Here is the next part in this six-part series on the NRL’s most powerful clubs.
This week in the would-be Round 6 matches, we revisit three grand final victories by the Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos and Sydney Roosters, a high-scoring match from 2006 and a thrilling semi-final between the Rabbitohs and Dragons from 2018.
After weeks of speculation, it appears that the NRL season is set to resume on May 28, though the exact structure still remains unknown, with the chance that a revamped fixture, which would see every team face each other once, be implemented.
It also remains to be seen how the Cowboys, Broncos, Titans, Storm, Raiders and Warriors will enter New South Wales, with Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declaring that exemptions to leave her state would not be granted to her three state-based clubs (yet).
However, for the purpose of revisiting the vault I will stick to the original Round 6 fixture, and will continue to do so for subsequent rounds until the season resumes.
In the meantime, sit back and relax as we go down memory lane and revisit some of the classics from years past.
2017 NRL grand final: Storm 34 defeated Cowboys 6 at ANZ Stadium
It wasn’t that long ago that the Melbourne Storm were premiers of the NRL.
After a heartbreaking loss to the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in the previous year’s grand final, the Storm were on a mission to reclaim the last of the two premierships they had taken away from them as a result of salary cap breaches in 2010.
In the decider they faced the eighth-placed North Queensland Cowboys, who had defied the absences of both co-captains, Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston, to advance to their third grand final and second in three years.
Many will argue that this grand final match-up had come twelve months, or even a decade, late after the Cowboys had lost to the Sharks in the preliminary final the previous year while they were also upended by the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at the penultimate hurdle in 2007.
This was the third NRL grand final to feature two out-of-towners, after the Broncos beat the Storm in the 2006 decider and the Cowboys pipped the Broncos in the all-time classic that was the 2015 grand final.
The northerners had won three consecutive knock-out finals matches on the road, including beating the Sharks in overtime, but their miraculous run to the summit match would take its toll as they bore the brunt of a Storm side out for redemption.
On that note, the grand final got off to a disastrous start for the underdogs after Shaun Fensom broke his leg inside the first five minutes, causing play to be held up for over ten minutes.
Upon the resumption of play, the Storm scored first, through Josh Addo-Carr in the 20th minute, before further tries to Felise Kaufusi and Billy Slater saw them lead 18-0 at halftime to all but have the premiership under lock and key.
The Cowboys would peg back a try early in the second half through Te Maire Martin, who was brought to the club from the Penrith Panthers to cover for the injured Thurston, but that would be as good as it got for Paul Green’s side.
Another three tries to the Storm, including a second from Addo-Carr, saw them wrap up the 2017 premiership and complete a perfect weekend for Victoria on grand final weekend, after Richmond won the AFL flag the previous day by thrashing the Adelaide Crows in the grand final.
Slater won his second Clive Churchill Medal as the Storm cemented themselves as one of the most consistent sides of the decade. The crowd of 79,722 made it the least-attended grand final at ANZ Stadium since 2006, when 79,609 people showed up.
Round 11, 2009: Titans 18 defeated Sea Eagles 17 at Skilled Park
It took the Gold Coast Titans three-and-a-half seasons to register their first win over the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, and they broke their duck in rather controversial circumstances at Skilled Park close to halfway through the 2009 season.
The Sea Eagles were the reigning premiers but had endured a sloppy start to the season, losing their first four matches after fullback Brett Stewart was suspended by the NRL over sexual assault allegations which he would later be acquitted of.
But they were able to warm to their status as the defending premiers, and they arrived on the holiday strip sans Stewart seeking their fifth win of the season.
A close first half saw the scores locked at 10-all at halftime, before the Sea Eagles skipped ahead 16-10 thanks to reigning Dally M Medallist and captain Matt Orford. However, the Titans would strike back and level proceedings at 16-all with 15 minutes remaining.
Orford then appeared to win the game for the Sea Eagles with a field goal, only to be pinged for tripping Preston Campbell as he fielded a kick. The subsequent penalty goal to Scott Prince at the death saw the Titans escape with their first win over the Silvertails, winning 18-17.
The Titans would later complete their Grand Slam of beating every club in the NRL a fortnight later with its 28-24 win over the Dragons.
1997 Super League grand final: Broncos 26 defeated Sharks 8 at ANZ Stadium (Brisbane)
Many of you will be thinking that the Newcastle Knights won the 1997 premiership, which I recapped last week.
But while the Knights dominated the ARL competition, there was a second rugby league competition that ran parallel – the only Australian Super League season that would be dominated by the Brisbane Broncos.
The grand final, in which they would face the Cronulla Sharks, would differ to the ARL grand final in the fact that it was the first ever night-time grand final in Australian rugby league history, as well as the first to be held outside of Sydney.
The Broncos went into the decider as favourites and justified their tag, winning 26-8 but not without a scare from a Cronulla Sharks side that were attempting to win its first title in their third grand final, after losses to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in 1973 and 1978.
With a side fielding up-and-comers in Darren Lockyer, Gorden Tallis and Shane Webcke among others, the home side led 10-2 at halftime, though the first try did not come until the final ten minutes of the first half, when Steve Renouf scored after Mat Rogers failed to field a bomb from Allan Langer.
The Sharks were first to score in the second half, when Russell Richardson pounced on a clanger from Wendell Sailor to score their only try of the match, reducing the deficit to 10-8. That would be as close as the Sharks got to the Broncos in the match.
Wayne Bennett’s side would finish the job thereafter, with Renouf scoring another two tries and Michael Hancock also scoring to give the match its final scoreline of 26-8, ensuring the Broncos finished the season undefeated at home.
The crowd for the grand final totalled 58,912 – a record for any event in Brisbane since the city hosted the 1982 Commonwealth Games.
In the immediate aftermath of the Super League and ARL seasons, the National Rugby League – owned jointly by the ARL and News Limited – was formed, and Australian rugby league would not face another crisis of any magnitude until the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The first three NRL grand finals were played in daylight, before the 2001 decider became the first in a unified competition to be played under lights.
Round 2, 2006: Knights 70 defeated Raiders 32 at Canberra Stadium
After a horror run with injuries saw the Newcastle Knights claim their first wooden spoon in 2005, only four years after conquering league’s Mount Everest, the Novocastrians had high hopes of a resurgence in 2006.
With a fit Andrew Johns back on deck, the Knights defeated the Eels 25-6 in their opening round match, and headed to Canberra where they faced the Raiders, who had also won their opening match of the season, 27-14 over the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval.
In summery weather conditions at Canberra Stadium, the importance of Johns in the Knights team was highlighted with his side scoring twelve tries for a total of 70 points, with the mercurial halfback scoring 30 of them from eleven conversions and two tries, and creating four tries in just seven minutes.
George Carmont and Kurt Gidley both scored two tries as the Knights racked up their highest ever score, surpassing the 60 points they scored against the Cowboys in Townsville in 2003.
As for the Raiders, Phil Graham and debutant William Zillman both scored doubles, but it was a day the Green Machine would rather forget as they conceded the highest score in their history.
Worse came for the Raiders the following week, when they leaked 56 points against the Roosters at Aussie Stadium just seven days later.
The Knights finished the season as the joint-highest scoring team in the NRL with the Bulldogs, both sides scoring 608 points across the regular season.
2002 NRL grand final: Roosters 30 defeated Warriors 8 at Telstra Stadium
For the older rugby league historians and fans, the 2002 season will be best known for the Bulldogs’ salary cap breach, which saw the club stripped of 37 competition points and sentenced to finish the year as wooden spooners for the first time since 1964.
This enabled the New Zealand Warriors to become the first foreign team in an Australian sports league (discounting the Super Rugby where there are multiple foreign teams) to claim the minor premiership, and eventually advance to its first NRL grand final in their eighth season.
In the big dance, they would face the Sydney Roosters, who hadn’t won a premiership since 1975 and had lost two grand finals in the intervention, the second one just as recently as 2000.
The evening got off to a disastrous start, where a pre-match performance by Billy Idol had to be aborted due to a power outage.
When play got underway, both teams tested each other physically, with the first score not coming until the 23rd minute when Shannon Hegarty scored for the Roosters.
A successful conversion from Craig Fitzgibbon, followed after by an Ivan Cleary penalty goal for the Warriors, saw the scoreline read 6-2 in favour of the men from Bondi Junction at halftime.
Following the resumption of play, the Warriors would score a try through captain Stacey Jones, and the successful conversion from Ivan Cleary saw the Kiwis take an 8-6 lead. At that point, they were daring to dream.
But the Chooks, led brilliantly by Brad Fittler and with up-and-comers such as Anthony Minichiello and Justin Hodges in their side, would score the final four tries of the match without reply to romp to a 30-8 victory, ending a 27-year premiership drought in the process.
The Warriors would return to the big dance nine years later, in 2011, but again they would be unsuccessful, losing to the Sea Eagles 24-10. The Roosters, meanwhile, would win a further three premierships, making them the most successful side of the 21st century.
Two of those titles also came on the date of 6 October – in 2013 (beating the Sea Eagles) and 2019 (beating the Raiders).
2009 First preliminary final: Eels 22 defeated Bulldogs 12 at ANZ Stadium
After languishing in third-last place on the ladder after Round 18 in 2009, the thought of the Parramatta Eels making the grand final, let alone September, was next to impossible.
A run of seven straight wins, however, would see the Eels rocket up to eighth on the ladder, where they would finish at the end of the regular season.
In their first final they would face the Dragons at Kogarah Oval, where they had been blanked 37-0 in the final round of the regular season. However, they would turn the tables on the minor premiers with a stunning 25-12 victory, with Jarryd Hayne the architect.
They then beat the Gold Coast Titans for the first time, 27-2, to book a preliminary final berth for the third time in five years, where they would face the Bulldogs, who twelve months earlier had claimed its first performance-based wooden spoon since 1964.
Though the men from Belmore started favourites, the Eels, once again led by Dally M Medallist Hayne would claim an upset 22-12 victory to advance to their first grand final since 2001.
Hayne was reported for sliding his knees into Bulldogs winger Bryson Goodwin in the first half, but the match review panel graded it lowly enough for him to avoid suspension, clearing him to play in the decider.
Captain Nathan Cayless also suffered a hamstring injury, but passed a fitness test to ensure he could take his place in the grand final. He, Luke Burt and Nathan Hindmarsh were the only survivors from the side that were ambushed by the Newcastle Knights eight years earlier.
The Eels later ended up losing to the Melbourne Storm 23-16, a result that later angered long-suffering Eels fans after it was revealed that the Storm had breached the salary cap over the course of the 2006-09 seasons.
2018 Second Semi Final: Rabbitohs 13 defeated Dragons 12 at ANZ Stadium
We only have to rewind the clock back by two years to revisit the thrilling semi-final between the Rabbitohs and Dragons at ANZ Stadium.
It was billed as a promoter’s dream after the Bunnies had lost their qualifying final against the Melbourne Storm by 29-28, while the Dragons thrashed the Brisbane Broncos 48-18 at Suncorp Stadium to set up their first finals meeting since 1984*.
Quite appropriately, this match was played on September 15 – a date that has a place in the hearts of many Australians as it was the day the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics was held at the stadium.
And it seemed only appropriately that the Bunnies – the club Cathy Freeman supports – won it by 13-12, eighteen years to the day after she famously lit the Olympic torch, marking the beginning of two weeks of celebration in the Harbour City.
The Dragons went into the match minus captain Gareth Widdop, who had suffered a recurrence of a shoulder injury he suffered a few weeks prior in the win over the Broncos.
But they would turn up for the occasion, with Ben Hunt scoring their lone try in the first half to see his side lead 8-2 at the main break.
That was later extended to 10-2 when Zac Lomax, whose girlfriend Jessica Sergis plays for the Dragons in the NRL Women’s competition and marked her 21st birthday by starring in their 22-10 win over the Warriors earlier in the day, potted a penalty goal in the 53rd minute.
Not long after, Adam Reynolds scored the Bunnies’ only try and then with just over ten minutes to go, the scores were locked at 10-all.
He then potted over a field goal to put his side ahead 11-10 after Ben Hunt had missed a field goal attempt for the Red V.
But the Dragons would sneak back ahead 12-11 after Lomax potted over another penalty goal with four minutes remaining, and the Bunnies stared down the barrel of a straight-sets exit.
Enter Reynolds, again.
Another field goal saw the scores tied at 12-all, and after the Dragons butchered their final set with the ball, Reynolds would kick his third field goal at the death to see his side home 13-12, sending them through to the preliminary final.
NOTE: The St George Dragons defeated the Rabbitohs 24-6 in the 1984 semi-final, though this was their first finals meeting since the St George/Illawarra merger came into effect in 1999.
Round 8, 2004: Panthers 22 defeated Wests Tigers 20 at Penrith Stadium
Early in the 2004 season we were treated to the battle of the felines when reigning premiers the Penrith Panthers welcomed the Wests Tigers to Penrith Stadium on a Friday night at the end of April.
There were two major subplots to this match – the first was the return to the foot of the mountains of Scott Sattler, who had featured in the Panthers’ 2003 premiership win but was later forced out of the club due to salary cap constraints, subsequently linking with the Tigers.
The second was the fact that John Skandalis created a second piece of history for the Wests Tigers – after scoring their first ever try in a 24-all draw against the Brisbane Broncos in their inaugural match in 2000, he was to become the joint venture’s first centurion.
The Tigers were first to score through John Wilson, but a double to Amos Roberts, the second coming after he evaded a tackle attempt by Sattler similar to his try-saver on Todd Byrne in the 2003 decider, saw the Panthers lead 16-10 at halftime.
After having two tries disallowed, Joe Galuvao, who would later feature in the Sea Eagles’ 2011 premiership alongside Rodney Howe, scored 15 minutes into the second half to give his side a 20-10 lead, and the conversion from Ryan Girdler would push their lead out to 22-10.
Sattler was then booked for a high tackle on Panthers halfback Craig Gower, and when debutant Luke Duffy scored in the final five minutes, the Tigers trailed by 22-20.
Scott Prince, in his first year at the club, then had the chance to force extra time but his conversion attempt would be waved away, seeing the Tigers fall short of what would’ve been an upset victory.