Nathan Cleary of the Panthers dives to score a try.
Nathan Cleary of the Panthers dives to score a try. DEAN LEWINS

The NRL season in review

THE 2016 NRL season can be summed up in one word: Parramatta.

The Eels lurched from one crisis to another with "Cap-Gate” eventually crushing their brave but futile season.

A grim-faced NRL boss Todd Greenberg delivered the last rites in July when he declared it was "time to take a stand against the club's systematic cheating of the cap”.

The five men on the Eels board fell on their sword after unsuccessful court action against their own club.

Players and fans were dealt a shattering blow after being stripped of 12 competition points - dropping the Eels from finals contenders to last place.

They also copped a $1 million fine for rorting the salary cap and were stripped of their Auckland Nines title.

If they weren't on the back pages of newspapers, they were on the front of them.

Foran's fall

Glamour signing Kieran Foran, who took a reported $5 million to leave Manly and join Parramatta, was a walking headline in his brief stay in blue and gold.

But with his life falling apart around him following his split with his long-time girlfriend and mother of his two children, Foran needed to sort himself out.

Apart from his devastating relationship breakdown, he was linked to notorious brothel owner and gambler Eddie Hayson, a central figure in match-fixing allegations that are still being investigated by a special gambling taskforce.

Surprisingly - a month after splitting with Parramatta because he needed time to clear his head - Foran is set to sign a new deal with the Warriors, provided the NRL, which has a duty of care to determine if he is ready to play again, registers his latest contract.

Jarryd Hayne of the Gold Coast Titans in action.
Jarryd Hayne of the Gold Coast Titans in action. DAN PELED

Hayne returns

That was the down side of 2016.

But there was certainly some very exciting news, headlined by the Hayne Plane landing back in the NRL with the Gold Coast Titans following his shot at the big time in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and a belated but unsuccessful bid to compete at the Rio Olympics with the Fijian rugby sevens side.

It didn't take Hayne long to show why he was one of rugby league's great entertainers and superstars.

With the game against the Wests Tigers on the line, Hayne calmly stepped up and banged over the match-winning field goal at Campbelltown Stadium, near where he grew up.

He raised his arms and in the emotion of the moment declared to all: "This is my home.”

Stars in the making

A number of future stars shone in 2016 - none brighter though than the youngest player in the NRL, rookie Penrith half Nathan Cleary, who stepped up in the No.7 to lead the Panthers into the finals.

The son of former NRL star Ivan Cleary astounded everyone, including even his father, with his maturity and calmness, taking on such a pressure-packed role under the guidance of Panthers veteran Peter Wallace, who made the move to hooker.

Ashley Taylor was another outstanding success story after starting 2016 as third-choice halfback for the Gold Coast when it was expecting to have Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans in the No.7.

When Cherry-Evans backflipped on a deal the Titans believed was signed, sealed and delivered, the job was passed on to Kane Elgey, a promising young half who never made it to the starting line in March after tearing his ACL during the pre-season.

Departure lounge

Several young players confirmed their arrival in 2016.

Manly's exciting Tom Trbojevic, Roosters young gun Latrell Mitchell, Melbourne's Fijian wing sensation Suliasi Vunivalu, ball-playing Panther Bryce Cartwright, North Queensland's young giant Coen Hess and Parramatta's Bevan French stamped themselves as stars of the future.

But, like every year, the game will farewell some of its best and most-loved players who will retire after long and distinguished careers.

Some of the big names leaving the game include Corey Parker, Jamie Lyon, Nathan Friend, Ben Creagh, Jeremy Smith and Sam Perrett.

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