The 2019 NRL season is over. After all the ups and downs, the big hits and the controversial calls, it was the Sydney Roosters who became the first side since the Broncos of 1992-93 to win back-to-back Grand Finals, beating the Canberra Raiders 14-8 on Sunday. This week, sports reporter David Beck has taken a look back at the season that was and handed out his 2019 NRL awards. From the best player in the competition to the most outrageous moment, here is who made the cut.
Player of the Year
I'll start with the easiest one. Roosters fullback James Tedesco seems to get better every year and in 2019 he has been at the peak of his powers. His season included a State of Origin win with New South Wales - in which he was named player of the series, a second consecutive NRL title with the Roosters and the Dally M Medal for NRL Player of the Year. It was not simply a case of being a passenger on the best teams, with his electric pace, deceptive strength and tackle-breaking ability, Tedesco consistently stood up when it mattered. In the NRL this year, he scored 18 tries - including the match winner in the Grand Final, made 23 line breaks and broke 166 tackles.
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Rookie of the Year
Few players have made the step up to NRL look as easy as Payne Haas did for the Brisbane Broncos this year. At 194cm and 119kg, the 19-year-old has all the ingredients of a barnstorming front rower but it still takes exceptional talent to turn that potential to reality. I'm a dedicated Fantasy NRL player and never have I seen a player go from base price rookie to must-have in such a short period of time. Haas averaged 70 post contact metres, 21 tackles and 4.9 tackle breaks per game in 2019.
Outrageous Moment of the Year
In the qualifying final between the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders last month, we saw one of the most bizarre starts to a game ever. Before the match had even started, Raiders centre Joey Leilua was down on all fours on the sideline, holding his face. It turned out the remnants of one of the fireworks set off as the players ran out had lodged itself in his eye. He went straight back off the field so medics could sort it out. Meanwhile, in a reshuffled starting line up, Bailey Simmonson came onto the wing and ended up scoring the first try of the match before being subbed off again for the recovered Leilua.
Most Improved Team of the Year
Watching some of the Parramatta Eels games this season, it was hard to believe they were the reigning wooden spoon holders. They were still inconsistent in patches but when they were on, they were on. Admirably led by halfback Mitch Moses, who had his best season to date, and with the added impact of tackle-breaking, try-scoring wingers Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo, the Eels romped to fifth place on the table, just two points outside the top four.
Most Exciting to Watch
I watched more Newcastle Knights games in 2019 than I ever have before for one reason; to see Kalyn Ponga in action. The young fullback with a background in touch rugby is an excitement machine. He combines lightning acceleration with dizzying footwork to leave defenders in his dust. He's the type of player who, when he's on your side, you run the risk of falling into the habit of just giving him the ball and hoping he does something miraculous. The thing with Ponga is more often than not he does. The only thing more exciting than watching him this year is the idea of how much better he might be in 2020.