Almanac Rugby League – NRL 2020 Round 20 wrap: Action aplenty as three veterans bow out

The NRL season is finally over for eight teams, while the other eight turn their focus to the finals. The finals series is what we all look forward to, but firstly let’s take a look back at the 20th and final round of the round-robin season.


First up, we witnessed what could well be a once-in-a-lifetime situation: the Broncos claimed the wooden spoon! Could this wealthy club – not to mention the “one-team town” aspect – really finish dead last? It all boiled down to a clash of two of the basket cases of 2020 after they were Grand Final opponents just five years earlier. Two players from that clash – Brisbane’s Darius Boyd and North Queensland’s Gavin Cooper – were bidding farewell in their long and illustrious rugby league careers.


A win to the Broncos would all but ensure second-last place for them while the Canterbury Bulldogs would finish lower. When Boyd bustled over from dummy-half for a farewell try, which was celebrated enthusiastically, the Broncos led 12-0 in the first 13 minutes and appeared destined to send Boyd out on a winning note and avoid the wooden spoon.


But the Cowboys outscored the Broncos 32-4 thereafter, with Kyle Feldt bagging three tries, although the Broncos were mathematically within reach until the final seven minutes. For good measure, the left-footed Cooper landed the final conversion of the night to seal a happy farewell. The Broncos, meanwhile, acted a bit strangely to say the least, considering they had just secured the unwanted wooden spoon. They were in buoyant spirits while still on the field, acknowledging the retiring Boyd who kicked an exploding football and made it known that his wife was pregnant with another daughter.


As if the Broncos gaining the wooden spoon and celebrating something else weren’t strange enough, the two winning teams on Friday recorded big victories against higher-placed teams. The ninth-placed Gold Coast Titans finished the year with five successive wins and showed that they should be a force next year when strengthened with a couple of key recruits. The Titans finished 2020 in style as they thumped the Newcastle Knights 36-6, with AJ Brimson, Kevin Proctor and Ash Taylor in particularly fine form. Gold Coast led just 12-6 before striking a key blow in the shadows of half-time, and then scoring 20 unanswered points in the second stanza. Later that night, Newcastle slipped to seventh on the ladder while the South Sydney Rabbitohs secured sixth spot and hosting rights against the Knights in Week One of finals.


The result in the second Friday fixture was stunning and unthinkable to say the least. Seeking to nail third spot on the ladder in their quest for three straight premierships, the Roosters gained the early ascendancy as they led Souths 4-0. But the Rabbitohs clicked into gear while the Roosters uncharacteristically fell off the pace, with Souths racing to a 26-4 half-time lead. The second half was even more mind-boggling as the Rabbitohs scored some spectacular tries in a 60-8 annihilation. I still cannot fathom what happened! Unbelievable! The margin could have been even bigger had the Rabbitohs not been denied two tries which showed yet again what a laughing stock The Bunker can be. Cody Walker was sensational for the Rabbitohs while Alex Johnston finished as the leading tryscorer for the year as he bagged half of Souths’ 10 tries on Friday night, including a gift from a teammate who was over the tryline. On full-time, a long-range penalty goal increased the Rabbitohs’ tally from 58 to 60. But the Rabbitohs are in a do-or-die situation in the finals, while the Roosters have two bites at the cherry. It would be brave for anyone to write off the Roosters just yet.


Already assured of the minor premiership, the Penrith Panthers sounded out an ominous warning as they thumped the second-last Bulldogs 42-0 on Saturday. Having kept an opponent tryless for the second time in three weeks, the Panthers showed their defensive credentials in addition to their ability to score points. Their ability to string together a consistent 80 minutes may still need some attention though, considering they led just 4-0 at the 30-minute mark before three quick tries took them to a 22-0 half-time lead. The Panthers and Roosters should have an interesting tussle in the opening finals fixture.


Defence is something that the fifth-placed Canberra Raiders and eighth-placed Cronulla Sharks need to work on following their clash on Saturday. These two clubs face off again in Week One of finals, with the losing side bowing out of the competition. Their Saturday clash was something of a rehearsal although the Raiders rested several key players. Canberra nonetheless shot to a 34-10 lead with nearly 30 minutes remaining, before the Sharks clawed back and entertained hopes of a miracle as they trailed 38-28 before the last 11 minutes were scoreless. Later on Saturday, Parramatta overtook the Roosters on the ladder although the Eels had to work hard to secure third spot. They led 16-8 at half-time but the Tigers, having missed the play-offs, scored 16 points without reply to take an eight-point lead before Parramatta triumphed 28-24. The Eels undoubtedly need to lift in their Week One finals clash with the Melbourne Storm, who knocked them out of last year’s finals.


On Sunday, the Warriors and Dragons finished their campaign on a winning note as two more high scoring matches unfolded. The Warriors turned a 10-0 deficit into a 26-10 lead against the Manly Sea Eagles, who were back in the game when they narrowed the gap to 12 points on the stroke of half-time. Following eight tries in the first half, there were six in the second half as the Warriors triumphed 40-28, with Adam Blair bidding farewell as the Warriors finished in 10th place on the ladder. The Warriors were finally able to return home, following five months of being stuck in Australia. The Dragons, meanwhile, moved from 13th to 12th on the ladder following their 30-22 win over the Storm, who fielded a second-string side while guaranteed second spot on the points table. The makeshift Melbourne team nonetheless scored the first three tries, but inaccurate goal-kicking was costly as the margin was restricted to two converted tries. The Storm led 16-12 at half-time but later trailed 24-16, before narrowing the gap to two points and setting up a grandstand finish, which yielded a winning try to Tyson Frizell.


Meanwhile, well done to the Gundagai Tigers for their convincing 40-18 victory over arch-rivals and reigning premiers the Tumut Blues in Sunday’s Group 9 Grand Final in Wagga Wagga. Incredibly, Gundagai had won just three first grade titles from 1921 to 2014, before winning in 2015 (with Maika Sivo having a prolific season), 2018 and again this year. Three titles in more than 90 years, followed by three in six years!


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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 40 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.

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