There were plenty of highlights and lowlights in 2016.
Here’s three moments that caught my eye over the past 12 months:
1. Million Pound Game
Want drama, want entertainment, want a finish to the end of a game that you never forget? That was this year’s Million Pound Game. There were a lot of ordinary matches in 2016 but this wasn’t one of them. Salford headed to Hull KR with a place in Super League on the line. The Red Devils were slight underdogs, the away side and having lost to London previously. They started this contest poorly down too, quickly going down 10-0. The Robins dominated the early stages, in fact dominating about 60 minutes of the match. Salford’s body language was poor and they appeared dead and buried. But they scored through Ben Murdoch-Masilia, who was heroic that afternoon, and then they evened it up through Nial Evalds. Hull KR pushed ahead in the second half and at 18-10 with two minutes on the clock the Red Devils were surely gone this time. But they were not, not by a long shot. Evalds second try and then a last-second effort from Greg Johnson dramatically tied it up at 18-18. Gareth O’Brien couldn’t win it from the sideline on full-time, but he could in golden point with the most outrageous drop goal you will ever seen. Salford were up, Hull KR were down and those watching were treated to drama of the highest order. A nightmare for the Robins, elation for the Red Devils and excitement for the neutral. This Million Pound Game will live long in the memory.
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2. Rochdale’s promotion
Rochdale upset the apple cart by achieving promotion to the Championship and inflicting the only defeat of the year on Toulouse Olympique in the process. With a small budget and after finishing sixth in 2015, few would have tipped the part-time Hornets to go up first. But that’s exactly what they did, finishing second with only one defeat in the entire regular season. With coach Alan Kilshaw guiding them in his first year, the club had a memorable and fiery 28-28 draw with Toulouse at home. When they went to France in September to meet the same opposition, they were expected to be cannon fodder for the full-time Frenchmen. Down 16-0 after 20 minutes, they fought back against the odds to win 24-22 and snatch promotion in style. It was a result of part-timers upsetting full-timers and capped off an outstanding 12 months for the Hornets. A well-run club that is doing great things on and off the field, you have to applaud Rochdale. I can’t wait to see how they do in 2017.
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3. Cronulla’s grand final win
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That had been Cronulla’s lot since their birth in 1967. The club had been in three grand finals in 50 years and lost them all. It had won two minor premierships but never the main prize. Frankly, they seemed cursed, destined to never win the big one. As Jack Gibson, an ex-Sharks coach, once famously put it – “waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt”. If you don’t know who Harold Holt is, Google him. Grand final success seemed even further away this year after the ASADA issues, financial problems and the fact Cronulla had won the wooden spoon in 2014. But it all finally came together for the little club from the Sutherland Shire. Fifty years of hurt ended at ANZ Stadium against the Melbourne Storm. The right blend of youth and experience, the emergence of young guns Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird, the swansong of Mick Ennis, the return of local product Chad Townsend, the barnstorming power of Andrew Fifita, it all combined for the Sharks to knock off the Storm. In a year of sporting hoodoos being broken, this was a big one. Up, Up Cronulla.
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