I found this article the other day. The most important stories in the NRL this year concerned things like the arrival of the Independent Commission, the departure of chief executive David Gallop and the completion of the TV rights deal. But do you know what? They aren't the stories that had people fired up and fulminating to mates at the pub, in the schoolyard or walking home from the footy. These were the six biggest stories people cared about in 2012: 1. Refs The sun is hot, rain is wet and league fans whinge about refs. The officials have a tough job and they are soft targets, but there is no way to avoid the fact that in 2012 they had a collective shocker. Were two refs too many or too few? Were touch judges useful or, as Johnathan Thurston claimed, little more than glorified fans? Were video refs watching the same replays as the rest of us? The season began with a howler that handed the Tigers victory over the Sharks. In a process that would become tiresome as the year drew on, the wash-up of that match saw coaching recriminations, the referees' bosses confessing an error was made, and a whistle-blower stood down for the following week. But things did not improve. The outcome of the Origin series hinged on some iffy calls, most notably Greg Inglis' try in game one. Kieran 'Maradona' Foran knocked on to help Manly knock the Cowboys out of the finals. The following week Billy Slater was awarded a try when he lost the ball over the line against Manly. And so on and so on. Our hope for 2013 is that the benefit of the doubt will be given to the defending team rather than the attacking team â€“ and that we can talk more about football and less about refereeing blues. 2. Dog bites James Graham had a great season for the Bulldogs, playing 26 matches after arriving from St Helens and proving himself one of the best ball-playing forwards in the sport. However, he will be forever remembered for his ugly attack on Slater in the grand final. During a scuffle outside the field of play the burly Brit grabbed Slater and appeared to bite his left ear, before holding him on the ground and punching him several times in the head. Slater complained of the bite to referee Tony Archer who showed the alleged bite mark, leaking blood, to the other officials. Despite a perplexing plea of not guilty (given the clear evidence) Graham was suspended for 12 matches. Worse than the injury to Slater's ear was the damage inflicted on the sport's image. 3. Flying fullbacks Has there ever been a crop of fullbacks better than the current custodians at NRL level? The excitement machines in No.1 provided highlight after highlight in 2012. Leading the charge was Ben Barba who had 22 tries and 23 try assists in a Dally M-winning season. Even smaller than the diminutive Bulldog but every bit as skilful is Matt Bowen, who defied dodgy knees to put in one of his best seasons with 13 tries and an amazing 26 try assists. Most pundits continue to rate Melbourne's superstar Slater as the best in his position, and he was outstanding at either end of the season despite enduring a posterior cruciate injury mid-year. Others argue that the great Greg Inglis is now ahead of Slater as a fullback. Manly's Brett Stewart scored another 14 tries. Canberra fans laud Josh Dugan, Jarryd Hayne has his admirers, and one-time Golden Boot winner Anthony Minichiello is still giving strong service to the Chooks. These blokes are why people go to games. 4. Melbourne's redemption The strong message from the Storm sheds after the grand final was that past history was not relevant to this premiership victory. They tried to get us to believe that they had moved on from being stripped of two titles, and that this grand final triumph was just like any other. But we didn't believe them. After being vilified by sporting fans across the country in recent years, Melbourne showed grit and class as it returned to the top. Whether Storm people admit it or not, this was a story of redemption for the former pariahs. 5. Dessie and Manly Never before has a premiership-winning coach split from his club in such acrimonious circumstances as Des Hasler's departure from Brookvale. He played 256 games for the Sea Eagles and coached them 206 times. He was as closely aligned to Manly as Bill Lawry is to Victoria. Then it all went pear-shaped. He signed to coach the Bulldogs in 2013 but was sacked by Manly for what it called 'serious breaches'. He was accused of trying to poach players and staff from his former club. The hurt and hatred runs deep; after the grand final former Manly owner Max Delmege wrote on Facebook, "I feel I have to say this: Des Hasler, if you had not been so greedy and self-opinionated, you would be coach of the premiers again tonightâ€¦ the Manly Sea Eagles. The players, staff and myself gave you all of the support, both personally and financially, to the best of what the present-day environment could afford. Obviously this was not enough." What a soap opera. 6. Terrible Tigers No team promised more and delivered less than Wests Tigers. The pre-season flag favourites were gifted the game in round one via a refereeing blunder then lost their next five matches. Their season was all but over before the end of April. There were rumours of discontent over the offloading of Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita to make room for the arrival of Adam Blair. Robbie Farah had a heated television interview with Matthew Johns, denying that he had a rift with Benji Marshall. Tim Sheens went from being a master coach to a media punching bag. All year the talented Tiges looked like a team that did not care and lacked heart. Off the field there was drama around former player Ben Elias' involvement in a controversial club-related property development. At the end of the year popular clubmen Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington went to join Gibbs and Fifita at the Sharks, excellent big man Gareth Ellis returned to England and Sheens had to withstand several board meetings before being relieved of the top job.