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Which side is the ultimate NRL champion for the last 20 years?

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Roar Guru
17th July, 2020

My last two articles have been purely opinion-based. Now, I wanted to offer an article in which the crowd had the say on it all.

I wanted to challenge myself and find out which premiership-winning side has been the best side since 2000.

I looked through every premiership-winning side. I looked at their season win-loss column, how they travelled throughout the rounds, and how they performed altogether during the season.

I have come across five standout sides in that time frame. I want to put up for debate just who was the best?

My basis for choosing these five teams? The best records, if they had the minor premiership or not, and if there was a tiebreaker between a few sides, how strong their season’s for-and-against was.

Special consideration to the 2011 Manly side who will not be in this debate. They did finish with a strong 18-6 record (the same record as a few of the teams in discussion), however they did not win the minor premiership that season, so they were omitted.


Understand the basis of this article now? Alright. Let’s pitch the teams, a quick season recap, the side they won the grand final with, and then let the fans go nuts in the comment section.

Team 1: 2000 Brisbane Broncos
Played 26, won 18, lost six
This Brisbane side was absolutely stacked. Their achievements stand by those statements, as they went on to win the minor premiership and never dropped from first position after Round 4. Captained by Kevin Walters and coached by Wayne Bennett, their side on grand final day was:
1. Darren Lockyer
2. Lote Tuqiri
3. Tonie Carroll
4. Michael De Vere
5. Wendell Sailor
6. Ben Ikin
7. Kevin Walters (c)
8. Shane Webcke
9. Luke Priddis
10. Dane Carlaw
11. Gorden Tallis
12. Brad Thorn
13. Kevin Campion
14. Shaun Berrigan
15. Ashley Harrison
16. Michael Hancock
17. Harvey Howard

Gorden Tallis of the Broncos fends off the tackle of Steven Witt of the Knights

(Photo by Jonathan Wood/Getty Images)

Team 2: 2003 Penrith Panthers
Played 24, won 18, lost six
The champions from the foot of the mountains went on to win the minor premiership that year, and beat the Sydney Roosters in a great grand final match. They finished the season with the season’s top try scorer, in Rhys Wesser. Captained by Craig Gower and coached by John Lang, their side on grand final day was:
1. Rhys Wesser
2. Luke Lewis
3. Paul Whatuira
4. Ryan Girdler
5. Luke Rooney
6. Preston Campbell
7. Craig Gower (c)
8. Joel Clinton
9. Luke Priddis
10. Martin Lang
11. Joe Galuvao
12. Tony Puletua
13. Scott Sattler
14. Ben Ross
15. Trent Waterhouse
16. Shane Rodney
17. Luke Swain

Joe Galuvao #11, Scott Sattler #13 and Rhys Wesser #1 of the Panthers celebrate victory during the NRL Grand Final between the Sydney Roosters and the Penrith Panthers at Telstra Stadium October 5, 2003 in Sydney, Australia. Penrith won 18-6.

(Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Team 3: 2004 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Played 24, won 19, lost five
They are the only team on this list not to win the minor premiership, as they lost it to the Roosters, based on for-and-against. Their record, however, is too good not to let them be in the conversation. Given they would have thought they were due to win it in seasons past, only to be cut short due to salary cap dramas, they were hell bent on winning this one. When you boast a bench of a future New Zealand captain, the possible greatest halfback of all time and a bloke named Sonny Bill Williams, you know you’re going to compete! Captained by Steve Price (although he did not play due to injury) and coached by Steve Folkes, their side on grand final day was:
1. Luke Patten
2. Hazem El Masri
3. Ben Harris
4. Willie Tonga
5. Matt Utai
6. Braith Anasta
7. Brent Sherwin
8. Mark O’Meley
9. Adam Perry
10. Willie Mason (wearing 11)
11. Reni Maitua (wearing 14)
12. Andrew Ryan (captain on the day)
13. Tony Grimaldi
14. Corey Hughes (wearing 15)
15. Roy Asotasi (wearing 16)
16. Sonny Bill Williams (wearing 17)
17. Johnathan Thurston (wearing 18)

Sonny Bill Williams

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Team 4: 2013 Sydney Roosters
Played 24, won 18, lost six
They ushered in a new wave of dominance, with rookie coach Trent Robinson. They also bought in some huge names in the off-season, namely James Maloney, Michael Jennings and Sonny Bill Williams. The dominant side all season long, they won the minor premiership and began the phrase ‘The Bondi Wall’, due to their stifling defence. Captained by Anthony Minichiello and coached by Trent Robinson, their side on grand final day was:
1. Anthony Minichiello (c)
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Michael Jennings
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
6. James Maloney
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend
10. Sam Moa
11. Aidan Guerra
12. Sonny Bill Williams
13. Boyd Cordner
14. Frank-Paul Nuuausala
15. Daniel Mortimer
16. Mitchell Aubusson
17. Luke O’Donnell

Sydney Roosters hardman Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

(Matt King/Getty Images)

Team 5: 2017 Melbourne Storm
Played 24, won 20, lost four
Coming off an upsetting loss in 2016’s grand final, the Storm came in with red-hot form. Not only did they storm their way to the minor premiership, they also topped the ladder from Round 8 onwards. Over the entire 26 rounds, they only did not lead the competition for five rounds – topping for a total of 21 rounds. That’s the best season record out of the five sides. Captained by Cameron Smith and coached by Craig Bellamy, their side on grand final day was:
1. Billy Slater
2. Suliasi Vunivalu
3. Will Chambers
4. Curtis Scott
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Cameron Munster
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith (c)
10. Jordan McLean
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Tohu Harris
13. Dale Finucane
14. Kenny Bromwich
15. Tim Glasby
16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
17. Slade Griffin

Cam Munster

(Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

There you have it. The five sides I believe to be the best of the best. Now it’s your say, which side of these five is the ultimate champion?

For my own personal opinion, I marvel at both the teams on paper for the 2000 and 2004 champions. The 2003 side from memory seemed to be a perfect Cinderella story for a franchise that needed it, and more recently, the 2013 and 2017 sides were the best by a mile from 2010 onwards.

I will make a strong call and say if I had to pick one side, I would go with the 2017 Storm side, followed very closely on the heels by the 2000 Brisbane side. I would not debate anyone picking any other side, obviously!

What say you?