BY CURTIS WOODWARD
One competition finishes and another one begins. Welcome to the NRL Finals for 2019. Only eight teams remain. This is the business end. Where dreams are made and shattered in the blink of an eye. A click of the fingers.
On Friday night, rugby league’s oldest rivalry adds another chapter. Then on Saturday, Canberra travel to Melbourne for a ‘southern derby’ and old foes Manly and Cronulla clash again at Brookvale. We then finish on Sunday at the Bankwest Stadium cauldron – Parramatta and the Brisbane Broncos.
Let’s take a look at each grudge match and some of their greatest encounters.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS VERSUS SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Both teams were missing their stars who were away on the historic first Kangaroo Tour to Great Britain. South Sydney nabbed the first try of the game through flying winger Leo Senior before Easts hit back with a brilliant 80-metre effort via Horrie Miller. Souths took a one-point lead into the break and held on for a 14-12 win.
Rugby league’s most quarrelsome neighbours clashed in the final of 1923. Souths legend Benny Wearing kickstarted the final with the opening try before Eastern Suburbs hit back through centre Les Steel. Both sides traded penalty goals with Easts taking a narrow lead into half-time. Wearing, with a try and a couple of goals to his name already, dived on a loose ball for South Sydney’s next three pointer. Easts captain Harry Caples jagged one back before Wearing kicked another goal to tie it up. As the match neared its end, Caples crossed again to hand Easts a classic 15-12 win.
ROUND 22, 1968
The defending premiers South Sydney prepared for a final round blockbuster against Easts who just so happened to be one of three sides just a competition point behind the Redfern boys. 40,000 fans packed into the Sydney Cricket Ground to see the Tricolours lead 22-19 late in the contest. It appeared Jack Gibson’s (first stint as Roosters coach) team would get home before Rabbitohs five-eigth Denis Pittard dashed over for his second try. The crowd watched on as Souths champion Eric Simms kicked the conversion and hand Souths the minor premiership.
MELBOURNE STORM VERSUS CANBERRA RAIDERS
ROUND 24, 1998
The Storm hosted the Raiders in the final round of the season. A Melbourne win would see them host a home final in their maiden year. Halfback Brett Kimmorley scored a try and kicked two goals in front of the club’s second biggest crowd of the season to date to see the Storm sneak home 16-12.
ROUND 8, 2013
The outspoken Blake Ferguson had a night to remember as the Raiders travelled to AAMI Park and came away with the premiership points. Ferguson, playing in the centres, scored 16 points as the Green Machine won 24-20.
PRELIMINARY FINAL, 2016
Raiders fans are still shaking their heads…what could have been? The Storm clinched a nail-biting 14-12 victory to book their place in the grand final against the Sharks but what if Raiders winger Edrick Lee just held that pass?
MANLY SEA EAGLES VERSUS CRONULLA SHARKS
1973 GRAND FINAL
Easily one of the toughest games of rugby league ever played. The difference in the end would be future Immortal, Manly legend Bobby Fulton. Twice referee Keith Page called in both sides for mass warnings. Fulton scored two tries as the Sea Eagles won 10-7.
1978 GRAND FINAL
Five years later, Manly and Cronulla were at it again at the SCG. The Sharks appeared in the box seat as the second half ticked over, leading 9-4 before the mighty Sea Eagles fired back to inch ahead by two. Sharks star Steve Rogers converted a penalty goal to make it 11-all. The sides couldn’t be separated from there and forced to come back three days later where Manly won the replay 16-0.
Both sides were missing stars in Brett Stewart and Todd Carney respectively. Manly jumped to an 8-0 lead early and headed to the sheds 14-6 up. Eagles winger Jorge Taufua scored another one early in the second stanza and Cronulla’s hopes seemed dashed. The Sharks however clawed their way back to within six but a late Paul Gallen try was disallowed and Manly moved on to the next week of the finals.
PARRAMATTA EELS VERSUS BRISBANE BRONCOS
ROUND 3, 1993
It was a huge day in early 1993 as the premiers Brisbane opened up their new stadium at QEII Stadium in front of over 50,000 fans against the lowly Eels. Unheralded Parramatta centre Michael Buettner crashed over late in the game to give the Eels a shock 12-8 win.
PRELIMINARY FINAL, 2000
The rivalry between career coaches Brian Smith and Wayne Bennett was at fever pitch by the turn of the century as the Eels faced up to the powerhouse Broncos in one of the preliminary finals in season 2000. Brisbane shot out to an early lead with tries to Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis before the Eels dragged them back with meat pies to Luke Burt and Jason Moodie. The unlikely Brad Thorn scored the match-winner with five minutes to play to send Parramatta off to Mad Monday.
ROUND 12, 2008
Broncos legend Darren Lockyer and young winger Denan Kemp combined for one of the most amazing match-winning tries in rugby league history at Suncorp Stadium. With the scores locked at 26 and the siren sounding, Lockyer took a loose ball and scrambled across field, kicking expertly across field for a flying Kemp who exploded for the try line on a thirty metre run.