2020 VI­SION

The NRL con­tin­ues to go from strength to strength. Could this be the best sea­son yet?

Inside Sport - - Flashback - By JOHN DAVID­SON

Some­times it pays to stop and smell the roses. It’s good ev­ery now and then to pause for a sec­ond, en­joy the mo­ment and ap­pre­ci­ate the good times. For NRL fans, this could be some­what of a golden age. The prod­uct on the field is thrilling, fas­ci­nat­ing and con­sis­tently hard to pre­dict. At­ten­dances have been grow­ing in re­cent years, de­spite a tiny dip in 2019 com­pared to the year be­fore. State of Ori­gin was an awe­some, nail-bit­ing se­ries while drama, on and off the pitch, con­tin­ues un­abated as ever in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

The in­ter­na­tional game con­tin­ues to grow, while ex­otic for­eign tal­ent from Pa­pua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Eng­land keeps emerg­ing in first-grade. While the likes of su­per­stars Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess and Paul Gallen might have sadly hung up their boots, a new brigade of stars is ready to re­place them such as Ryan Papen­huyzen, Payne Haas and Bron­son Xerri.

Rugby league sup­port­ers of­ten look on the neg­a­tive side with a cyn­i­cal and tribal na­ture, but now is a time to cel­e­brate, to savour. The NRL is cashed-up, stan­dards are im­prov­ing and it is pos­si­bly in its strong­est po­si­tion in more than 20 years, since be­fore the Su­per League war.

The ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in the Western Aus­tralian mar­ket con­tin­ues, fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful stag­ing of Ori­gin Game II there in 2019 and the Perth Nines this year. Ex­pan­sion re­mains a hot talk­ing point on the com­pe­ti­tion’s agenda.

With a new Aus­tralian Rugby League Com­mis­sion chair­man in place, with horse rac­ing boss Peter V’landys tak­ing over from former Queens­land Premier Peter Beat­tie, the NRL is head­ing to­wards an in­ter­est­ing time. Beat­tie copped flak for nu­mer­ous me­dia mis­takes and get­ting the names of clubs and play­ers wrong.

V’landys is known as an in­no­va­tive sports ad­min­is­tra­tor who has helped re­ju­ve­nate the rac­ing in­dus­try in NSW. The Wol­lon­gong na­tive is a footy tragic who has had great suc­cess on the track, but how he nav­i­gates the much tougher world of rugby league will be fas­ci­nat­ing.

On the field in 2020 the sto­ry­lines and ques­tions are end­less. Will the Roost­ers be able to be­come the first team since the Eels of 1983 to win three straight ti­tles? Can Trent Robin­son mas­ter­mind an­other year of stun­ning suc­cess in Bondi?

Or will it be Wayne’s world at Red­fern? The Bun­nies might have lost Burgess and Inglis, but they have snared La­trell Mitchell from their bit­ter ri­vals. Will Mitchell fire for Souths and help the Rab­bitohs se­cure their sec­ond ti­tle in six years?

Can­berra were ar­guably the story of 2019, their fairy­tale rise cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion of Raiders fans and neutrals alike. Can the ‘Green Ma­chine’ back it up? Will Ge­orge Wil­liams be this sea­son’s ver­sion of John Bate­man and take the NRL by storm?

At the bottom of the ta­ble the bat­tle is just as fierce. Both the Ti­tans and Knights have new coaches, both who learned off mas­ter coach Robin­son. Will Justin Hol­brook be the sav­ior on the Gold Coast, and can Adam O’Brien turn the once-mighty New­cas­tle into a force again?

Will the Storm fi­nally fall away, or will Cameron Smith fin­ish with his stel­lar ca­reer with more sil­ver­ware? Can Des Hasler, DCE and the Tr­bo­je­vics con­jure an­other mir­a­cle at Manly? Will the Saints go march­ing once again at Ko­go­rah, or will Paul McGre­gor get the sack?

At ev­ery club, the plot twists and turns are abun­dant and ready to un­fold. Every­where you look there are sto­ries and themes to en­gage with.

Strap your­self end en­joy the spec­ta­cle.

2020 is go­ing to be one hell of a ride.

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