With the 2020 rugby league season only one week away, I thought it might be interesting to list my top five Grand Finals of all time. How did I rank the games? Let’s go through each selection with a short explanation.
1. Penrith Panthers 19 def Canberra Raiders 12 (1991). Even if you’re not a Panthers fan this game was an absolute cracker. A close scoreline throughout the match, the sin-binning of firebrand Mark Geyer, a terrific try saving tackle from Mal Meninga, a try double to retiring Penrith hooker Royce Simmons and a clutch field goal by Brandy Alexander made this Grand Final compelling viewing. The fact that it was also Penrith’s maiden premiership after 25 years made the victory that much sweeter.
2. Penrith Panthers 18 def Sydney Roosters 6 (2003). From the cellar to the penthouse in 12 months, Penrith defeating the 2002 Premiers was quite simply a modern day coaching miracle. Panthers coach John Lang had to bite his fingernails for the majority of the match as both sides traded blows on a wet and windy night. The Roosters were no pushovers and they fought hard but some individual pieces of brilliance by Scott Sattler, we all know what he did, and hooker Luke Priddis (Clive Churchill winner) in the end proved the difference.
3. Canberra Raiders 19 def Balmain Tigers 14 (1989). The first Grand Final to go into extra time was one for the ages. It literally had everything. Tigers hooker Benny Elias’ field goal bouncing off the uprights and Raiders forward Steve Jackson coming off the bench and then busting tackle after tackle to score the match winning try, being two of them. Let’s also not forget Balmain coach Warren Ryan benching gun forwards Steve Roach and Paul Sironen just before extra time. Enough said!
4. Newcastle Knights 22 def Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 16 (1997). Now this match will be long remembered for Knights winger Darren Albert scoring the premiership winning try with only seconds left on the clock. However there’s no doubt the hero of the game was 23-year-old halfback Andrew Johns who set up that memorable try and played champagne football despite coming into the game with broken ribs and a punctured lung.
5. North Queensland Cowboys 17 def Brisbane Broncos 16 (2015). The game was close throughout but it really came to life when the Cowboys scored an equalising try by Kyle Feldt in the corner with the full-time buzzer going off in the background. Jonathan Thurston’s agonising failed conversion to win the game was matched only minutes later when Broncos half Ben Hunt dropped the ball from the kick off in extra time. One minute later Thurston would not be denied and he nailed the premiership winning field goal from right in front.