BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Since its opening in 1988, the Sydney Football Stadium has played backdrop to some of rugby league’s greatest moments and matches. Ironically, the two clubs that called it home longer than anyone else will see the old girl out.
The ground is set to be demolished later this year meaning this weekend’s preliminary final blockbuster between the game’s biggest rivals will be the last match to played on its hallowed turf. The Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs – one last time.
All good things must come to an end and despite its fair share of detractors in recent seasons, we should never forget all the great games the former home of rugby league has given us.
But how do you separate the very best from hundreds and hundreds of matches?
Grand finals, State of Origin, Test matches, Anzac Days, semi-finals?
Here’s the top 10 greatest games ever played at the Sydney Football Stadium.
10: Sydney City versus Brisbane, 1996
Monday Night Football came back into fashion in a big way in 1996 with some bumper crowds and classic finishes. And you didn’t get much bigger than the powerhouse Broncos coming to town back in the ‘90’s. Ivan Cleary kicked the winning penalty goal for the Roosters after Broncos prop Andrew Gee decided to take a tap kick restart late in the game. The big fella got it wrong.
9: Balmain versus Canterbury, 1988 Grand Final
The first grand final to be played at the SFS saw the Bulldogs and the fairytale Tigers go head-to-head. Inspirational Canterbury half and captain Steve Mortimer started from the bench after breaking his arm. Balmain supporters will still remember Canterbury’s treatment of their star import Ellery Hanley who was rubbed out of the game early after a dubious tackle from Bulldogs five-eigth Terry Lamb. The Tigers would return for another shot at glory the following season but it wasn’t to be. Mortimer would finish in possession in his final appearance for the Dogs.
8: Sydney City versus Newcastle, 2000 Preliminary Final
Andrew Johns and his Knights are still wondering what the hell happened, eighteen years after one of the most eventual preliminary finals in recent history. The Knights held a 16-2 lead at the break with Johns sledging Roosters players, including Brad Fittler and Luke Ricketson, as they went up the tunnel at half-time. Sydney City had other ideas, storming home to beat a shell shocked Newcastle outfit.
7: St George Illawarra versus Sydney, 2012 Anzac Day
These annual matches are always tense but this one went mad back in 2012 when Ben Creagh crashed over in the final stages to earn the Dragons victory. The Roosters held the lead for most of the afternoon until the Saints came marching in with two tries in the space of four minutes.
6: Penrith versus Canberra, 1991 Grand Final
One of the best known grand finals comes from the ’91 season where the Panthers clinched their maiden title defeating a star-studded Raiders team full of Internationals and State of Origin stars. Panthers veteran Royce Simmons was the hero, scoring two tries in his last ever match for his beloved Panthers.
5: New South Wales versus Queensland, 1994 State of Origin
“That’s not a try, that’s a miracle!”. Those famous words from the legendary Ray Warren still send chills down the spines of New South Welshmen the state over. With time running out, the Maroons began a sequence of play from deep in their own half. What came next was incredible. From one side of the field to the other, QLD surged. The Blues desperately scrambled but the Maroons kept it alive eventually scoring in the north eastern corner of the SFS.
4: Parramatta versus Canterbury, 1998 Preliminary Final
Legend has it hundreds of disappointed Bulldogs fans were halfway to Central Station when they heard Canterbury were making an almighty comeback against foes Parramatta and began running back to the SFS. The Eels led 18-6 well into the second half and could smell a grand final appearance. Then the Bulldogs clicked sending the game into extra-time. By then, Parramatta were shot with the Doggies romping home 32-20.
3: Sydney versus Wests Tigers, 2010 Qualifying Final
This match had everything. Wests Tigers supporters still can’t believe it. Somehow, with no time left in regulation, Roosters captain Braith Anasta snapped a field goal, moving the match into golden point. But they wouldn’t have got there without Dally M winner Todd Carney who was masterful in the second half. In the 100th minute, Wests Tigers forward Liam Fulton lobbed a ball across field only to see Shaun Kenny-Dowall intercept it and streak 60 metres to win the game.
2: Newcastle versus Manly, 1997 Grand Final
There is something magical about the underdog overcoming the empire in sport. The underdog in this case were the working class people of Newcastle and their Knights. The empire? The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles who were at the height of their powers. We all know how it ends but it doesn’t make it any less exciting. Not just one of rugby league’s greatest moments, but one of Australia’s.
1: Canberra versus Balmain, 1989 Grand Final
Sorry Balmain fans but Canberra’s epic extra-time victory in ’89 takes out top spot. So many individual moments, so many big plays, so many superstars. But in the end, it all came down to the incredible will of unlikely Raiders prop Steve Jackson who stole the grand final for the Raiders.