Set of six: The best Queensland Cup grand finals

Lee Oliver Roar Rookie

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    Footy fans will witness history at Suncorp Stadium on September 24 when the Papua New Guinea Hunters contest the grand final of Queensland’s statewide rugby league competition, for the first time.

    The Hunters have been a revelation since entering the competition in 2014, attracting crowds of 20,000-plus passionate fans to home games in Port Moresby.

    Papua New Guinea Hunters, the Minor Premiers, will take on Sunshine Coast Falcons in the grand final. After winning only nine games between 2011 and 2014, the Falcons are now flying high. Sunshine Coast last won the premiership in their only grand final appearance in 2009, with a side featuring Trent Hodkinson and Tony Williams.

    Rated the world’s second or third best rugby league competition – depending on one’s opinion of the English Super League – the Queensland Cup started in 1996. Here’s a ‘set of six’ best grand finals of the Queensland Cup, now known as the Intrust Super Cup, over the past 21 years:

    1996 – Toowoomba Clydesdales 8 defeated Redcliffe Dolphins 6 at Suncorp Stadium
    How can a two-try grand final be considered one of the best and most exciting? When the defence of both sides is to be marvelled.

    Toowoomba edged Redcliffe in the grand final of the inaugural Queensland Cup competition, a game featuring multiple breathtaking try-saving tackles. It took 50 minutes for the first try to be scored by Toowoomba’s Shawn Lawson then Mark Shipway, who would later play for North Queensland and Manly in the NRL, got Redcliffe back in the match when he scooted down the right sideline to score with 10 minutes left.

    Redcliffe, featuring future Cronulla and Queensland forward Danny Nutley, looked certain to win when halfback Peter Robinson slipped through a gap but Toowoomba second-rower Kyle Warren made a desperate tackle, the ball spilling loose 30cm from the try line.

    Desperate goal-line Clydesdales defence denied the Dolphins again, Cameron Hurren dropping the ball over the line while struggling in a four-man tackle.

    2001 – Toowoomba Clydesdales 28 defeated Redcliffe Dolphins 26 at Dolphin Oval
    The first of three straight grand finals played at Dolphin Oval while Suncorp Stadium was being renovated, this ten-try thriller was a rematch of the 2000 final. Redcliffe got off to a dream start when Jason Webber scored a try after 45 seconds, the Dolphins extending to 10-0 after nine minutes.

    Toowoomba, featuring young Brisbane Broncos players Brent Tate, Casey McGuire, Kirk Reynoldson, Nathan Friend and Michael Ryan and coached by Kevin Walters, fought back to lead 16-10.

    Scores were tied at halftime following a converted try by Redcliffe winger George Wilson. The teams went try-for-try in the second half as the Dolphins looked to seal back-to-back titles in front of a bumper pro-Redcliffe crowd.

    Down 26-22, Toowoomba five-eighth McGuire scored a try next to the posts seconds before the fulltime siren sounded, Damien Quinn then kicking the premiership-winning conversion.

    2004 – Burleigh Bears 22 defeated Easts Tigers 18 at Suncorp Stadium
    The longest grand final in Queensland Cup-Intrust Super Cup history, going deep into extra time. Burleigh started the game in dream fashion, scoring 12 points in as many minutes, before going on to lead 16-6 halftime.

    Former Brisbane Broncos, Queensland and Australian centre Steve Renouf, who along with Darren Smith was playing his final game, crossed in the left corner for Easts soon after halftime.

    With his Burleigh side up 18-12 with 70 seconds remaining, Kris Flint missed a field goal attempt, giving Easts one last shot at scoring. With 30 seconds left, Easts flyer Steve Beattie gathered a short Dane Campbell chip kick and ran 40 metres to score in the corner.

    Campbell landed the pressure sideline conversion to send the grand final to extra time. After almost 20 minutes of extra time, Burleigh prop Shane O’Flanagan crashed over the try line to give the Gold Coast club their first premiership.

    2008 – Souths Logan Magpies 24 defeated Ipswich Jets 18 at North Ipswich Reserve
    Perennial cellar dwellers Souths Logan Magpies won its first premiership since 1985, when coach Wayne Bennett had Mal Meninga and Gary Belcher in his backline. Played in hot conditions at Ipswich, the underdog Magpies side dominated the first half and the Jets, coached by Glenn Lazarus, flew high in the second period.

    Unanswered tries to Cy Lasslock, McKanah Gibson and Matt Templeman put the Magpies up 18-0 at halftime. Ipswich’s Michael Ryan scored five minutes after the break, and then Donald Malone wrestled to ground the ball.

    When ex-Brisbane Broncos hooker Ian Lacey put prop Aaron Sweeney into a gap to run 25 metres to the line, scores were 18-18 with a quarter of the game left. In the final play of the game, Souths Logan dummy-half Alby Talipeau ran down the blind side and passed to Kyle Lodge to crash over, prompting hundreds of delirious Magpies fans to run onto the field.

    2013 – Mackay Cutters 27 defeated Easts Tigers 20 at North Ipswich Reserve
    Two years before they led North Queensland to the 2015 NRL premiership, Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo guided Mackay Cutters to a maiden Intrust Super Cup title.

    The pair starred in a game which featured future stars Kalifa Faifai Loa, Anthony Mitchell (Mackay), Cody Walker, Tim Glasby and Kenny Bromwich (Easts), as Mackay became the 11th side in 18 seasons to win in its first grand final appearance. Easts led 8-0 before Morgan, playing in the centres, set up Mackay’s first two tries.

    The teams went try for try to be tied at 14-14 with 17 minutes left, before Morgan turned the game in the Cutters’ favour. He scooped up the ball following an Easts knock-on on halfway and sprinted 50 metres to score just inside the corner post.

    Scores were 20-20 following a converted try to Easts forward Mitch Garbutt. Described by the game’s television commentator as “110kg of muscle who moves like John Travolta on the dance floor”, Taumalolo dragged three Easts defenders 10 metres to set up Matt Minto to land a decisive field goal.

    2015 – Ipswich Jets 32 defeated Townsville Blackhawks 20 at Suncorp Stadium
    Townsville qualified for the grand final in their maiden season in the Intrust Super Cup. However, having lost two previous grand finals, Ipswich weren’t to be denied a first premiership under the revolutionary ‘attack at all costs’ coaching of Shane and Ben Walker.

    In a game featuring tries from scrum set plays, one from an epic brain explosion and stunning length-of-the-field attacks, Townsville scored first after two minutes through Tom Humble but Ipswich took control.

    The Jets led by 16 points before the Blackhawks fought back to trail 26-20 with six minutes left. The pick of the tries was Ipswich’s first. Down 4-0 on the second tackle and 10 metres out from their try line, the Jets spread the ball wide to Marmin Barba, who sprinted 80 metres to set up Dane Phillips.

    Proving it wasn’t a fluke, the following weekend Ben Barba’s brother sped past four Newcastle Knights defenders in a 95-metre run to the try line in the State Championship final in Sydney.

    Honourable mention
    2007 – Tweed Heads Seagulls 28 defeated Redcliffe Dolphins 18 at Suncorp Stadium

    Newcomers Tweed Heads played Redcliffe, the most successful team in Queensland Cup history and chasing a sixth title in 11 seasons.

    It’s a grand final remembered not as much by the quality of the contest, but rather by the quality of the match-sealing tries. After Nick Emmett scored for Redcliffe to trail 18-12, speedy Tweed Heads fullback Shannon Walker scored two decisive and scintillating tries in four minutes late in the match.

    First he stepped past four tacklers to score his first try, then he retrieved a Redcliffe chip-kick 20 metres out from his own try line. The future Australian rugby sevens star beat kicker Michael Roberts, sped past two diving defenders and then outran two cover defenders.

    The grand final saw Tweed Heads coach Troy McCarthy, the former Gold Coast Seagulls player, beat Redcliffe’s Anthony Griffin, current Penrith Panthers coach.