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Opinion

The greatest grand finalists of the 1970s

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Roar Guru
25th October, 2021
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This is the third article in a series where I’ll name who were the best players to play in a grand final in each decade, focusing this time on the 1970s.

The criteria I have used are:
• The player must have actually played in at least one grand final, or grand final replay, in the decade in question.
• A player is only considered for selection in one decade, even if he played in grand finals in more than one decade.
• The player’s form in the decade is taken into account.

Twelve teams played in the competition in the 1970s, but only seven played in a grand final at some point.

Manly were the decade’s most dominant team, winning four premierships. Interestingly, both the 1977 and 1978 grand finals resulted in draws and were then decided by grand final replays.

In the 1970s:
• Manly won four premierships and were runners up once.
• St George won two premierships and were runners up twice.
• Eastern Suburbs won two premierships and were runners up once.
• South Sydney won two premierships.
• Cronulla, Canterbury and Parramatta were each runners up twice.

Penrith, Newtown, Western Suburbs, North Sydney, and Balmain all failed to reach a grand final.

There were some wonderful players running around in the 1970s, and here’s my pick of the best of the best who made it to the biggest game of the year. All references to grand finals played relate only to this decade.

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Fullback: Graham Eadie (Manly)
He was an outstanding fullback who played in four winning grand finals.

Souths’ Eric Simms unluckily misses out.

Wingers: Ray Branighan (South Sydney and Manly) and Bill Mullins (Eastern Suburbs)
Branighan had a sensational start to the decade, playing in the first four grand finals, two for Souths followed by two for Manly, and he won all four.

Mullins was a powerful weapon who appeared in three grand finals, winning two of them.

Other wingers in contention were the Manly pair of Tom Mooney and Ken Irvine and Canterbury’s Chris Anderson.

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Centres: Steve Rogers (Cronulla) and Paul Sait (South Sydney)
Rogers was an outstanding player who played in two losing grand finals, while Sait was a skillful and tough competitor who played in two grand finals, winning both.

Other contenders were the classy Eastern Suburbs’ pairing of John Brass and Mark Harris.

Five-eighth: John Peard (Eastern Suburbs and Parramatta)
The classy Peard won two grand finals for Easts and then lost two with Parramatta, and takes this position in a tight finish with Manly’s Ian Martin and Allan Thompson, and Denis Pittard from South Sydney.

Generic vintage rugby league or rugby union ball

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Halfback: Johnny Mayes (Eastern Suburbs and Manly)
It’s hard to go past Mayes, who won three grand finals on the trot, one with Manly followed by two with Eastern Suburbs. He was a prolific try scorer.

Souths’ Bob Grant was unlucky, as were Saints’ Billy Smith and Cronulla’s Tommy Bishop, who were both outplayed by Mayes in their grand final match-ups. Canterbury’s Steve Mortimer was about to explode in the 1980s.

Lock: Malcolm Reilly (Manly)
The best English player to win a premiership in Australia, Reilly won two grand finals and beats off a strong challenge from Parramatta’s Ray Price.

Second row: Rod Reddy (St George) and Terry Randall (Manly)
Rod Reddy won two grand finals and was one of the best and roughest forwards in the game.

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Terry Randall was just as frightening and won four grand finals from as many starts. Others in contention were Souths’ Gary Stevens and Cronulla’s Ken Maddison.

Front row: John Sattler (South Sydney) and John O’Neill (South Sydney and Manly)
I can’t go past these two hard men, who were among the best front rowers to play the game.

Souths legend John Sattler led his team to two grand final wins and was well supported by John O’Neill, who then switched to Manly for another two wins for a total of four premierships on the trot.

Hooker: Max Krilich (Manly)
In an era of great hookers, when they had to actually work for a living, two-time grand final winner and Test player Max Krilich wins out over fellow Manly player Fred Jones, Souths hard man George Piggins, Parramatta weapon Ron Hilditch and Steve Edge from St George.

Reserves

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George Peponis (Canterbury)
He was a great hooker and leader who played in one grand final.

Gary Stevens (South Sydney)
He was one of the best defenders in the game who played in two grand finals.

Bill Hamilton (Manly)
He was a giant, hard-working front rower who played in three grand finals, winning two.

Craig Young (St George)
He was a big and skillful front rower who played in two winning grand finals.

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