Sky Sports reflects on the highs and lows that figured prominently in the world of rugby league over the past 12 months.
2012 was the year of the Rhino once again, but for long periods it looked like Leeds' recent domination of the Super League title would come to an end. The Huddersfield Giants were the fastest out of the blocks with Nathan Brown's men excellent in the first half of the campaign. In March the Giants ran out 22-12 winners at Headingley Carnegie, a match the visitors deservedly won.
The new season saw St Helens unveil their impressive Langtree Park stadium after a year at playing at Widnes' Stobart Stadium following their departure from the famous Knowsley Road. However, a woeful start to the season for coach Royce Simmons, two wins from their opening seven fixtures, saw him replaced at the helm by Mike Rush and Kieron Cunningham, the duo filled in with distinction for the remainder of the campaign.
It was only in May that the Wigan Warriors usurped Huddersfield in top spot when a 32-12 success for Shaun Wane's men opened up a two-point lead for the Cherry and Whites. Following that defeat the Giants saw their form fall away over the rest of the term, but for Wigan the points proved the catalyst for an excellent regular season.
Wigan exemplified their form at the Magic Weekend in Manchester with an emphatic 42-16 success over fierce rivals St Helens, however, the game will also be remembered for the second half brawl in which forwards Gareth Hock and Chris Tuson were sent off along with Saints substitute Shaun Magennis, who has since retired from the game due to injury.
Another possible Grand Final return could not have looked any further away for the Rhinos in June when Wigan ran out convincing 50-8 winners at Headingley, the first time Leeds had conceded 50 points at home since August 1996. Wane had massive boots to fill at the start of the campaign in replacing Michael McGuire, but he was demonstrating he was the man for the job.
June proved a difficult month for the Bradford Bulls, a team that claimed three Grand Final triumphs between 2001 and 2005. The club had sold their Odsal lease to the RFL in January, however, mounting debt forced the historic Yorkshire outfit into administration in June - a move that would eventually see them deducted six points. The league and fans rallied around the ailing club to ensure they finished the campaign and they were taken over by Omar Khan's consortium in September.
Leeds would have their surprise revenge against Wigan in the at the semi-final stage of the Challenge Cup in July with a remarkable 39-28 triumph, a match that would set up a Wembley return against the Warrington Wolves who brushed aside the out-of-sorts Giants with a 33-6 success at the City of Salford Stadium. The match ultimately proved the end of Brown's reign at the Giants with assistant Paul Anderson replacing the St Helens-bound Australian.
Few if any thought the Rhinos would avenge their 2011 defeat at Wembley to Wigan in Huddersfield, but come the big occasion Brian McDermott's men perform on the big stage. The Warriors made uncharacteristic mistakes early on allowing the champions to race into a 16-0 lead. Wigan fought back but Leeds managed to fend off the holders' challenge to book a third straight trip to the capital.
However, Leeds' Wembley hoodoo struck again as Warrington made it three Challenge Cup successes in four years in August with a 35-18 triumph over the men from West Yorkshire. The Wolves beat Leeds 30-6 in the 2010 final and again emerged worthy winners this time around courtesy of tries from Joel Monaghan, Trent Waterhouse, Chris Riley, Ryan Atkins, Tyrone McCarthy and Man of the Match Brett Hodgson. Sadly for Leeds it was now six straight final defeats since bettering the London Broncos at the old Wembley in 1999.
Warrington maintained their form for the remainder of the regular season and it took a Super League record comeback for Wigan at Hull KR in September to clinch the League Leaders' Shield, a deserved accolade for the most consistent team throughout the season. The win looked highly unlikely with the visitors trailing 26-0 and 36-22 at various stages of the contest. However, 20 points in the final 12 minutes capped a memorable turnaround as Wigan won 42-36.
Wigan's final game of the season turned out to be something of a damp squib, Michael McIlorum's first-half red card proved crucial as St Helens ran out 26-18 winners at the DW Stadium. But Wane's men responded in the play-offs as George Carmont bagged a hat-trick in a comfortable victory over the Catalan Dragons, who finished a credible fourth in the final table aided by the arrival of the experienced Leon Pryce.St Helens stunned Warrington in week one to move to within 80 minutes of yet another Grand Final return, but the Wolves would have their revenge two weeks later to book their first-ever Grand Final appearance. Leeds, having won away at Catalan, upset Wigan in the semi-final to secure yet another trip to Old Trafford. The Wolves were the favourites and led 18-14 thanks to Ryan Atkins' try, however, scores from Carl Ablett and Ryan Hall ensured Kevin Sinfield lifted the trophy once again.
Quotes of the Year
"If something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck, isn't it? He looks Aussie and talks Aussie so I suppose he is an Aussie."
Nathan Brown lets his thoughts be known after Steve McNamara picks Ian Henderson in his England squad.
"Robbo (Luke Robinson) went to Australia and got player of the tour, Then he was man-of-the-match in the Exiles game but didn't get picked after that. I feel sorry for him, especially when they put an Aussie ahead of him. Ian Henderson is an Australian. He is not a Pommie."
He's still going...
"Rangi Chase is a good bloke and a good friend of mine. But Rangi Chase says 'bro' and has got Maori tattoos. That's because he is a Kiwi, he's not English."
Yep, you guessed it...
"We have always supported England. I grew up in a Liverpool shirt and wore the English strip during World Cup campaigns, which I still have today. My brothers and myself have all returned to England to live and play and for Nathan Brown to question my family's commitment to this country is ignorant and insulting."
Henderson hits back at Brown.
"Just coming out the hospital to go home... Seriously feel like I've left something?"
Paul Wood lightened the mood after he was forced to have a testicle removed after rupturing it against Leeds in the Grand Final.
"Tony Smith did say in his pre match team talk last night "your balls are on the line here guys!" I didn't think he meant literally'."
Wood referring to the team talk given by the Warrington Wolves head coach.
"I won't be here. That's not what this is about at all/"
Tony Rea defiant that his role as London Broncos was only a temporary one. He duly took the full-time job on a two-year contract not long after.
"They're our arch-enemy who we detest. We want to put them in the worst place possible." Wigan ran out 18-4 winners at the DW Stadium."
Wigan coach Shaun Wane ahead of the Warriors' Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against St Helens
"I just think that, at the moment, once you enter that room, you are guilty," he said. "The review panel have been given a set of guidelines and I'd like to talk to the people who run the game. What do they want our game to look like?At the moment, players are concerned about going into collisions in case they get it slightly wrong. That's scary for our game. The beauty of our game is that usually, if you run harder and tackle harder than the opposition, you win the game."
Leeds boss Brian McDermott was none too pleased with Wane after he pre-empted the RFL's decision to ban Danny McGuire from the Rhinos' Grand Final qualifying semi-final at Wigan for a high challenge in the win over the Catalan Dragons...
Wakefield full-back Richard Mathers gives his thoughts on the iPitch at Stobart Stadium after the opening round of fixtures, before using his Twitter account to distribute photographs of his grazed arms and legs.
"I think it's definitely down to the conditions, we had 34 blokes running around on Friday night and we had one bloke (Mathers) complaining, I think that speaks volumes. It's a very tough sport, I think you've just got to man up a little bit."
Denis Betts' response was hardly sympathetic...
"At no stage did I have the thought of biting his ear or any part of his body. I've played over 250 first-grade matches and the game since I was seven years old and I have never bit anyone. I can't understand why I would choose an NRL grand final to do it. If I did, I would see the teeth marks. I can't see any bite marks in the photos."
Canterbury's James Graham reacts after being hit with a 12-match ban for biting Melbourne's Billy Slater in the NRL Grand Final.
"I don't want to talk about Rangi Chase. I'm not here to talk about people who aren't here."
Ian Millward keeps it short and perhaps not so sweet after Castleford's star man was suspended prior to their 40-22 loss to Leeds in June.
Sporting Hero - Kevin Sinfield
The end of the 2012 Super League season marked a decade for Kevin Sinfield as the captain of the Leeds Rhinos. He picked the best way to end the campaign, helping his team to Grand Final success at Old Trafford.
Once again the 32-year-old Oldham-born star was overlooked for the coveted Man of Steel award, a prize that recognises Super League's most influential and most consistent player through the season.
However, the England international got his hands on the prize every player wanted - the Super League trophy. For the sixth time in seven years he helped the West Yorkshire club triumph in the game's showpiece event.
Although Challenge Cup glory has eluded Leeds over the past decade the Rhinos have become Old Trafford specialists in recent years and Sinfield was pivotal in their 26-18 success over Warrington in October.
The stand-off overcame being knocked out in Manchester following a clash of heads with Michael Monaghan to play a captain's knock by scoring a try and inspiring Leeds to yet another title despite an inconsistent season for the club.
Such has been the professionalism of the club's long-serving player that the Headingley Carnegie side renamed December 3 as Sir Kevin Sinfield Day in honour of their legendary captain.
Sinfield has not looked back since being awarded the captain's armband, leading the team to 17 major finals, winning nine of them, including a record breaking six Grand Finals along with two League Leaders Shields.
Top Ten Moments of the Year
Hull KR's last-gasp 32-30 victory over city rivals Hull FC in the Magic Weekend. The Rovers looked dead and buried with 12 minutes to go, but Craig Sandercock's side fought back before David Hodgson's try clinched an improbable victory.
The Catalan Dragons trailed St Helens 30-26 at Langtree Park and were down to the last play of the game. The French side remarkably kept the ball alive before Daryl Millard picked up possession and darted over to score to level the game. Scott Dureau's last-gasp conversion sealed the win.
Few, if any, gave the winless Widnes Vikings any hope of beating table-toppers Wigan. Shaun Wane fielded a weakened team, although the visitors were still expected to win. With the scores level and against the odds, Lloyd White's drop goal secured a remarkable 37-36 win for Denis Betts' team.
Wigan ran riot in the Magic Weekend against St Helens, scoring 26 points in the opening 25 minutes at the Etihad Stadium. The Warriors eventually won 42-12, although Wigan's Gareth Hock and Chris Tuson, plus Saints' Shaun Magennis, were all sent off in another fiesty encounter between the two rivals.
Nearly 21,000 were in attendance as the beleaguered Bradford Bulls beat fierce West Yorkshire rivals the Leeds Rhinos 12-4 in a West Yorkshire derby over the Easter weekend. The game was largely forgettable, but Bradford upset the form guide to see off Brian McDermott's men at a time when the club's future seemed to be in serious jeopardy.
Wakefield enjoyed an August to remember. Richard Agar's team finished the season with seven consecutive victories. It could have been so different, but two drop-goals at the death in games against St Helens and Hull KR, both from Paul Sykes, handed the Wildcats two stunning victories.
The silverware arrived early in the season for Leeds Rhinos as they beat Manly 26-12 in February to win the World Cup Challenge. There was a sell-out crowd at Headingley to witness Brian McDermott's side go head-to-head with the NRL's finest and it was the Super League club who triumphed.
The magic of the Challenge Cup was alive and well in 2012 as Featherstone Rovers upset the Castleford Tigers in the fourth round of the competition. Rangi Chase and co were expected to eliminate their lower league opposition, but Daryl Powell's men hadn't read the script. Tangi Ropati, Kyle Briggs, Ian Hardman and Greg Worthington all scored tries in a thrilling 23-16 win.
The London Broncos were expected to be cannon fodder for Challenge Cup finalists Warrington Wolves the weekend before the showpiece event at Wembley. The Broncos instead took advantage of Tony Smith's decision to rest key personnel to run out remarkable 62-18 winners, full-back Luke Dorn scoring four tries for the capital club.
What a night for Hull FC at Odsal it proved to be! In contrast, it was a game the Bradford Bulls will want to forget in a hurry. It promised to be a joyous occasion for the Bulls following Omar Kahn's takeover of the club, but the full-time whistle showed 70-6 to Hull FC on the scoreboard as the visitors scored 13 tries.
The year ahead
Every Super League club will be going out all to end the Rhinos' Old Trafford supremacy in 2013.
It is hard to look beyond Wigan and Warrington battling it out for the League Leaders' Shield once again, although St Helens will be eager to regain the trophy they last claimed in 2008.
Saints will have Nathan Brown at the helm and the Australian has the credentials to build upon the excellent work down by Mike Rush and Kieron Cunningham in 2012. The club have recruited well for 2013 with the talented Willie Manu and explosive Jordan Turner joining the ranks ahead of the new campaign.
Expectations are on the up at the KC Stadium ahead of the new campaign following plenty of investment by Hull FC owner Adam Pearson. The club's biggest capture came when they landed Super League winner Gareth Ellis from Wests Tigers. The former Wakefield Wildcats man impressed during his time in the NRL following a successful spell at Leeds.
There will also be a first in 2013. Following the departure of Trent Robinson in the south of France the Catalan Dragons will be sporting the league's first-ever French coach after appointing Laurent Frayssinous as his successor. Not only does he have massive boots to fill after the club finished fourth this season, but the 35-year-old is also the youngest coach in English rugby league's top flight.
Team of the Year - Wakefield Wildcats
No one would have given Wakefield a chance of making the top eight early in July following a 52-10 hammering at home by the Wigan Warriors. However, seven successive wins to finish Super League's regular season ensured the Wildcats pipped the Bradford Bulls, who were deducted six points for entering administration, to the final play-off berth. Richard Agar's men even finished five points clear of Hull KR. The Wildcats beat Huddersfield, Leeds, Castleford, St Helens, Hull KR, Widnes and Salford to ensure a play-off clash against Leeds at Headingley in the opening round.
Player of the Year - Sam Tomkins
The Wigan Warriors full-back is simply the biggest and brightest talent Super League currently has to offer. He is the most creative, influential and talented player in England, and someone the game needs to keep in their grasp. When Tomkins is on song Wigan invariably win - in 2013 the 23-year-old inspired Wigan to win the League Leaders' Shield. He was the league's second-highest try scorer in 2012, too, running in 28 in total, three fewer than team-mate Josh Charnley.
Young Player of the Year - Zak Hardaker
The Rhinos centre began the season with Ryan Hall on his outside, but when full-back Brent Webb went down with injury the former Featherstone Rovers youngster was chosen to fill the void at the back vacated by the vastly-experienced New Zealander. The 21-year-old took to the position like a duck to water and went from strength-to-strength, despite the added defensive attributes the position demands. Hardaker's displays won him a place in Steve McNamara's England squad for their Autumn International Series.
What was your rugby league moment of the year from the 2012 season?
Hull KR's Magic Weekend win over Hull FC
Catalan Dragons' last-gasp success at Saints
Widnes Vikings beating Wigan for their first win of the season
Wigan running riot against St Helens in the Magic Weekend
Nearly 21,000 watching Bradford Bulls beat rivals Leeds
Wakefield enjoying successive weekend with drop-goal wins
Champions Leeds Rhinos clinching the World Cup Challenge v Manly
Featherstone dumping Castleford Tigers out of the Challenge Cup
London Broncos beating Warrington Wolves 62-18 at the Stoop
Hull FC inflicting a record 70-6 home defeat on the Bradford Bulls