Leeds dug deep and drew on all that vast experience to get across the line and prove themselves as the eminent club in Super League once more completing their maiden treble and the first since St Helens achieved the same in 2006.
Now for North Queensland Cowboys… and to that brilliant trio of departing stars… “Thanks for the memories, you’ve been ace.”