2018 in review: Scandals, coach swaps and we say goodbye to some of the greats - a look back at the year in Rugby League

With 2018 all but done, it's only natural to cast an eye back at the year that was.

In doing so, AAP's Steve Zemek has taken a look at what made the headlines in a chaotic year in the NRL and Rugby League.


The game was tarnished by a series of unsavoury headlines during the off-season including five players being charged with serious offences against women.

Jarryd Hayne, Jack de Belin, Dylan Walker, Zane Musgrove and Liam Coleman will all appear before the courts next year - an ongoing publicity nightmare for the code.

As well, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan was provisionally deregistered and the Wests Tigers were rocked by a salary-cap scandal.

Flanagan was hit with a breach notice after an NRL integrity unit investigation found he had contacted club officials during the 12-month ban imposed for his role in the Sharks' illegal supplements scandal in 2014.

The club was also fined $800,000, worsening their dire financial position.

Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe is also facing deregistration after the NRL found evidence of an ambassador role offered to Robbie Farah in 2016 which was not disclosed.

The club was fined $750,000 and had $639,000 (the value of the ambassador's agreement with Farah) stripped from their 2019 salary cap.

As well, Australian skipper Greg Inglis pleaded guilty to drink driving and Canterbury were fined $125,000 and four players were sanctioned over a Mad Monday saga where players were photographed nude.

The drawn-out Brisbane-South Sydney coaching saga that eventually saw Wayne Bennett trade places with Anthony Seibold was also another black eye for the game.

Ivan Cleary also returned to Penrith, just three years after being sacked by the Panthers, in a move that angered the Wests Tigers faithful.


The NRL will start 2019 with several clubs under different coaches.

The madness kicked off when Trent Barrett handed in his resignation in July, prompting the Sea Eagles to turn to former premiership-winner Des Hasler. Barrett is one of the favourites to take over at the Sharks if Flanagan does noit return.

Anthony Griffin was axed as Penrith coach just a month out from the finals and the Panthers eventually landed Cleary as his replacement.

The Tigers agreed to release Cleary after signing former premiership-winner Michael Maguire.

Seibold has swapped Redfern for Red Hill next year after he had signed on to replace Bennett in 2020 - prompting both clubs to resolve an untenable situation by agreeing to an immediate switch.


In one of the most memorable displays of toughness on an Australian rugby league field, Cooper Cronk guided the Sydney Roosters to a 21-6 grand final victory over Melbourne while playing through the pain of a broken collarbone.

In a performance compared to the heroics of John Sattler, Shane Webcke and Sam Burgess, Cronk put his body on the line to spark the side to the premiership he was lured to Bondi Junction to deliver.

While Cronk was mostly a passenger - making nine tackles, four kicks and zero runs - Luke Keary earned the Clive Churchill Medal when he stepped up to run the side.


In one fell swoop, rugby league lost two of its greatest ever players when Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater retired.

Slater was not able to orchestrate a fairytale send-off as the Storm fell to the Roosters in the grand final - a game he was only allowed to take part in after he was cleared of a shoulder charge by the judiciary.

Thurston did go out a winner, beating the Titans in front of a packed crowd on the Gold Coast, but the Cowboys finished a disappointing 13th.


The whistleblowers dominated the headlines for most of the year after the NRL ordered them to clamp down on several areas including the play-the-ball and 10 metres.

After penalties peaked across the board, the move was met with disdain from fans.

Referees general manager Tony Archer and head of football Brian Canavan, who were instrumental in the crackdown, were eventually moved sideways into different roles.


Incoming Blues coach Brad Fittler received a leg-up when Queensland all-time greats Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith all stepped down from representative football this year.

However Fittler was a breath of fresh air, wiping the slate clean by selecting 13 new players over the course of the series.

Fullback James Tedesco and hooker Damien Cook were electric as the Blues led the series 2-0 before dropping the dead rubber.


The Sea Eagles' 2018 started with the club copping a $750,000 fine and $660,000 salary cap penalty after being found guilty of salary cap infringements.

Things only got worse when five players were fined for breaking curfew to visit a Gladstone strip club, an ill-fated evening which culminated in a hotel room bust-up between Daly Cherry-Evans and Jackson Hastings.

Hastings was banished to reserve grade and the incident eventually led to his exit from the club.

The side narrowly avoided the wooden spoon after claiming just one more win than cellar-dwelling Parramatta.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 30:  The Roosters celebrate winning the 2018 NRL Grand Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Jake Friend and Boyd Cordner lift the Provan-Summons Trophy. Source: Getty