‘We didn’t get much rub of the green tonight.’
With the NRL season wrapping up this weekend, it’s about time for a definitive ranking of the great rugby league grand final contests – that I’ve been to, at least.
Balmain versus Canberra in 1989? I’ve heard it’s good, but I can’t say I was there – or that I was even alive.
A penalty try to decide the 1999 season? Exciting, sure, but was I in the grandstand? No.
The 2015 grand final? I have no memory of any NRL grand final taking place that year, but I must assume the Broncos didn’t waste a whole season and derail the club’s next several years by missing one last tackle.
You can’t really experience the rush and atmosphere of a grand final if you’re not there yourself. So here it is, the final, conclusive and irrefutable ranking of rugby league’s big dances (for which I was in the crowd)!
6. 2017 Toowoomba Rugby League: Dalby Diehards 48 defeated Pittsworth Danes 4
Pittsworth were the defending premiers and put in a valiant effort to make it the season’s concluding encounter. However, on the day they were blown away by Dalby. You’d always rather a tight contest in a grand final, but you can’t dispute a team sealing their premiership with a demolition.
5. 2016 Queensland Cup: Burleigh Bears 26 defeated Redcliffe Dolphins 16
This was my first time at the Queensland Cup decider! It was back when they were held at the strangely desolate Lang Park with the crowd all on the western side of the stands. I don’t particularly have strong feelings about these teams, but I Burleigh well enough and it was good to see them get the win.
4. 2018 Toowoomba Rugby League: Valleys Roosters 24 defeated Wattles Warriors 22
This game was held at the Toowoomba Brothers ground, not Toowoomba’s main stadium, so the country appeal of local footy was even greater than usual. Valleys ran away with a lead, but Wattles clawed their way back in a real seesawing match. A golden reminder that some of the best footy you’ll see isn’t on TV but rather out there in your community.
3. 2019 Toowoomba Rugby League: Valleys Roosters 24 defeated Warwick Cowboys 16
A lot of Toowoomba content in this list, I’ll admit that. But in the Toowoomba Rugby League’s centenary year it was fitting that a foundation club came out on top. This match was also fitting of a grand final with exciting tries, solid defence and moments of magic. Valleys always felt on top and the final score reflected proceedings well.
2. 2016 Toowoomba Rugby League: Pittsworth Danes 18 defeated Warwick Cowboys 12
Not only was I present, but I was also lucky enough to film this game. Sometimes when filming footy you can’t really focus on what’s happening; you just follow the ball. But this match was edge-of-your-seat stuff, with the result still in doubt until the very final moments. Warwick put one last attacking raid down Pittsworth’s right edge but were bravely held out. Holding on for one last tackle with the grand final in the balance – what an idea!
1. 2007 NRL: Melbourne Storm 34 defeated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 8
My first and as yet only NRL grand final experience! What better way to start than with a Manly loss and a Melbourne win (even if it is part of the asterisk years). Greg Inglis, briefly a five-eighth but always a god, was in full flight this night. He glided across the field among mere mortals and the stadium hummed with electricity.