Top 5 Grand Finals of the NRL Era

5. 2013 – Sydney Roosters vs Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Eleven years to the day that they had last tasted premiership success, the Sydney Roosters were back on top. Not that it was easy going. Three weeks after the Roosters had beaten the Manly Sea Eagles 4-0 in an epic qualifying final, the top two defensive teams of the season were back at it in the big one. The Sea Eagles opened the scoring early through Jorge Taufua, before the Roosters hit back when Daniel Tupou flew high above David Williams to touch down off a James Maloney bomb.

The Roosters took an 8-6 lead to half-time, however they quickly found themselves trailing when Jamie Lyon was controversially awarded a penalty try (the first in grand finals since 1999) after being tackled without the ball by Mitchell Aubusson. That clearly rattled the Roosters, who conceded again shortly after to Steve Matai. Aidan Guerra reduced the margin to four in the 56th minute, before the big guns of Sonny Bill Williams, Maloney, and captain Anthony Minichiello combined to send Shaun Kenny-Dowall (who played the final hour with a broken jaw) in for a controversial try to take back the lead. A freakish put-down by Michael Jennings off a Maloney grubber nine minutes from full time wrapped up the 26-18 win for the Roosters, giving Trent Robinson a premiership in his first season as coach.

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4. 1999 – Melbourne Storm vs St George Illawarra Dragons

The 1999 Grand Final is largely remembered for the decision to award Melbourne’s Craig Smith a penalty try in the dying minutes after he was hit high by Jamie Ainscough, winning a fairytale maiden premiership for the Melbourne Storm. There was a lot more to the game than just that though. St George Illawarra, competing in their first season as a joint venture, raced to a 14-0 half time lead thanks to tries to Craig Fitzgibbon and a classic against the run of play to Nathan Blacklock.

A knock-on over the tryline by Anthony Mundine, who had multiple players unmarked on his outside, proved to be the turning point, as the Storm reduced the Dragons’ lead to 18-14 late in the match. With less than five minutes on the clock, Clive Churchill Medallist Brett Kimmorley put a bomb towards the right-hand corner, where Smith took possession before being felled by Ainscough. Bill Harrigan called on video referee Chris Ward, who told him, “this will be the call of the millennium.” The penalty try was awarded, described by commentator Ray Warren as “one of the biggest calls ever been made in 100 years of rugby league.” Matt Geyer stepped up to kick the goal from in front of the posts and the Storm celebrated a premiership in front of a world record crowd of 107,999.

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3. 2005 – Wests Tigers vs North Queensland Cowboys

One of the great fairytales in rugby league history saw the Wests Tigers recover from 13th mid-season to qualify for their first grand final, while the North Queensland Cowboys enjoyed their best season since joining the league to join them in their first-ever decider.

Matthew Bowen opened the scoring for the Cowboys in the ninth minute, before Bryce Gibbs hit back for the Tigers. With scores locked at 6-all five minutes before half-time, talismanic Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall came up with the play of the day, stepping past the Cowboys’ kick chase before throwing an audacious flick pass to winger Pat Richards. Richards, who had been under an injury cloud before the game, fended Rod Jensen away to score one of the great grand final tries and give the Tigers a 12-6 half time lead.

The sides traded tries in the second half, however when Josh Hannay was unable to convert Matt Sing’s four-pointer in the dying minutes, the black, gold and white faithful knew they could begin to celebrate. A further try to Todd Payten on the siren pushed the margin out to 30-16.

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2. 2016 – Cronulla Sutherland Sharks vs Melbourne Storm

One of the most eagerly awaited grand finals of the modern era saw the Melbourne Storm return to the decider and take on a Cronulla side that hadn’t qualified for a grand final in a united competition since the grand final replay of 1978. The Sharks dominated the first half, but only had a brilliant try to Ben Barba from a scrum play (as well as two goals from James Maloney) to show for it, as the Storm defence repeatedly turned them away.

The Storm surged in the second half, scoring through Will Chambers and Jesse Bromwich to take the lead with 15 minutes remaining. The Sharks didn’t go away though, peppering the tryline before a barnstorming charge by Andrew Fifita saw him touch down under the posts with 10 minutes to play. The Storm fought back once again, with Chambers making a break inside the final three minutes, but failing to see an unmarked Cooper Cronk on his inside. Even with the siren sounding, the Storm continued to throw the ball around, however the Sharks held on, claiming the club’s first-ever premiership after 50 seasons in the competition, with skipper Paul Gallen famously declaring, “you can turn the porchlights off because we’re coming home with the trophy.”

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1. 2015 – North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos

Three weeks after the Broncos had beaten the Cowboys 16-12 in a classic qualifying final, the two sides were back at it. An early penalty goal, followed by a Corey Oates try from the kick-off, put Brisbane ahead 8-0; however the Cowboys snatched the lead mid-way through the first half thanks to a try from the scrum base to Jake Granville and a strong effort by James Tamou. An error by Johnathan Thurston allowed Jack Reed to score late in the half and give the Broncos a 14-12 lead at the break, which they pushed to 16-12 shortly after the resumption.

With the Cowboys hunting points, the Broncos turned to a defensive style, often kicking for touch instead of attacking. The Cowboys missed two opportunities to score – within four minutes of each other – when Kane Linnett dropped a pass from Thurston with the line wide open, before Lachlan Coote was penalised for a double movement. A crucial penalty for a lifting tackle against Ben Hunt in the 77th minute put the Cowboys deep on the attack, however the Broncos’ defence again turned them away. With just over a minute remaining, Anthony Milford made a line break to seemingly get the Broncos out of trouble, but had the ball knocked from his grasp. It was then picked up by Hunt, only for Kyle Feldt to strip it from him to give the Cowboys one final shot. Finally, on the very last play of the game, Thurston evaded the attempted tackles of Andrew McCullough and Adam Blair and linked with Michael Morgan, who flicked the ball away to Feldt to score in the corner with the siren sounding. Thurston’s attempted conversion cannoned into the right-hand upright, leaving the scores locked at 16-all.

There was further heartbreak for Hunt, dropping the kick-off and gifting the Cowboys a perfect attacking chance. Four tackles later, Thurston landed the field goal to kick the Cowboys into history.

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