This season may go down as one of the weirdest in the history of the code.
But rugby league has always been in front of the curve when it comes to abnormal stories and there are enough plotlines in the game’s history for a fifth season of Stranger Things.
Bring it on
Souths and Roosters and the Book of Feuds? Pfft, it pales in comparison to the first flame war in rugby league which occurred in just the second year of the premiership's existence.
Souths versus Balmain is the Paradise Lost of rugby league feuds. It occurred in 1909 when the Rabbitohs were awarded the grand final win by forfeit from the Watersiders, as they were known back then.
The decider was originally scheduled as a curtain-raiser for a Wallabies against Kangaroos exhibition match however, Balmain believed a game of such importance should be a main event.
Here is where it gets murky - some say both teams agreed to reschedule or not play on the proposed date, but on the day the match was originally due to be played Souths turned up and Balmain didn’t take the field. Souths kicked off, picked up the ball, scored a try and were awarded the chocolates.
One hundred years after the event, Balmain great Benny Elias still wouldn’t let it go, telling the Sydney Morning Herald half-seriously in 2009: "It should be taken away. People take gold medals away from Olympians who cheat - I would say this is on par. It's clearly stated in the records they both agreed not to turn up - one team did and they won the premiership."
Hit the north
Balmain weren’t always the innocent bystanders. Their officials came up with a cunning plan worthy of Baldrick of Blackadder fame when they attempted to circumvent the rules and allow Steve Roach to play in the 1988 grand final.
Roach still had two games to serve from a suspension when Balmain made the final game of the season, so the Tigers hierarchy allowed "Blocker" to sign a short-term deal with England team Warrington.
Roach flew to England and The Wire named him to play for the reserves on Saturday and first grade on Sunday, thereby making up the two matches before he made the round trip back to Sydney.
Unfortunately, the great escape was foiled by the Australian league bosses who quickly shut the loophole, leaving Roach in England.
“Instead of playing in the decider, I lay on a bed in my Warrington unit ... listening to Hollywood [Greg Hartley] and Zorba [Peter Peters] calling the match down the line [on the radio]," Roach told The Daily Telegraph in 2008.
The Bulldogs won the title with a 24-12 victory.
Sign up for a free NRL Account to access this video and other exclusive content.
Not sure? Learn more about an NRL Account.
What a weird scene
Just when you think you’ve seen everything that State of Origin can throw up, along comes Wati Holmwood.
With three minutes remaining in the 2013 Origin III match at ANZ Stadium and Queensland leading 12-10, the big man stripped off and burst onto the field.
He evaded security staff, ran through the Queensland attacking line and was only caught when he stumbled just before the try line, interfering with the NSW defence.
Blues second-rower Ryan Hoffman performed an Academy Award-winning dive next to Holmwood as Queenslander Matt Scott scored.
In the ensuing chaos referee Shayne Hayne did his best Travis Bickle Taxi Driver impersonation shouting at Blues prop Andrew Fifita: “Andrew, Andrew are you talking to me? Andrew are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?” Apparently Andrew wasn’t talking to him.
Streaker causes chaos
The video ref ruled no try and Wati was marched.
"I felt like I had to be seen, I just wanted people to see me," Holmwood told Judge Martin Sides, QC, when he was appealing his three-month jail sentence for the crime.
Wati achieved his aim – and his sentence was reduced to two months.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” is a line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it could also be said of The Man Who Wore The Bowler Hat.
During the Kangaroos tour of England in 1967 the Australians were enjoying the nightlife of Yorkshire village Ilkley when one member of the team decided to stroll the streets wearing nothing but a bowler hat.
Although no player was ever disciplined over the incident – simpler times – John Raper, the larrikin of the team was rumoured to be the perpetrator.
Raper did nothing to dispel the rumours – in fact he encouraged them to the point that he parlayed it into a fashion accessory at public speaking gigs and starred in a tyre advertisement wearing the headgear.
In fact, his autobiography was even titled The Man In the Bowler Hat.
However, the future Immortal wasn’t the nude stroller – it turned out the bare-naked bowler hat wearer was Queenslander Dennis Manteit.
Fact: There are 110 players in the NRL Hall of Fame – and not one is named Stanley, either Christian or surname.
One character who should be in the Hall of Infamy is Stanley the Steel Avenger.
In 1995 Mr Steel Avenger became the first and only NRL mascot to be sent off by a referee for joining in an on-field brawl.
During the Steelers-Tigers match at Steelers Stadium, Illawarra fullback Brendan O’Meara and Mark O’Neill of the Tigers started some fisticuffs before Stanley joined the fray.
"I looked down and there was Stanley on the deck – I couldn’t believe it!" O’Meara told Windang’s own superhero Steve Mascord who was reporting on the match for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"He was certainly having a go. The ref [Tony Maksoud] just said ‘You, off!’ and Stanley was shattered."
Maksoud confirmed he had marched Stanley: "It was nothing too serious … but he can’t be allowed to touch players under any circumstances. I’ve put it on report."
The Herald reported that the send-off meant Stanley was not eligible to win the Rothman's Medal.
Honourable mascot mention
The mascot for barbecue chicken outlet Red Rooster was attacked by a gang of children after the Western Reds' first home against St George in Perth in 1995. The Paddle Pop Lion came to his aid.
You can't handle the tooth
“For God’s sake, let go!”
So exclaimed St George player Bill McRitchie during a scrum in July 1945 that would lead to more than six months of intrigue, judiciary and disciplinary hearings that could have cost legendary Bluebags forward Frank “Bumper” Farrell not only his playing career but also his employment as a policeman.
In Larry Writer’s excellent biography Bumper: The Life and Times of Frank ‘Bumper” Farrell, the Infamous ear-biting Incident needs its own chapter.
When the scrum erupted, McRitchie clutched at his right ear as blood turned his jersey scarlet and he discovered part of his lobe was missing.
McRitchie, who had broken several of Farrell’s teeth with a high-tackle in a match earlier in the season, immediately accused Farrell of biting off part of his ear.
Farrell denied the assault, however a judiciary hearing was launched but then postponed as McRitichie was unable to attend as he was still in hospital after undergoing reconstructive surgery on the injury.
The incident also due the attention of the Farrell’s employer the NSW Police Force who also began their own inquiry.
The saga continued until February the following year when the judiciary hearing was completed and Farrell was found not guilty and also cleared by the police investigation.
In an interview with league historian Sean Fagan well after his playing career, "Chicka" Cahill, who was a teammate of Farrell's, recounted it would have been impossible for Bumper to have committed the act.
“[McRitchie] knocked [Farrell’s] bloody teeth out [in the first-round match]. Broke ‘em off. He had to go to the dentist to get the stumps drawn. Bumper’s plate was in the dressing room when he went to play the second round at Henson Park. He never had the teeth to bite with!” Cahill said.
However, as Writer noted: "As for Bumper’s claim that he could not have bitten off the piece of McRitchie’s ear because he had scarcely any teeth, it must be reported that in interviews for this book three former police colleagues told how after a few drinks Bumper treated them to one of his party tricks: crushing walnuts between his gums."
Graham gets up close and personal with Slater
James Graham being found guilty of nibbling Billy Slater’s ear during the 2012 grand final and Tom Raudonikis for his “I am the Phantom biter” Rugby League Week front page for chomping Johnny Gibbs on the nose in 1976.
Long before Christos Tsiolkas’s fictional work The Slap, there was the non-fiction version starring the St George Illawarra Dragons.
During his first coaching job, frustrated Dragons mentor Nathan Brown called players Trent Barrett, Lance Thompson and Brett Firman to the sideline during a match against the Sea Eagles in the 2003 season.
Brown gesticulated, remonstrated, pushed and prodded the players and also slapped Barrett’s face.
Brown slaps Barrett
Brown was immediately remorseful, but it was an incident that was to dog him for years, especially when Barrett entered the coaching ranks and the pair opposed each other.
"The disappointing thing from the whole thing was [that] Trent's a guy I've got a lot of respect for and what I did probably didn't show the respect I should show him and the respect that I have got for him," Brown said at the time.
Nrl.com editor-in-chief Paul Suttor, who reported on the game for the Illawarra Mercury, recalled: "Trent Barrett is one of the nicest guys in rugby league and he was a ball of contained rage in the post-match media conference, speaking through gritted teeth that he and Nathan Brown had spoken about it in the sheds after the game."
Brown’s apology cut little ice with NRL CEO David Gallop who fined him $5000.
Nil by mouth
"The better side drew," Newtown coach Warren Ryan drolly commented at full-time following the Jets and Bulldogs playing out an historical 0-0 result at Henson Park in round five of 1982.
In rain and gloom, the teams couldn’t break the deadlock played at The Jewel In the Crown of rugby league fields before a crowd of 8972.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald’s report, it wasn’t as if both teams didn’t have chances to trouble the scoreboard attendant with Newtown going close to scoring tries twice in the first half, and Newtown skipper Ken Wilson and Bulldogs winger Tony Armstrong both missing penalty goals.
Steve Mortimer was unsuccessful with a field goal attempt in the 61st minute, but perhaps the most contentious incident occurred in the 74th minute when a scrum erupted in front of the Canterbury posts and Newtown forward Steve Bowden was decked.
After consulting with both touch judges referee Barry Goldsworthy decided not to give a penalty and repacked the scrum.
"It’s like going around in a Melbourne Cup – and dead-heating," Wilson told The Herald.
Once upon a time in Hollywood the ARL had the idea to take the great game to the land of opportunity.
Quentin Tarantino could have written the opening scene for the match as NSW captain Peter Sterling was only just able to wrestle his way through the welcome banner on the sideline and then 24 seconds after the kick-off a fight started between the teams.
The match was cooked up as part of an ambitious plan to spread the game to the US, and what better way than to take the pinnacle of the sport.
Sign up for a free NRL Account to access this video and other exclusive content.
Not sure? Learn more about an NRL Account.
The Long Beach match was an extra game tacked on to the already completed series which Queensland won 2-1. Despite Sterling’s talk before the game that NSW could square the series 2-2 with a win, the Maroons captain Paul Vautin was having none of it.
“We won the series on our merits and I thought there were a few poor excuses and sour grapes about referees. We don’t intend to give them the chance to say they have squared the series,” Vautin said.
Sterling battles the banner in LA
Alas for Fatty, before a crowd of 12,000 in a 15,000-seat capacity stadium, NSW won the match 30-18.
After the drama at the start of the match, unfortunately no one produced a Tarantino-inspired Rick "Anyone order fried sauerkraut?" Dalton flamethrower.
While we’re on a cinematic theme, there’s a theory floating around the interweb started by a person connected to the game (oh alright, it’s me).
The story goes that movie director Darren Aronofsky was inspired to write the scene in The Wrestler where Mickey Rourke’s character Randy "The Ram" Robinson is attacked by his arch-rival The Ayatollah with a staple after he watched a replay of game one of the 2003 State of Origin series.
League purists remember the game for the supreme performance by Andrew Johns as he crushed Queensland’s hopes of a triumphant return to the refurbished Suncorp Stadium in NSW’s 25-12 win.
However, polymaths remember it for the misfiring of the staple gun into the head wound of NSW winger Michael De Vere on the sideline during the game.
De Vere’s head was split after a collision with Queenslander Tonie Carroll. According to Johns, NSW coach Phil Gould told the NSW medical staff to fix him up on the field as quickly as possible, so out came the gun.
Recalling the incident for Channel Nine, Johns said: "I went on a boat trip surfing with a few guys I know from America and they said ‘bring a rugby league game man, we want to watch it’.
De Vere gets the staple treatment
"So I’m showing them this game and they go ‘You Aussies are crazy, you don’t wear helmets’ and then this came on, and they were horrified.
"They were going ‘This is on TV? Kids are watching this’ … they just couldn’t believe it." (Obviously Aronofsky was one of the surfers on the trip)
Fun fact: De Vere revealed in an interview that Des Hasler got his hands on the staple gun and asked him to sign it. Sea Eagles players should beware if they see a shiny implement in Dessie’s grasp after a poor training session.
Drop it like it’s hot
Field goals in the final minutes to win a match are one of the most celebrated feats of the game.
But when they are kicked when your team needs two points to win? Enter Terry Lamb and the curious incident of the Dogs and the Knights at Belmore Oval in 1992.
Down 12-10 with three minutes to go against Newcastle, Lamb successfully potted a shot from 42 metres out.
:[My teammates] blew up cause I told them I’d won FootyTab … I got $12,000," Lamb said about the goal later.
Before you get the NRL Integrity Unit on the line, "Baa" was only joking.
"I turned to Mitch Newton and had a big grin on my face and Mitch said: “What did you do that for? We need two points instead of one.’ I looked at him and [realised] I’d stuffed up."
Lamb explained after Newcastle had crossed for a try to level the score at 10-10, he was putting all his effort into motivating his players behind the posts and didn’t realise John Schuster had converted the try from the sideline.
Terry Lamb's bizarre field goal
Greg Inglis had a similar brain fade while playing for South Sydney in 2016. The Rabbitohs were trailing the Dragons 8-6 into the final minute of a game when GI sent the ball over the black dot. "Put that on the blooper reel, I will sit back at have a laugh at it," Inglis said.
"It was a bit of a brain explosion at the end there, not much else I can say about it."
Inglis pays tribute to Lamb with own field goal madness
File under: When debuts go bad. In 1988 South Sydney played Manly Warringah at Brookvale Oval on Anzac Day.
With six minutes left in the match and South Sydney leading 24-14, 17-year old Scott Wilson was sent on to the field to make his top-grade debut for the Rabbitohs.
One problem though, Wilson had played in the President’s Cup (under 21 competition) earlier that day and the NSWRL had introduced a rule stating players could not play President’s Cup and then be used as a replacement in a higher grade.
The Scott Wilson fiasco and how the Rabbitohs lost two competition points
The Bunnies weren’t attempting a Bold Personality-Fine Cotton type switch – Wilson, who was listed in the program as wearing No.17 but took to the field in jumper 36, was stocky and blonde-haired and the player who should have taken his place was strapping Indigenous winger Les Biles.
Souths won the game 28-14, but were stripped of the competition points.
To add insult to injury, Wilson crossed for a disallowed try during his six-minute cameo.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jack Danzey was the referee in the Newtown-Canterbury 0-0 match.