Play-off specialists Leeds Rhinos did the 'impossible' once again, winning the title from fifth. Warrington continue to dominate the Challenge Cup, winning at Wembley for the third time in four years, while Bradford went to the brink and survived - just. We take a look back at the highlights - and some of the lowlights - of the 2012 season
By By Jordan Fiddes. Twitter: @JordanFiddes. Last Updated: 02/11/12 4:05pm
In his New Year message the Prime Minister stated: "This year we really go for it" and the same could be said for the newly named 'Stobart Super League.' 100 specially made trucks drove the popularity of Super League up and down the motorways, exposing the game to more people than ever. There were plenty of notable signings too. World Cup winner Lance Hohaia signed for St.Helens and Leon Pryce moved from Saints to Catalans Dragons. The scene was set for a thoroughly enjoyable and notable 2012 season.
David Haye and Dereck Chisora made the headlines in early February when they clashed at a press-conference and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats produced a crushing blow at Widnes' Stobart Stadium, when they beat the Vikings 32-14 on the opening day. Their win over the Vikings was the first of many in what would become a very enjoyable season for the Wildcats, culminating in a place in the play-offs.
The Rhinos became the World Club Champions in February with an impressive 26-12 victory over Australian Champions Manly Sea Eagles. The game-changer was the 90 metre charge from England winger Ryan Hall just before half-time.
On the February 24 we also witnessed what was to be crowned the 'Try of the Season' in Catalan's last gasp win over St.Helens at Langtree Park. Scott Dureau's last-second touchline kick ensured the win for the French club after Daryl Millard's "wonder try."
Steve McNamara named his first squad of 2012 at the beginning of March with a few surprises taking the headlines. Torquay-born Catalan hooker, Ian Henderson earned his first cap for England and Gareth Hock made a return after nearly 3 years away from the International game.
In Super League, Huddersfield maintained their good start to the campaign with wins over St.Helens, Castleford and Leeds. The shock of the month, and possibly the season came in Round 6 as bottom club Widnes edged out top-of-the-table Wigan in a nail-biter on the revolutionary i-pitch. It wasn't long before the Vikings came crashing down to earth, however, when they were beaten 76-6 in the South of France.
March will also be remembered for the return to Super League of Gareth Ellis. After much speculation and interest, it was announced that the England maestro would be joining the Black and Whites of Hull FC at the start of the 2013 season.
One story stole the headlines in April, which was, unfortunately, the decline of the Bradford Bulls. It was announced that they needed to raise £1 million in a matter of weeks to avoid going into administration. The Rugby League family came together and a number of players sold off old merchandise to help the West-Yorkshire club. Either someone hadn't told the players of the problems or they used it as motivation as they only lost once in April, while also beating Champions Leeds in what was being touted as the last-ever game at Odsal.
Wigan and Warrington continued to lead the way in the league table with the Warriors beating Saints 28-10 in Round 10. Huddersfield had another good month; however this would be the start of dark days to come for the Fartown club...
The Leveson inquiry was in full-flow in the media, however in Rugby League, London Broncos began an inquiry of their own. Following their exit from the Challenge Cup, Chairman David Hughes began a full review of his squad and staff. Off-season signings such as Craig Gower and Michael Witt had brought optimism into the club, however the team had only won two games by mid-May.
May was the first time that the Magic Weekend was held in Manchester, at the Etihad Stadium, home of the Premier League champions.
The game of the weekend came in the Hull derby as the Robins came from behind to beat their local rivals by 2 points after an incredible, length of the field try from winger David Hodgson. The weekend closed with a mass brawl in the Wigan v Saints clash in which three players saw red.
June was the beginning of the English summer with the Queen's Jubilee taking the media coverage and in Rugby League, England were preparing for the Exiles series. Josh Charnley's excellent form was rewarded with his first call-up and Gareth Hock answered his doubters by scoring the game's opening try. England ran out 18-10 winners to claim the spoils in the first game. The second game was overshadowed somewhat by the announcement that captain Jamie Peacock would retire with immediate effect. The prop brought the curtain down on a long and illustrious career for his country which included over 40 representative games.
The game will also be remembered for the injury to Thomas Leuluai, who suffered a broken leg and would miss a chunk of the Warriors fixtures in the coming months.
In Super League, Wigan continued to dominate all before them, including a 50-8 win over Leeds at Headingley. St.Helens began to hit their straps, while Huddersfield were moving in the wrong direction. The Giants only managed one win in June which also included a loss to bottom club Widnes.
The tie of the month saw Hull KR come from 22-6 down against Warrington to beat them by a point in the 77th minute.
The month began with a very underwhelming England v Exiles game on the 4th of July. On this occasion, the Exiles were victorious and retained the trophy after winning the one-off game last year.
In other news, David Beckham was snubbed by Team GB in the approaching Olympics, yet it was a U-turn at Castleford as they welcomed back Rangi Chase after an internal suspension. He was unable to prevent the club losing to Warrington and Wigan in his first two games back. In fact, the Tigers were unable to win a game again all season, culminating in a joint-bottom finish.
Two Super League clubs replaced their coaches in July. London Broncos relegated Rob Powell in their coaching ranks to bring in former manager Tony Rea on, initially, a temporary basis. Nathan Brown paid the price for a dramatic slump in form for the Giants and was sacked to be replaced by assistant Paul Anderson.The Giants never really got their season back on track after an impressive start, whereas London managed four wins from their last five fixtures.
The 'Joining Jack' charity played a massive part in Super League 2012 and got national recognition when Bradley Wiggins used the linked finger symbol when receiving his gold medal in the Olympics. Once again, the Rugby League family came together with numerous gestures and events, organised in aid of the great charity.
The Olympics were coming to a close, as was the regular Super League season. While some teams were gathering momentum, most notably Wakefield, others couldn't wait for it to end.
Salford endured a torrid first season in their new home, the Salford City Stadium, and they failed to win a game in August. The shining light for the Reds was the form of winger Jodie Broughton, who gained an international call-up with the England Knights at the end of the season.
The Bradford saga continued, however it did not affect the on-field triumphs as they won all their fixtures in August. Wakefield also recorded a 100% record in August including two last-minute drop-goal winners from Paul Sykes against St.Helens and Hull KR.
Warrington won their third Challenge Cup in four years when they beat Leeds impressively 35-18 at Wembley.
The play-offs may have got off to a slow start with easy wins (on the scoreboard at least) for Wigan, Leeds and Hull FC, but they finished in style come the semi-finals. Wakefield put up a great fight against the Rhinos in the first eliminator but play-off kings Leeds managed to out-muscle them with a 42-20 win. Wigan dominated Catalan with a 46-6 win, even without their hooker Michael Mcllorum, who was suspended in the final league game of the season against St.Helens.
The Saints shocked Warrington, winning 28-6 but the Wolves got a second attempt against them later in the series to make the Grand Final.
Leeds recorded impressive wins in Catalan and then away at Wigan. After finishing fifth in the league table for successive seasons, the Rhinos secured another Grand Final appearance with that win at the DW Stadium.
The scene was set for another classic finale at the Theatre of Dreams, as Warrington faced Leeds in the Grand Final. This was the Wolves' first appearance in the season's showpiece game and the first time that both the Challenge Cup final and Grand Final were contested by the same two teams.
Leeds conquered again on the Old Trafford turf to win a record sixth Grand Final, beating Warrington 26-18 in a thriller. The day may be remembered for two things; Kevin Sinfield's man-of the-match performance after suffering concussion early in the second half and Paul Wood's extraordinary heroics when playing through the pain barrier after rupturing a testicle.
Another season not to be forgotten had numerous highlights, which the 'Man of Steel' awards dinner recognised:
Best try: Daryl Millard's amazing finish to an unplanned move on the last tackle against St.Helens.
Newcomer: Zak Hardaker's move to full-back after Brent Webb's injury proved instrumental in the Rhinos success.
Man of Steel: Sam Tomkins fought off competition from Ben Westwood and James Roby to win the coveted award.
What the players thought on Twitter:
@Ste_Ward (Leeds) - "Standing on the sideline with a minute to go knowing we'd won the GF"
@DannyKirmond (Wakefield) - "My first game as Captain against Castleford at the Magic Weekend, and, team-wise making the playoffs was awesome"
@Jarrod_Sammut (Bradford) - "Beating Leeds at home and beating Wigan at Wigan
@ben_cross8 (Widnes) - "Our win over Wigan at home and my first try against Huddersfield in the win at home."
@lukedorn (London) - "My 2nd try against Warrington at home. Brought up my 100 for club. Very special personal moment. Felt great."
@bennie_westwood (Warrington) - "Highlight is Challenge Cup, has to be"
What the fans thought on Twitter:
@Richlawrhino (Leeds) - "Beating Wigan in their own back yard without a chance takes some doing!"
@benspeight (Bradford) - "Bulls beating Leeds at Odsal when all the drama started. showed we meant business and are here for good."
@Tezzerwolf (Warrington) - "I think the Warrington players applauding the Bulls fans in the midst of their troubles. What RL is all about From a Wire fan"
@dougiesut (Wakefield) - "Wakey v Saints; P.Sykes drop goal in last ten seconds."
@HKRAWAYDAYS (Hull KR) - "David Hodgson's last minute winner against Hull at Manc Magic. Awesome drama...!!"
@Verney21 (Bradford) - "Having Mick Potter in charge and a great bunch of lads during the horrible situation."