The 2016 season contained many memorable moments and League Express has decided to mark the most significant ones and to list them in their order of importance.
League Express editor MARTYN SADLER will introduce a new five-part series that looks back at the season just gone as we pick out the moments we’ll all remember, whether they are triumphs, tragedies, great tries or memorable matches.
Next Monday we will consider moments 41 to 50, while the following four weeks will see us counting down to number 1, with the top ten revealed in our issue dated 2nd January.
We’re confident that this is a series you won’t want to miss, and no doubt everyone will have their own views on the ranking we give these events.
And, to get you in the mood, here is a reminder of the ten most significant events of 2015, as we rated them in League Express last year, with the tragedy of Danny Jones’ death casting a pall over the whole season.
10 Rangi Chase’s seven-match ban
On 8 April Salford Red Devils stand-off Rangi Chase was given a seven-match ban after being found guilty of a dangerous throw on Huddersfield’s Brett Ferres, following Salford’s 18-12 win at the John Smith’s Stadium on Good Friday.
At the time of his suspension the Red Devils were third in the Super League table, having just beaten Wigan 24-18 at the A J Bell Stadium. They then lost all seven matches missed by Chase, culminating in their defeat to Widnes Vikings at the Magic Weekend, by which time they had fallen to eleventh place in the table.
And they never recovered, with coach Iestyn Harris and Chase himself later leaving the club.
9 North Queensland’s last-second try
In possibly the most thrilling NRL Grand Final of all time, North Queensland Cowboys went into the last minute of the game on 4th October trailing their Queensland rivals, the Brisbane Broncos, 16-12.
Johnathan Thurston set up a late rally to give the ball to his halfback partner Michael Morgan, who gave a flicked pass to winger Kyle Feldt, who touched down as the final siren was sounding.
Thurston’s attempted conversion to win the game hit the post, sending the game into golden-point extra-time. Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt dropped the kick-off, however, and the Cowboys were able to manoeuvre into a position for Thurston to kick the winning field-goal for the Cowboys’ first Premiership since joining the competition in 1995.
8 England win their first series under McNamara
Steve McNamara led England to the Baskerville Shield with their 20-14 victory over New Zealand at Wigan on 14 November.
It meant that England had won the Test series 2-1, and it was the first trophy McNamara had won with the national side since taking on the job in 2010.
In front of a sellout crowd of 24,741 at the DW Stadium, England scored two tries by Elliott Whitehead and one by captain Sean O’Loughlin, with four goals by Gareth Widdop. After losing the second Test 2-9 at the Olympic Stadium in London, McNamara made two key changes in his squad, bringing in Jermaine McGillvary for Joe Burgess on the right wing, and Matty Smith for his Wigan team-mate George Williams at scrum-half.
Both changes were crucial in England’s winning performance, their first series victory since 2007.
7 Tom Briscoe’s five tries at Wembley
The 2015 Challenge Cup Final was held on 29 August, the day that the Northern Union was founded 120 years earlier.
Although it was the most one-sided Cup Final in the long history of the competition, Leeds Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe created a new Cup Final record by scoring five tries in the Rhinos’ 50-0 victory and winning the Lance Todd Trophy.
The most outstanding moment was his second try scored in the 47th minute, when leapt high to take an Albert Kelly kick to the corner and ran the length of the field to touch down. It was a magical moment on a momentous occasion.
6 Johnathan Thurston wins Golden Boot
Johnathan Thurston won virtually everything in the 2015 season. He led the North Queensland Cowboys to their Premiership triumph against Brisbane Broncos and Queensland to their State of Origin triumph against New South Wales.
At an individual level, he won the Dally M Medal as the best player in the NRL during the season, and he won the Clive Churchill Medal as the outstanding player in the Grand Final.
And in November he became the first player in the history of Rugby League to win the Rugby League World Golden Boot for the third time with an almost unanimous vote from the Golden Boot panel.
5 Lizzie Jones sings at Wembley
The 2015 Challenge Cup Final will long be remembered for Lizzie Jones’ remarkable performance in singing the traditional Wembley hymn ‘Abide With Me’ before the game kicked off.
The BBC’s matchday presenter Mark Chapman perhaps summed it up best as Lizzie left the field holding her twins Phoebe and Bobby, with many people in the crowd unashamedly shedding a tear.
“We hope to witness something very special in this Challenge Cup Final but nothing that happens over the next 80 minutes will match the bravery of Lizzie in performing there.”
4 Sinfield’s massive vote
Earlier in the season Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield had become the third highest points scorer in the history of Rugby League when he overtook John Woods in fourth place and Gus Risman in third.
Only Neil Fox and Jim Sullivan have now scored more points than Sinfield.
Sinfield led Leeds Rhinos to the treble in 2015, and he retired from the game to spend two seasons (as he then intended) playing rugby union with Yorkshire Carnegie.
But just before Christmas he achieved another remarkable milestone by coming second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, coming second only to tennis star Andy Murray with an astonishing 278,353 votes from members of the public. It was a wonderful achievement for the first Rugby League player ever to be nominated on the shortlist.
3 Rhinos win the treble
The 2015 Grand Final was memorable for a number of reasons, some of which we have covered already, but it was the culmination of Leeds Rhinos winning the treble of Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final for the first time and thereby emulating the feats of Bradford Bulls in 2003 and St Helens in 2006.
The game was played in front of a sellout crowd of 73,512, and the game was a thriller, with the Rhinos beating Wigan 16-6 at half-time, but the Warriors coming back in the second half to lead 16-20 before Josh Walters scored the winning try in the 64th minute, with captain Kevin Sinfield’s conversion giving the Rhinos a 22-20 victory.
2 Sam Burgess returns to Rugby League
A year ago Rugby League fans were contemplating England star Sam Burgess’s impending introduction to rugby union for Bath and, later on, England, as the former Bradford Bulls and South Sydney star apparently sought a bigger stage for his talents than Rugby League could offer.
But after experiencing a World Cup in which he was unfairly blamed for England’s ills by many rugby union pundits, Burgess decided enough was enough, and on 5 November the news of his return to South Sydney was revealed, much to the delight of England coach Steve McNamara.
“I am extremely excited to be joining back up with South Sydney. I cannot wait to get back into the Rabbitohs culture, full of great people and passionate members and supporters,” said Burgess.
1 The death of Danny Jones
Sunday 3rd May was a tragic day for Rugby League, when the popular Keighley Cougars player Danny Jones suffered a cardiac arrest while playing for the Cougars against London Skolars at the New River Stadium.
Jones left the pitch, clearly in distress, and his condition rapidly deteriorated whilst in the dugout. He collapsed and, when it became clear that urgent work was being done by the medical staff, the match commissioner ordered play to be suspended and subsequently the match was abandoned.
An air ambulance landed on the pitch as treatment continued and he was taken away to hospital, but was later pronounced dead.
Danny’s image would subsequently be shown on the big screen at Wembley as his wife Lizzie sang ‘Abide With Me’, and on TV in front of 10 million viewers as she sang ‘Danny Boy’ at the Sports Personality of the Year show.
But his true legacy is that his death has led to the compulsory heart screening of every player who represents a professional club to try to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.
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