NRL Rd 2 - Bulldogs v Cowboys
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 19: Players run out to warm up in front of an empty stadium during the round 2 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys at ANZ Stadium on March 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Global pandemics aside, 2020 stands to be remembered as a turning point for many NRL clubs, individual players and coaches; a season where what seemed highly unlikely became reality.

There is no more obvious example of the above than the state of rugby league in Queensland. The Brisbane Broncos proud and successful history has meant nothing in 2020, as the men from Red Hill have capitulated into a rudderless rabble; much to the enjoyment of many south of the border.

Anthony Siebold’s departure and numerous player indiscretions perhaps perfectly capture the most forgettable season in Brisbane’s history.

North Queensland have fared little better with just one more win than the Broncos and currently sit 14th on the premiership table with a paltry eight points. Perhaps most astonishing of all is the fact that the Gold Coast Titans have been the most combative of the three Queensland teams; battling bravely and losing a number of close games.

The Titans will not make the eight, yet could well finish just outside it; a solid first season for Justin Holbrook.

After years of promise and potential and much doubt around the commonly held belief that the Panthers were close to threatening for a premiership, the mountain men have finally become what so many people feared they may.

It is tough to spot a weakness in Ivan Cleary’s team, perhaps because there really isn’t one. Son Nathan has pulled the strings as puppeteer and the power displayed on the edge of the ruck in Penrith’s loose forwards puts much fear into opposition defences.

It certainly is overdue, however, the Panthers appear ready to do something special.

Speaking of overdue, Newcastle will play finals football in 2020. After gathering three embarrassing wooden spoons from 2015-17, the Knights finally began to show some inconsistent promise under former coach Nathan Brown and now under new mentor Adam O’Brien, have rustled up ten wins and a draw from 17 games this season.

They sit comfortably inside the eight and will have the powerful voice of the Hunter behind them in October. That is not a sentence many Newcastle fans could truly have believed in the pre-season, but here we are in the craziest of NRL years.

St George-Illawarra finally took the step that many in the rugby league community thought necessary were they to improve and extricate themselves from a rut that appeared only to be deepening.

Paul McGregor departed and one wonders how the Dragon’s board could possibly have extended his contract early in 2019; a decision that seems to have only prolonged the Dragon’s pain.

In a similar vein, the Warriors removed a coach whose achievements with the squad over a three and a half year period produced a meagre winning percentage of 40 and just one trip to the finals; book-ended by two 13th place finishes.

Oft was the question asked as to how Stephen Kearney kept his position year on year with little sign of the Warriors threatening and the talent at his disposal. Now the heat will turn to Nathan Brown, with his new three-year deal seeing the 47-year-old take the reins in New Zealand.

When it comes to pain, a club once known for its proud culture and ability to stick tight under the most extreme pressure takes the 2020 cake. Canterbury-Bankstown embarked on a major rebuild following the departure of former coach Des Hasler. Dean Pay was charged with guiding a young but inexperienced squad through the mire.

Sadly, after two and half years, Pay walked away. Little attempt had been made to strengthen his squad and opposition players must surely have had Canterbury very low on their hit lists when it came to potential clubs to join.

Most alarmingly for the Bulldogs is the fact that on-field performances have only become worse in 2020. After three years of a rebuild some progress could well have been expected. Yet at the time of writing and with just new signing Nick Cotric destined for the kennel in 2021, it is hard to see much changing for the club next season with Trent Barrett at the helm.

Known for their showmanship, the Roosters appeared to attempt a one-upping of all the stunning events that have unfolded by luring an old favourite back to the competition. Without a rugby league club for which to play, Sonny Bill Williams stepped out of quarantine and provided a stop gap solution to the Roosters’ loose forward injury woes.

Many of the above events would have attracted juicy odds before the start of the season.

More predictably, Melbourne look the goods once again, Parramatta have positioned themselves high up the ladder and the 2019 championship winning Roosters and runner-up Raiders are lurking.

However, the central theme for the season has been the stunning, unpredictable and dramatic. In saying that, there is one thing that offers no surprise at all. Something as sure as night comes to day.

The Wests Tigers sit ninth on the NRL ladder.