Extraordinary comebacks, last-minute heroics and weather that stopped one game and almost another. Here are the weird and wacky games for which the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership will be remembered.
Fans vent after Good Friday controversy
The grand final rematch saw more than 40,000 fans return to ANZ Stadium to see the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs engage in another Good Friday blockbuster and a small section of those fans became a big part of the post-game story in Round 5. For the second successive year Trent Hodkinson looked to have earned Canterbury a one-point win over the Rabbitohs with his 77th minute field goal but more drama was to follow as a controversial refereeing decision inflamed tempers on the field and in the stands. Bulldogs captain James Graham was ruled to have played at the legs of South Sydney half Adam Reynolds as he attempted a field goal of his own with a minute left to play, Bryson Goodwin converting the penalty goal from right in front to win the game. Graham was cited, David Klemmer sin-binned and Michael Lichaa later charged by the match review committee for contrary conduct in reaction to the penalty. Graham and Klemmer served four and three-game suspensions respectively as a result. As match officials left the ground they were pelted with water bottles from the stands and in the days that followed the prospect of the Bulldogs being stripped of competition points as a result of further unruly behaviour by fans was seriously discussed.
Sharknado puts the Shire in a spin
This was a game that suffered no interruptions but one which many were questioning whether it should have gone ahead at all. For some reason 3,798 hardy fans turned out in near cyclonic conditions on a Monday night in the Shire to see the Sharks host the Rabbitohs, some fans even resorting to wearing wetsuits, snorkels and goggles. The NRL consulted with both clubs as to whether there were any fears regarding player safety before the two teams took the field for the Round 7 clash. "We checked everyone could swim and then we got on with it," said Sharks coach Shane Flanagan after his side recorded an 18-10 win.
Heavens open on Anzac Day clash
Five carefully orchestrated games on Anzac Day were thrown into chaos in Round 8 when a freak hailstorm hit Sydney and forced the traditional clash between the Roosters and Dragons to be postponed for 30 minutes midway through the first half. Clear skies greeted the two teams for the Last Post and the National Anthem, before Armageddon-like clouds and pouring rain were followed by hail and referee Gerard Sutton instructed the players to leave the field with St George Illawarra leading 10-0 in the 27th minute. It was just the second time in the modern era that a game had to be delayed due to weather and despite two Roosters tries after play resumed, the Dragons held on to win 14-12.
Tryless Panthers almost pull off upset
As the seconds ticked past the 79th minute the mad scramble in the media box was to determine the last time a team had failed to score a try and still won. Two penalty goals and a field goal to Matt Moylan with five minutes remaining made the score 5-4 and put Penrith on course to achieve a rare rugby league feat. But Brisbane half Ben Hunt sacked himself from more field goal attempts and instead went to the edge in the final minute to put a rampaging Corey Oates over for the match-winner. In a highly entertaining Round 9 clash where desperate goal-line defence prevented more tries at both ends of the field, a Jordan Kahu try in the 36th minute saw the Broncos lead 4-2 at the break, their next try not coming until it was almost too late.
Vodafone Warriors snatch win from Sharks' teeth
No other game in 2015 featured more astonishing match-winning plays in the final 10 minutes than when the Vodafone Warriors travelled to Remondis Stadium to take on the Sharks in Round 9. After a largely uneventful game for the first 72 minutes that saw the two teams trade penalty goals to be locked together at 10-all, Shaun Johnson brought it to life in spectacular fashion when he laid on a try for Solomone Kata to break the deadlock. "Solomone Kata may have scored one of the most incredible tries of 2015!" screamed Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss. Three minutes later Andrew Fifita held the Steeden in one hand and palmed off five Vodafone Warriors defenders with the other and after Valentine Holmes calmly slotted the conversion the Sharks led 16-14 with less than three minutes to play. But there was more magic to come from that man Johnson, who from 25 metres out stepped right, ran across field, sliced through and then stepped off his left to score beside the posts, prompting Voss to debut a new measure of rugby league brilliance. "This is incredible! This is ridiculous! This is 15 out of 10 on the incredible-meter!"
Points-scoring shootout in national capital
Even when they weren't winning the Raiders of 2015 were racking up big totals. Having put 56 on the Titans in their last home game, the Raiders welcomed a Canterbury team missing their Origin stars and captain James Graham with high hopes in Round 11 but before the clock had struck the 15 minute mark the Bulldogs had bounced out to lead 24-0 before a penalty made it 26-0. A forward pass from Josh Reynolds was all that stopped the score blowing out to 30-0 before the Canberra comeback commenced. Tries to Sisa Waqa, Shaun Fensom and Josh Papalii in the 10 minutes before half-time allowed the home side to edge back to trail by just 10 points. The teams traded tries early in the second half but when Waqa scored his second – and Jarrod Croker converted from the sideline – 68 points had been scored yet the teams remained level. Blake Austin's field goal attempt narrowly missed and with 30 seconds to play Reynolds fashioned a field goal from wide out that just snuck over the crossbar to give the Bulldogs a one-point lead. A short kick-off from Canberra backfired allowing Moses Mbye to run 50 metres and score, the final scoreline reading 41-34 and making the Raiders the only team of 2015 to score more than 30 points in a game and lose.
Cowboys' Houdini act at Parramatta
On the back of nine straight wins sparked by an extraordinary escape against Melbourne in Round 4, the Cowboys were fast gaining a reputation as the comeback kings but on a Monday night in Parramatta they pushed it to the limit. Stung by an Eels team that scored the opening 14 points of the game, the Cowboys scored through Michael Morgan before a three-try burst capped by a 90-metre Semi Radradra spectacular sent the home crowd into a sense of delirium with the scoreboard reading 30-6 after 45 minutes. The Cowboys didn't score their second try until the 57th minute through Matthew Wright but then they came in a flood, and all to Gavin Cooper. The North Queensland back-rower scored a hat-trick in the space of six minutes to bring scores level at 30-all but the Cowboys continued to strike while the iron was hot, scoring again in the 68th minute to record an extraordinary 36-30 victory. Round 13 was indeed lucky for some.
Broncos withstand Storm surge in Melbourne
When Melbourne are at home and have 53 per cent of possession, complete 11 more sets than their opposition, run for 495 more metres and make 118 less tackles, they win 99 times out of 100. The one time that they didn't was in Round 15 when Brisbane's reinforced defence got its sternest test and passed with flying colours. Eleven times the Broncos were forced into a goal-line dropout by the likes of Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk but they conceded just the two first half tries to Blake Green and kept the Storm scoreless in the second half. Jordan Kahu's conversion of Corey Oates's try in the 50th minute gave Brisbane the lead for the first time in the game but it was their defence that had everyone in awe. Andrew McCullough made 64 tackles, Matt Gillett 54 and Sam Thaiday 50 while replacement hooker Matt Parcell made 30 tackles in 23 minutes, none more important than a last ditch effort in the final minute on Felise Kaufusi that would have seen the Storm snatch victory."I've seen a lot of great defence in my time, how do you categorise it?" Broncos coach Wayne Bennett said after the match. "If you want to put it in the grand final of something it definitely is."
Roosters, Bulldogs and wild momentum swings
It was a post-Origin showdown designed to show us who was the real deal as September loomed but after the Roosters escaped with a 38-28 win over the Bulldogs in Round 21 we were left with more questions than answers. The Bondi boys were smack bang in the middle of a 12-game winning streak while the Dogs had lost two of their past three and were losing touch with the top four. After 25 minutes the Roosters looked unbeatable as they scored four tries to lead 22-0 before the first momentum swing happened. Moses Mbye injected himself into the game and showed why he is one of the hottest young halves around, having a hand in three tries in the space of 10 minutes that incredibly reduced the deficit to just six points by half-time. The Bulldogs picked up where they left off in the second half and when Trent Hodkinson and Corey Thompson scored they were on track to better their record 20-point comeback win over the Northern Eagles in 2001, leading 28-22. But the Roosters regrouped and through first the power of Blake Ferguson and then the speed of Michael Jennings led 32-28 before Jackson Hastings pinched a try on full-time courtesy of a Bulldogs error.
Cowboys' fairytale a cliffhanger
For once the game lived up to the hype as the Broncos and Cowboys put on an all-Queensland grand final that will live long in the memory. The Broncos struck first through an audacious try to Corey Oates before Jake Granville laid on tries for Justin O'Neill and James Tamou. Despite having a weight of possession against them the Broncos made the most of a Johnathan Thurston error and added a penalty goal after half-time to lead 16-12 but it was in the final three minutes where things got really crazy. Ben Hunt dumped Kane Linnett on his head and gave up valuable field position; Kyle Feldt stripped Hunt of possession with a sleight of hand of a Vegas magician; Granville threw a sloppy pass from dummy-half; Thurston bounced away from an Adam Blair tackle before passing to Michael Morgan; Morgan slips in between Milford and Reed, lures Oates off his wing and back-hands a pass for Feldt to score in the corner as the hooter sounds. It was impossible yet somehow seemed inevitable but there was more to come. Time was up and simultaneously stood still as Thurston lined up a conversion from the sideline to win the 2015 Telstra Premiership. After an age and instructions by referee Gerard Sutton to get closer to the touchline he finally put boot to ball and the roping kick that has become his trademark failed to turn when he needed it most, clanking into the upright as his teammates charged from halfway in premature celebration. The rest, as they say, is history with a Hunt knock-on from the golden point kick-off and a Thurston field goal writing themselves into rugby league folklore.
This story was first published on nrl.com