Rugby league produced some massive headlines in 2022 with stories that made us all laugh and cry, while other moments left the rugby league world stunned.
Four coaches have been axed this year, including at the Wests Tigers who decided to get the band back together after missing out on Cameron Ciraldo.
Nicho Hynes made a mockery of his critics and the Cowboys did the same as Todd Payten’s men produced a sensational resurrection
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Ricky Stuart delivered the most infamous sledge of his career, while David Klemmer also landed himself in hot water with a heated spray.
Paul Green’s death rocked the nation and a Broncos star was booed at home before his side inexplicably missed the top eight.
Here foxsports.com.au ranks the biggest rugby league headlines from the 2022 season.
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22. Tigers historically bad finish (72-6 and 56-10)
The Tigers were playing for pride from the early rounds of the 2022 season but they still had a chance with three games left to avoid the wooden spoon.
Leading into Round 23, the Titans were only above them on the ladder thanks to a 17 points differential.
But instead of fighting tooth and nail to avoid the club’s first ever spoon, they earned themselves a slice of unwanted history against the Roosters.
The 72-6 annihilation was the Tigers biggest loss in club history and then two weeks later in the final round they were spanked by the Raiders 56-10.
Despite the thrashings, the Tigers still managed to avoid finishing with the worst defence in the NRL as that title went to the woeful Warriors who conceded 29.1 points per game.
21. Edrick Lee’s five-try haul
The highlights were few and far between for the Knights in 2022 but winger Edrick Lee enjoyed the game of his life in Round 16.
Lee had scored just four tries all season heading into the clash against the Titans, but in the space of 73 minutes he more than doubled that tally.
The veteran winger who played for Queensland in 2020 crossed a spectacular five times in the 38-12 thumping.
Every Newcastle try was scored by a winger, with Dominic Young also crossing for a hat-trick.
20. Taylan May’s delayed ban
NRL boss Peter V’landys has never been afraid to make big calls which put the fans first, but he missed the mark big time with this one.
Taylan May was handed a two-game ban after being found guilty of assault occasioning bodily harm by a Queensland court in September.
The charges related to an incident at a bar on the Sunshine Coast in October 2021 during the Panthers premiership celebrations.
However, V’Landys ruled because it was an off-field incident that May would not miss finals football and could serve his ban in the opening rounds of 2023.
The controversial call caused uproar and fans mocked the decision, before May was ironically suspended during the finals anyway for a high shot on Eels flyer Will Penisini.
19. Nathan Cleary send-off
Penrith’s season was in complete cruise control heading into their Round 20 clash against the Eels – then all hell broke loose.
The Panthers had lost just one game all season and were well in the contest when Nathan Cleary was sent off for spear tackling Nathan Brown in the 17th minute.
Parramatta took full advantage and won the game 34-10 before Cleary accepted a five-game ban that would rub him out until finals.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary admitted the suspension threatened to derail their season but his men lost just two games without their halfback and still comfortably wrapped up the minor premiership.
Cleary returned in the finals and completely dominated as the superstar No. 7 led the Panthers to back-to-back premierships.
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18. Tigers Easter Monday miracle
The Wests Tigers delivered the upset of the season when they produced an Easter miracle against the Eels with a 79th minute field goal.
The Tigers had lost their opening five games and were anchored to the bottom of the ladder when they took on a high-flying Parramatta in Round 6.
The Eels went into the clash $1.10 favourites but the boot of Tigers halfback Jackson Hastings clinched a 21-20 victory in the dying seconds.
It was the final game of the long weekend and proved the stuff of nightmares for tipsters on the cusp of a perfect round.
The Tigers backed it up the following week with a 23-22 win against the Rabbitohs, this time thanks to a 79th minute field goal from Luke Brooks.
17. Klemmer sprays trainer
“Shut the f*** u”.
Not the nicest way to speak to anyone, let alone the trainer of your team, and one of the most respected in the game.
Klemmer verbally abused trainer Hayden Knowles after he had instructed him to leave the field during the Knights’ 14-point loss to the Bulldogs in Round 20
Klemmer was dropped and was hit with a suspended fine after he “accepted his responsibility for failing to follow direction”.
The 28-year-old also reportedly called Knowles a “c***” and the veteran trainer was later sacked by the Newcastle club.
16. Proctor’s vaping scandal
Former Titans captain Kevin Proctor was forced to face the music after posting vision of himself on Instagram vaping in a toilet cubicle with the caption “not the halftime vape”.
The 33-year-old’s contract was terminated and Paul Kent questioned why a player would ever think it was a good idea to film themselves vaping.
“Unfortunate for Proctor, dumb mistake but mate come on, what gets in a guys head that he thinks it is a good idea to film himself vaping while his team is being flogged on the field by Canterbury,” Kent said.
The moment highlighted the Titans’ cultural issues, slumping to 13th place after being one pass away from reaching the second week of finals in 2021.
Gold Coast’s free fall was a shock for many in the rugby league world and Proctor has since been without an NRL club, but has reportedly signed a two-year deal with Wakefield Trinity.
15. Tom Dearden’s stunning rise
“If you said to me at the start of the year that I would have been in Queensland’s Origin squad I probably would have laughed in your face,” Dearden said to Code Sports.
In May 2021, Dearden was granted an immediate release from the Broncos, the club he loved since he was a child, and joined the Cowboys.
Dearden was a prodigious talent coming through the ranks but was thrust into a struggling Brisbane outfit at only 18-years of age.
Fast forward 13 months and the 21-year-old made his Origin debut in a series decider and was a vital cog in a Cowboys side that exceeded all expectations to shock the NRL.
Under Todd Payten, Dearden’s damaging running game and playmaking skills flourished, forming one of the competition’s best halves pairings alongside Chad Townsend.
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14. Blues win women’s Origin
The women wearing blue were able to snap Queensland’s two-year winning run and take out the 2022 State of Origin clash in an intense and physical clash.
Maroons gun Shenae Ciesiolka appeared to have scored a stunning try to seal victory for Queensland with only minutes on the clock.
As the Blues watched on with their heads in their hands, the try was disallowed due to an offside call giving NSW one last chance.
Roosters gun Isabelle Kelly was able to seal victory for the Blues with minutes remaining on the clock, bumping off fullback Tamika Upton before grounding the ball to take a 20-14 win.
13. Tigers robbed in Cowboys thriller
The Tigers had won only three games prior to their Round 19 clash with the Cowboys and the situation at the Leichhardt club was bleak to say the least.
With one second on the clock the Tigers had almost done the unthinkable, holding a 26-25 lead – and what happened next shocked the NRL world.
Cowboys skipper Chad Townsend successfully used a captain’s challenge, claiming Kyle Feldt was escorted off the ball attempting to recover a short kick-off before Valentine Holmes snatched victory from the Tigers’ grasp.
Rugby league legend Mark Geyer labelled the decision a “shocking indictment on our game” and the NRL later explained the captain’s challenge was allowed in bizarre circumstances.
Fox League’s James Graham also delivered one of the best commentary moments of all time screaming: “That is a robbery. There has been a balaclava, a sawn-off shotgun and someone’s gone to Townsville and robbed the Tigers of two points. That is a disgrace.”
12. Sin Bin Sunday
Only a week after the Roosters and Rabbitohs faced off in the final game of the regular season, the bitter cross-town rivals clashed again in an elimination final for the ages.
The mind-blowing contest saw a staggering seven players sent to the sin bin for the first time in NRL history as Souths progressed to the second week of finals with a 30-14 win.
Tom Burgess, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Tevita Tatola were all given their marching orders while both Victor Radley and Taane Milne were binned twice.
The encounter became the most polarising game of the year, with some labelling the players “brave”, while others called it a “complete debacle” and an ugly head slam by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was a focal point.
“There is nothing brave about when a bloke is handled by two men and being the third man in and smashing his head into the ground,” Paul Kent said at the time.
11. Eels rocked by nepotism claims
Ahead of the Eels’ crunch elimination final against the Raiders, Fox League revealed some key points of an internal review conducted by former NRL coach Nathan Brown.
The review revealed claims of nepotism in the club’s appointment of staff and players.
There was no suggestion the nepotism claims related to Brad Arthur picking Jakob Arthur in Parramatta’s final 17, but rugby league pundits slammed the Eels coach’s decision.
Questions were raised regarding Jakob’s utility value and Fox League’s Braith Anasta said if the 20-year-old is called upon to take the field, Parramatta have already lost.
“If Brown or Moses goes down and Arthur comes on, I think they lose the game,” Anasta said.
10. Munster leaves a whopping $1.6 million on the table
When you dangle a $5.6 million carrot in front of a donkey, you can’t blame him for wanting to take a bite.
Most players with the chance to become the NRL’s highest ever paid player wouldn’t turn it down – but not Cameron Munster.
The 28-year-old made the shock decision to remain faithful to the Melbourne Storm and sign a four-year deal worth $1 million per-season – giving up $1.6 million in the process.
Munster will likely remain a one club player across his illustrious career which began in 2014 as a side-stepping fullback, with his new contract expiring at the end of the 2027 season.
The gun five-eighth has already won two premierships and three State of Origin series and will be desperate to bring home the trophy in Bellamy’s final year in charge.
9. Boos follow Haas’ bombshell release request
Broncos powerhouse Payne Haas was met with a barrage of boos from Brisbane faithful during the club’s Round 12 clash against the Titans.
Earlier that week the 22-year-old sensationally handed in a release request following a breakdown in contract negotiations – and Broncos fans wanted to make a statement.
The young gun had been the club’s only shining light during a turbulent period for the club following a 58-0 flogging at the hands of the Eels in an elimination final in 2019.
But no one is bigger than the club and Haas revealed he was shocked by the crowd’s reaction and has since agreed to honour his contract.
“I’m usually not one to get rattled, but when I heard the boos coming out tonight (and) when I got onto the ball it rattled me a bit,” Haas said.
8. Panthers go back-to-back
The Panthers joined elite company after a 28-12 rout of their cross-town rivals, the Parramatta Eels, delivering one of the most comprehensive grand final performances of all time.
Penrith became one of three teams to win back-to-back premierships in the last 30 years and featured in their third consecutive grand final in 2022.
Dynasty is a term that isn’t used lightly in the rugby league world, but not many can argue the Panthers haven’t earnt the title over the last three years.
Ivan Cleary’s men have also won two of the last three minor premierships and the club as a whole became the first club in the competition’s 113-year history to win all four grades.
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7. Barrett, Maguire, Brown sacked
It took only 23 days for the NRL coaching landscape to take a drastic turn as three coaches were booted out the door of their respective clubs.
Round 10 marked Trent Barrett’s last game in charge at the Bulldogs, who had won only two games from 10 appearances, even after supremo Phil Gould said “Barrett will be the coach of the Bulldogs long after I’m gone” only two weeks prior.
Tigers fans were fed up a long time before Michael Maguire was axed and won only a singular game following his departure in Round 13, making it clear the coach may not have been the problem.
Meanwhile, Nathan Brown told the Warriors he wouldn’t relocate to New Zealand and an immediate call to sack him was made.
Interestingly, under interim coach Stacey Brown New Zealand only won two more games – against the Tigers and Bulldogs.
6. Todd Payten’s remarkable Cowboys turnaround
At the end of 2020, rookie coach Todd Payten arrived at the Cowboys and things got off to a rocky start.
The Cowboys lost 11 of their final 12 games to finish second last in 2021 – their fourth bottom-four finish in as many years.
Nobody gave them a hope of playing finals this season, let alone competing for a premiership.
But Payten’s men silenced the critics and surged up the ladder to finish third and they hosted a preliminary final against the Eels.
The Cowboys didn’t get the chocolates that night but plenty are now tipping them to go one better next season now they boast a host of Origin stars.
Jeremiah Nanai, Reuben Cotter, Tom Dearden, Murray Taulagi and Tom Gilbert all made their Maroons debuts, while Payten was named Dally M coach of the year.
5. Ricky Stuart’s weak-gutted dog sledge
Ricky Stuart has been keeping headline writers in a job for more than 20 years now – and that’s just as a coach.
The Raiders coach has delivered some scathing attacks in his post-match press conferences over the years, but none will live in infamy quite like this one.
Stuart was innocuously asked his thoughts on some foul play from Panthers utility Jaeman Salmon following their Round 21 clash – and he let rip.
“I have had history with that kid. I know that kid very well. He was a weak gutted dog as a kid and he hasn’t changed now. He is a weak gutted dog person now.”
The journalists could barely believe their ears as Stuart ended his presser with the scathing sledge.
The NRL were livid and slugged Stuart with a $25,000 fine and a one-match ban, which marked the first time in NRL history a coach has been suspended.
4. Nicho Hynes win Dally M Medal
Nobody saw this one coming. Hynes joined the Sharks on the promise of more game time and first crack in the No. 7 jumper.
Hynes not only made the position his own but put the league on notice as he orchestrated win after win and Cronulla charged up the ladder.
The 26-year-old didn’t just silence the critics, he made a mockery of them and went on to win the Dally M Medal by a record tally.
The Sharks finished second on the ladder as Hynes missed just one game all season, but they had a disappointing finals and bounced out in straight sets.
3. Sheens and Marshall Tigers reunion
The embattled Wests Tigers tabled a lucrative five-year deal to highly-touted Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo, but it wasn’t enough.
The club went back to the drawing board and decided the solution to their coaching predicament was hiding under their nose.
Tim Sheens had been brought to the club ahead of the 2022 season to work with under-fire coach Michael Maguire.
After Maguire was axed halfway through the season, the Tigers eventually turned to Sheens and asked if he’d make a coaching comeback at the club he’d won a premiership at in 2005.
Sheens was appointed alongside club legend Benji Marshall who will work as an assistant for the next two seasons before taking over the top job.
2. Paul Green’s death
The death of Cowboys premiership-winning coach Paul Green rocked the rugby league world to its core.
Green was still coaching North Queensland in 2020 and last year coached the Maroons in State of Origin.
The 49-year-old was a huge figure in the game and had been in talks with Wayne Bennett to become his assistant at the Dolphins.
But in August Green took his own life, leaving behind wife Amanda and children Emerson (13) and Jed (10).
A post-mortem revealed suffered from one of the most “severe forms” of CTE the neuropathologist had ever seen.
1. Pride jersey saga
It started with seven players and their religious beliefs and it ended with the ugly axing of coach Des Hasler.
Manly players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley all refused to play Round 20 because the team was wearing a pride jersey.
The Sea Eagles lost the game against the Roosters and didn’t win another match all season as the controversial boycott divided the playing group.
Hasler and captain Daly Cherry-Evans were the ones left to face the cameras over the decision and just two months later the coach was sacked.
The club legend who won Manly two premierships as a player and further two as a coach is now headed for an ugly court battle over his payout.
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