Canberra Raiders legend Mal Meninga

As we get closer and closer to the NRL’s premier event, we take a look at what could be seen as ten of the greatest Grand Finals in Australian rugby league history in the last 30 years.

Canberra Raiders vs Balmain Tigers,1989, 19-14 Raiders.

We start off with undoubtedly one of greatest Grand Finals outside the NRL era.

A game that saw Canberra overcome a 10 point deficit in the second half.

The final itself featured some of the biggest names in the business with Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley and Glenn Lazarus featuring for Canberra.

Then Wayne Pearce, Steve Roach, Ben Elias and Paul Sironen forming one of the most formidable forward packs of the 1980s for Balmain.

A back and forth game saw the Tigers almost wrap up the game on two occasions in the second half but Mal Meninga’s ankle tap tackle and an error from Balmain captain Wayne Pearce kept the score at 12-8.

Balmain Tigers legend Wayne Pearce

A big turning point in the game proved to be the Tigers’ decision to replace Roach with Kevin Hardwick as the former did not take to kindly to it.

So, with that the complexity of the whole game completely changed.

With 90 seconds left, John Ferguson stepped up to the plate with a last ditch try under the posts after a Chris O’Sullivan bomb and a Daley palm back to the Raiders winger.

The Canberra momentum became too much to handle for the Tigers in extra time as a miraculous try from Steve Jackson secured their first ever major premiership. 

Newcastle Knights vs Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles,1997, 22-16 Knights

A bit of a controversial pick as this Final was one of two in 1997 due to the Super League War that made its presence felt on the league throughout the year.

However, that being said, the 1997 ARL Grand Final between Newcastle and Manly-Warringah was the most notable out of the two.

Newcastle Knights legend and NRL Immortal Andrew Johns

The match itself was headlined by the intense rivalry between the Knight’s Paul Harragon and the Sea Eagles’ Mark Carroll.

Within the first minutes of the game, Carroll reacted to a late shot from Harragon on Geoff Toovey.

After trailing 16-8 at half time, the Knights stepped up their game with Andrew Johns showing his magical qualities to stage a remarkable comeback.

Manly Sea Eagles legend Cliff Lyons

A brace of tries from Robbie O’Davies and a last second try from Darren Albert were enough to break the hearts of Sea Eagles fans everywhere and inject euphoria into the hearts of Novocastrians around.

Melbourne Storm vs St. George Illawarra Dragons,1999, 20-18 Storm

In recent history, it has been a very rare occurrence where the Storm have come into any Grand Final and been considered an outsider.

However, in the lead up to 1999 edition, they were just that.

St George Illawarra Dragons legend Nathan Blacklock

For half of the game, it seemed like the Dragons were having it all their own way as they went into half time leading 14-0 but succumbed to a great deal of pressure from Glenn Lazarus and Melbourne.

The Victorian based side were able to conjure a sense of momentum to bring themselves within four points before forcing St. George to a goal line dropout with three minutes to go.

The game clinching moment came after a spout of madness from the Dragons.

In the process of anticipating a Melbourne try, Jamie Ainscough caught Craig Smith with a high shot in a tackle over the try line and in the process knocked the winger unconscious.

Former Melbourne Storm prop Robbie Kearns

A video review, a penalty try and a kick in front of the posts later and the Storm clinched their first premiership and became the quickest expansion team to secure premiership honours. 

Wests Tigers vs North Queensland Cowboys, 2005 34-16 Tigers

A 34-16 scoreline in favour of the Tigers may not hold much in terms of being dubbed one of the best Grand Finals, but it will be a game in which we were able to witness the making and true magic of Benji Marshall.

Wests Tigers club legend Benji Marshall holding the premiership trophy

The game was all square nearing half time but in undoubtedly the best moment of the game, Marshall would showcase a profound level of skill.

A genius flick pass to set up Pat Richards for the go ahead try had everyone with their jaws gaping.

Former North Queensland Cowboys fullback Matt ‘Mango’ Bowen

In the end, it would be more than enough as a trio of tries in the second half saw Tim Sheens’ men claim the win in spectacular fashion.

North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos, 2015 17-16 Cowboys

There is no question that there is a great deal of debate about what could be considered the greatest Grand Final of all time but the 2015 final certainly has a strong case for itself.

A game that was full of twists and turns saw Johnathan Thurston finally claim the big one with the Cowboys after a thrilling golden point win over Brisbane.

North Queensland Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston

The closing minutes saw a try from Kyle Feldt from Michael Morgan’s great run and this looked to be enough to secure the win in normal time.

However, Thurston’s difficult sideline conversion would hit the woodwork and take the game to extras at 16-16.

 Thurston’s missed conversion would not be the biggest moment of the game as during the resulting restart from JT, Broncos halfback Ben Hunt entered his name into NRL Grand Final folklore in the worst kind of way.

Former Brisbane Broncos hooker Ben Hunt

A dropped catch, placing the Cowboys in great field position.

A drop goal from Thurston not long later and an NRL crown was his and North Queensland’s after 10 long years.

Newcastle Knights vs Parramatta Eels,, 2001 30-24 Knights

Now, this game may not have been as memorable as the 1997 version featuring the Knights but it was still a game that was seemingly one for the neutral fans out there.

Former Newcastle Knights player Billy Peden

The Eels came into this game as the league leaders but were on the wrong end of 24-0 scoreline as a brace of tries from Bill Peden and efforts from both Steve Simpson and Ben Kennedy put the Knights up big by half time.

But in the second half, things definitely got interesting as for a short time, Parramatta looked to produce one of the most thrilling comebacks to sport had seen.

Former Parramatta Eels centre Jamie Lyon

After 64 minutes, Newcastle led 28-6 but in a wild 15 minutes the Eels duo of Brett Hodgson and Jamie Lyon scored a pair of tries to set up a grandstand finish.

However, it was not to be, as the Novacastrians secured their first title since 1997.

Cronulla Sharks vs Melbourne Storm, 2016 14-12 Sharks

A fairy-tale ending for the Sharks as for the first time in their 50 year history, they were able to secure NRL honours with a gutsy and gritty display.

After winning 17 consecutive games during the season, Cronulla produced an astounding effort defensively to reign in Melbourne.

Cronulla Sharks legend Paul Gallen

The Sharks led 8-0 at half time and for a while in the second half, the Storm looked like they were going to romp home to another major premiership when they came back to lead 12-8.

However, the hearts of Cronulla players were not to be denied as a barnstorming try from Andrew Fifita under the posts put them up 14-12.

Melbourne Storm prop Jesse Bromwich

In the most nervy of endings, Melbourne found themselves 10 metres away from a last second win but the Cronulla defence stood resolute, sparking huge celebrations.

Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters, 2003 18-6 Penrith

A tough and well organised display from table toppers Penrith was the focal point in this game and will be remembered for a try saving tackle that will live long in the memory. 

The Roosters were the reigning champions but struggled to get any foothold throughout the game.

Former Sydney Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello

In a game dominated by some great defence, the first points were scored by the half hour mark as Luke Priddis sent through Luke Rooney to put Penrith up 6-0.

The Tricolours fought back not long into the second half with a try from Shane Hegarty to make it 6-6.

They then looked to go ahead as Todd Byrne made a break down the line before Scott Sattler pulled off a miraculous covering tackle to stop an almost certain try for Sydney.

The now famous 2005 grand final Scott Sattler tackle

It was a moment that seemingly rejuvenated Penrith as an epic display from Luke Priddis accumulated with a try and another try assist to Rooney to hand the Panthers an 18-6 win.

Penrith Panthers vs Canberra Raiders, 1991 19-12 Penrith

The Canberra/Penrith rivalry was renewed once again as both teams met in the 1991 NSWRL Grand Final.

This came after facing each in the 1990 edition of the Australian rugby league’s showpiece event.

Canberra Raiders legend Laurie Daley

The Raiders may have claimed their second consecutive title that year but the Panthers were able to exact some revenge this time around with a well structured and tense 19-12 win.

The green machine led 12-6 with Penrith struggling for scoring opportunities until the game flipped on its head.

Former Penrith Panthers player Greg Alexander

A Brad Izzard try and Greg Alexander conversion levelled the game before a Alexander drop goal and Royce Simmons gifted the Panthers their first ever premiership.

Sydney Roosters vs Manly Sea Eagles, 2013 26-18 Roosters

There is no question by the time the final whistle blew on this game that it certainly entered the history books as one of the great Grand Finals of the NRL era.

The Roosters and Sea Eagles stand as two of the most formidable sides of the 2000s but the 2013 Grand Final would be the first time the two teams met in Australia’s premier showcase since 1972.

Former Manly Sea Eagles centre Steve Matai

A closely fought first half  saw the Chooks go in with a slight upper hand as they led 8-6 but from then, the shackles would be unleashed by both sides.

The Sea Eagles stepped up a gear with a penalty try and and a Steve Matai try to lead 18-8 with only 30 minutes to go.

Former Sydney Roosters centre Michael Jennings

However, there was more to come from the Roosters, as tries from Aidan Guerra and Shaun Kenny-Dowall put them ahead.

Michael Jennings then showed pure instinct and finishing ability to collect a kick from James Maloney to collect another try and secure another Tricolours title. 

What do you think of our list? Did we miss any out? Let us know your thoughts. 


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