2008 review: In a rugby league season full of surprises, the one certainty was that Australia would be crowned world champions at the season-ending World Cup.
New Zealand sprung a surprise on Kangaroos
In a rugby league season full of surprises, the one certainty was that Australia would be crowned world champions at the season-ending World Cup. The team known as the Invincibles had not been dethroned as world champions since 1972 but the Kangaroos were ambushed by New Zealand in a captivating final, losing 34-20 and proving bad losers in the process.
The fallout from the final is still ongoing with the Australia coach Ricky Stuart resigning earlier this month after abusing match officials after full-time with an outburst "littered with profanities." The final was full of drama and controversy as Australia moved into a 16-12 lead before New Zealand hit back helped by a controversial penalty try. But the tournament had previously been derided for its one- sided matches while Tony Smith's England side were made to look like amateurs alongside Australia and New Zealand, returning home following a massively disappointing series of displays.
In England's defence, the tournament had come just at the end of Super League XIII season, arguably one of the tightest seasons in living memory which started with pre-season favourites St Helens having a woeful run. However, they bounced back with a string of dominant performances to win the Carnegie Challenge Cup and top the table at the end of the season and mark their cards as favourites to win the Grand Final against Leeds.
But in a season of shocks, Leeds came away 24-16 winners to defend the title they had won a year previously and adding to an earlier season victory over Melbourne Storm in the World Club Championship. In Australia's National Rugby League Championship, Melbourne topped the end-of-season table only to be trounced 40-0 by Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in the Grand Final. One of the other major talking points of the year was another surprise as Bulldogs and New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams defected to rugby union with French side Toulon, although recent reports suggest he could be back to league before too long.