WALEED Aly has taken aim at Jarryd Hayne and the entire NRL for a debacle of a 2017 as he revealed his sporting lowlights for the year.
Speaking on ABC program Offsiders, Aly - a Richmond Tigers and Melbourne Storm tragic - criticised rugby league for a year full of off-field controversies that tarnished the image of the sport.
Player movement was a hot topic all season and several coaches were given the flick. A feud between Hayne and Gold Coast coach Neil Henry ultimately cost the Titans mentor his job when the club effectively cut him loose to keep the star fullback happy on the glitter strip.
But that move backfired when Hayne - still with a year to run on his contract - walked out on the club to rejoin the Parramatta Eels, saying it was because he wanted to be closer to his partner and child who live in NSW.
When asked what his sporting lowlight of 2017 was, the host of Channel 10's The Project started off by describing the fiasco on the Gold Coast that compounded Hayne's poor form for club and state.
"I was going to start with Jarryd Hayne and his year and the fact he had a poor year for his club with the Titans, the fact that he had a poor year for NSW and the Titans ended up sacking Neil Henry in part to try and keep him and then he leaves anyway and goes to Parramatta," Aly said.
But when Aly reflected more, he realised the entire NRL season was stained with blemishes that detracted from the on-field action.
Wests Tigers captain Aaron Woods' future was the talk of the league for much of the season before he signed with the Bulldogs for next year - but even that move was shrouded in doubt.
Canterbury had over-estimated what the 2018 salary cap would be, needing to shed players to accommodate new recruits like Woods and Kieran Foran. The mismanagement led to the culling of cult hero and skipper James Graham even though he didn't want to leave, forced to sign with St George for next season.
Woods' former Tigers teammate Mitchell Moses wanted to stay at Concord but said new coach Ivan Cleary took a contract offer off the table and he joined Parramatta midway through the season. Moses played several games for the Tigers even though it was the worst kept secret in the game it was a matter of when, not if, he would join the Eels.
"The low here is the off field season the NRL had generally," Aly said. "The constant rumours around player movement that meant no one seemed to care what was happening in the season in front of them and only cared about what was to come.
"Aaron Woods' movement, Mitchell Moses moving mid-season and having just beaten Parramatta for Wests Tigers and then joking about not knowing which sheds he was going to go to after the game was extraordinary."
Aly also took aim at Canterbury's handling of coach Des Hasler. The Bulldogs sacked Hasler after the season despite announcing he'd signed a new two-year extension earlier in 2017, which the club later claimed wasn't binding because it was only a "heads of agreement".
New Zealand stars Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor were busted buying drugs after the Anzac Test in Canberra, Cronulla chairman Damian Keogh was charged with possessing a prohibited substance and Manly has recently been served a breach notice for salary cap issues.
Aly said all of those incidents combined to create a hellish year for the NRL.
"The Des Hasler situation is just absurd that we were told mid-year he had a new contract and now they're saying it wasn't a contract at all so that's how they could sack him," Aly said.
"There was all the cocaine possession stuff that happened on rep weekend with Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor, Damian Keogh at the Cronulla Sharks - it just went on and on.
"And then to cap the year off we hear about the Manly salary cap breach. This is a terrible, terrible off-field year."
But while the NRL got plenty wrong in 2017, the tennis world put on a show. Aly's highlight for the year (excluding Richmond's AFL premiership, which he was lightheartedly told he had to avoid talking about) was the final weekend of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
Serena Williams won her 23rd grand slam title, defeating sister Venus in an emotional final. What made the veteran's achievement even more remarkable was the fact that, as fans later found out, she was pregnant during the tournament.
On the men's side, Roger Federer made a stunning comeback from a lengthy injury lay-off to win grand slam crown number 18 - his first since 2012 - in a five set thriller. That he defeated his fiercest rival Rafael Nadal, whose story was just as heartwarming as he won through to the decider despite enduring severe injury woes himself, made the spectacle even more special.
"To have those two finals back-to-back - the Williams sisters' final wasn't a great game in the end but just the fact it happened was remarkable," Aly said.
"The next day you had Federer vs Nadal, which we thought would never happen. It was amazing for the fact that it happened then turned out to be possibly the greatest match ever played, certainly in a grand slam final.
"I happened to be there that night. It was one of the best things I have ever seen ... utterly remarkable and we need to bottle that moment.
"It was a moment where factors came together to produce something you can probably never replicate."
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