2002 NRL season
|2002 National Rugby League|
|Premiers||Sydney (12th title)|
|Minor premiers||New Zealand (1st title)|
|Points scored||9083 (total)
48.058 (per match)
14,054 (per match)
|Top point scorer(s)||Hazem El Masri (254)|
|Top try scorer(s)||Nigel Vagana (23)|
The 2002 NRL season was the 95th season of professional rugby league football in Australia and the fifth to be run by the National Rugby League. The New Zealand Warriors won their first minor premiership and made it to the grand final for the first time, playing against foundation club the Sydney Roosters who won the match and collected their first premiership in 27 years.
Season summary 
The legendary Broncos and Maroons halfback, Allan Langer, returned from England to play his final season of professional football with the Brisbane club. In doing so he became the NRL's oldest player for the 2002 season at 36 years and 60 days.
The return of South Sydney 
Following the club's departure from the NRL after the 1999 season, there was a continuing push from both fans and the wider rugby league community to reinstate the South Sydney Rabbitohs into the NRL competition. After two unsuccessful years of lobbying, South Sydney finally received a court ruling in their favour in 2001. On 15 March 2002, the Rabbitohs opened the NRL season with a home match against long-time rivals, the Sydney Roosters, losing badly, 40-6.
It turned out to be a tough year for the Rabbitohs, winning only 5 matches from 24 played.
The salary cap breach 
In mid-2002, the Bulldogs were found guilty of serious and systemic breaches of the salary cap. NRL Chief Executive David Gallop described the violation as "exceptional in both its size and its deliberate and ongoing nature". The club received a $500,000 fine, and was stripped of 37 of its 41 competition points accumulated up to Round 23. The latter action was particularly harmful, as the club were poised to take the Minor Premiership and had won 17 consecutive matches (the second highest in Australian club rugby league history at the time). The deduction of the 37 competition points meant that the Bulldogs would win the wooden spoon, as the South Sydney Rabbitohs had already accumulated 12 competition points by the end of Round 24.
The deduction of the Bulldogs' points also enabled the Canberra Raiders to make the finals with a points differential of -170, the poorest such record of any finalist in the competition's history, and the Raiders only won one game outside of Canberra for the entire season. It also enabled the New Zealand Warriors to secure their first minor premiership in the club's history.
As in the previous season, there was no big budget season launch advertising campaign. The NRL focussed on stretching its marketing spending throughout the season with newspaper ads promoting individual rounds and clubs, and with simple TV ads to promote key games.
Records and statistics 
- Canterbury Bulldogs won 17 games in a row and had an unbeaten run of 18 games, the most in the club's history.
- Canterbury Bulldogs were deducted 37 premiership points for a gross salary cap breaches, the most points deducted in premiership history. That left the club with just four competition points attained from the two byes earlier in the season. Four more competition points followed since the salary cap scandal, all from wins in the last two rounds of the season.
- New Zealand Warriors won the club's first Minor Premiership in its 8-year history and also made it to their first Grand Final. The Warriors were not in first place almost during the entire season, only taking top spot on the ladder at the conclusion of Round 26.
- John Hopoate ran 3,976 metres with the ball in 2002, more than any other player in the competition.
The Warriors received A$100,000 prize money for finishing the regular season as minor premiers.
|7||St George Illawarra||24||9||3||12||2||632||546||+86||25|
1Canterbury were deducted 37 premiership points due to gross salary cap breaches.
Ladder progression 
- Numbers highlighted in green indicate that the team finished the round inside the top 8.
- Numbers highlighted in blue indicates the team finished first on the ladder in that round.
- Numbers highlighted in red indicates the team finished in last place on the ladder in that round
- Underlined numbers indicate that the team had a bye during that round.
|7||St. George Illawarra||0||2||2||4||5||5||5||5||6||8||10||10||10||11||13||15||15||15||17||19||19||19||21||23||23||25|
Finals series 
To decide the grand finalists from the top eight finishing teams, the NRL adopts the McIntyre Final Eight System.
Coincidentally, the finalists for 2002 were almost the same as the previous season, with the exception of the Bulldogs being replaced by Canberra. Had the Bulldogs not been deducted competition points, they would have become the minor premiers and completed the replication, with Canberra moving down to 9th.
|Qualifying Finals||Semi Finals||Preliminary Finals||Grand Final|
|2||Newcastle Knights||22||4W||St. George-Illawarra||24||Cronulla Sharks||10|
|7||St. George-Illawarra||26||2L||Cronulla Sharks||40||NZ Warriors||8|
|3||Brisbane Broncos||24||2W||Brisbane Broncos||12|
|6||Parramatta Eels||14||3W||Sydney Roosters||38||Sydney Roosters||16|
Grand final 
In the 23rd minute, Sydney opened the scoring with a try to Shannon Hegarty with Craig Fitzgibbon converting taking Sydney to a 6-0 lead. Not long after, Ivan Cleary got New Zealand on the board with a penalty goal making the score 6-2, which remained that scoreline until halftime.
In the 46th minute, New Zealand took the lead for the first time through a Stacey Jones try and an Ivan Cleary conversion taking the scoreline to 8-6. Approaching the 60th minute, Sydney regained the lead with Craig Wing scoring the try and Craig Fitgibbon converting another to make the score 12-8 after a spectacular 40/20 kick from Sydney captain Brad Fittler. In the last 15 minutes Craig Fitzgibbon, Chris Flannery and Bryan Fletcher scored tries for Sydney with Craig Fizgibbon converting all three to take Sydney to a 30-8 win. By winning the grand final the Roosters also received $400,000 in prize money.
|8||New Zealand Warriors|
Half Time: 6 – 2
Referee: Bill Harrigan
Venue: Telstra Stadium, Sydney
23rd Minute: Sydney 6-0 (Hegarty try; Fitzgibbon goal)
29th Minute: Sydney 6-2 (Cleary goal)
46th Minute: New Zealand 8-6 (Jones try; Cleary goal)
58th Minute: Sydney 12-8 (Wing try; Fitzgibbon goal)
65th Minute: Sydney 18-8 (Fitzgibbon try; Fitzgibbon goal)
71st Minute: Sydney 24-8 (Flannery try; Fitzgibbon goal)
75th Minute: Sydney 30-8 (Fletcher try; Fitzgibbon goal)
- Toohey, Barry (2 February 2011). "Still some bite in old Mad Dog". The Daily Telegraph (Australia: News Limited). Retrieved 2 February 2011.
- Tunnah, Helen (2002-08-24). "Rugby League: 37 nails in Bulldogs' kennel". The New Zealand Herald. APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
- Proszenko, Adrian (6 May 2012). "Gallen set to smash record". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
- NZPA (2002-10-05). "Sorry guys, the cheque's not in the mail". nzherald.co.nz (APN Holdings NZ Limited). Retrieved 2009-12-04.
Further reading 
- NRL official website
- RLeague.com 2002 NRL Draw and Results
- Blood, guts and Rooster glory - Sydney Morning Herald match report
- 2002 NRL Grand Final at sportsphotography.net