WHEN it's all said and done, the 2020 NRL season will be remembered differently to any that came before it, or after it for that matter.
These are unprecedented times for professional sport, in this country and beyond. To see an NRL season started, then stopped, then started again is flat out bizarre.
Throw in the fact we're now going to resume with a shortened season, with new rules shifting a system that had been in place for the preceding 12 years.
The eventual 2020 premiers will do it tougher, and overcome more obstacles, than any champions of the modern era - asterisk? I think not.
The goal posts have shifted on the run. There's no question about that, but any suggestion there'll be an asterisk next to the season - that it'll be "less than" in any way is absurd.
The eventual premiers will do it tougher, and overcome more obstacles, than arguably any champions of the post-war era - certainly the NRL era.
Of course people will suggest as much, but the reality is you can place as asterisk next to just about any premiers. It usually just depends on who's spinning the yarn.
Look at the Knights 1997 crown*. That decider is rightly remembered as one of the great grand finals, but you can easily place an asterisk next to it.
That it was effectively half a competition is enough for that. People also point out that the 97 Super League Broncos were one of the best club sides ever assembled*.
Upsets happen in rugby league, the Knights win over Manly that day was one, but those Broncos were $1.10 against any opposition that year and pissed it in the following season in a unified competition.
If you look a little deeper, you can find the ARL competition* was rife with anomalies and peculiarities. It was a 12-team competition in which seven played finals.
The Gold Coast Chargers made it* with a 10-11 regular season record. The Knights progressed to the prelim final on a loss - a 27-12 'major qualifying final' defeat to the Sea Eagles.
Now, calm down Novocastrians, it's not simply an exercise in poo-pooing your 1997 premiership; it's just an illustration of the fact that you can poke holes in any title run or season if you look hard enough.
People do, but try telling 'Chief' Harragon that there was an asterisk next to it, or the thousands upon thousands of fans who lined the streets as the bus rolled out towards Sydney in arguably the greatest true rugby league city there is.*
Look at the flip-side. Those 97 Broncos cost a pretty petty. There's not so much an asterisk next to their premiership* as a dollar-sign. It's smaller, but there's one next to their 98 crown* to.
The 1997 split season is the obvious example but, even in unified competitions, things happen that draw title into question.
People still question whether the 2002 Roosters* would've beaten the salary-cap cheating Bulldogs that 20-3-1 that year. Should they? No. The Bulldogs were blatant cheats, but people still do.
Just last year, Melbourne 'celebrated' the 2007 and 2009 premierships* that were stripped. Ask any of those players, or Craig Bellamy, and you'll typically get he same answer "we know how hard we worked." No asterisk as far as they're concerned.
You also hear silly claims from Eels fans that they should have been awarded the 2009 premiership* (never mind the Storm beat the Sea Eagles and Broncos in that finals series as well).
The waters are murkier in the above examples but how history is recalled and recorded depends on who's telling the story.
If you come right up to last year people still think the Raiders were robbed by the botched 'six-again' howler. In reality the Roosters rolled with the good fortune and won their second straight GF.*
It's the same thing when factors affect the running of the competition, which brings us to the current season and some of the possible outcomes in the offing.
With the isolation rules in place, players had to go off after two rounds and keep themselves in shape for seven weeks with no guarantees they'd get back on the park at all.
It's hard to think of a bigger test of an individual's qualities, or the culture created by a club. Now they're coming back to new rules next to no prep time.
The season has been shortened, but it'll see all sides play 18 weeks straight, no rep rounds, no byes, no windows for recovery or resting players.
Even if a side takes the direct route to a grand final victory, they'll have played 21 games in 22 weeks, including 19 straight. Is that an easier or compromised path to the ultimate prize?
If the Roosters can come from 0-2 at the time the competition was halted and take a steeper road to the finals and win the decider, is that somehow worth less than their previous two?
If, through all the obstacles, Cameron Smith can lead Melbourne to a premiership with no Slater and no Cronk, at 37 years of age in his 18th season is their an asterisk next to that? To quote Cowboy Cerrone "Come'on maan."
The fact is people probably will, Smith's detractors in particular, but you can bet any team that hoists the trophy this year will cop the same thing.
You can almost hear it already: 'the season was short', 'they changed the refereeing mid-season' and whatever else they can come up with. Truth is, in any season, you can always find holes if you poke hard enough.
In reality, given all the disruptions and obstacles placed in front of players and clubs this season, the 2020 premiership* should be considered an even greater prize.
If anyone tries to suggest differently, it won't be hard to find the asterisk next to their argument.