Revisiting 2005 when Wests Tigers won the NRL Grand Final

Since its inception in 1998, the NRL has seen 12 different winners with Sydney Roosters the most successful with four titles.

Wests Tigers have claimed the biggest prize in Australian and New Zealand rugby once – in 2005 – when they became the first joint venture side to lift the trophy.

Love Rugby League has decided to go back in time and revisit that historic day…

Potential mergers

The 1997 season saw 22 teams take part but this would be cut to 14 teams for the 2000 campaign, with $6m guaranteed for teams.

Two Sydney-based clubs, Balmain and Western Suburbs were interested in merging with Parramatta and Canterbury respectively in order to secure their place.

However, they saw them as takeover bids and eventually decided to merge with each other with their club name coming from their Western Suburbs nickname and a tiger being the Balmain mascot.

Balmain coach Wayne Pearce was appointed coach as the Tigers finished their inaugural season in 10th position.

They improved steadily over the coming campaigns, just missing out on a 2004 finals spot when they lost their final three matches.

Regular season

With Tim Sheens now in his third season, the Tigers had hopes of a maiden finals spot with signings such as Pat Richards and Brett Hodgson coming off impressive first years.

They had a disappointing first half of the season with five wins and seven losses where they struggled to string a run of victories together and suffered four consecutive defeats from rounds six to nine.

They were in the bottom half of the table despite wins over Newcastle and Canberra stopping the rot when everything clicked.

A previously inconsistent side, Wests produced eight consecutive victories, a new club record, and guaranteed a maiden top four finish and finals appearance with a round 23 win over North Queensland.

Finals series

Despite losing their final two games, the Tigers finished fourth meaning they would face the fifth-placed Cowboys.

In a performance worth waiting five years for, Sheens’ men thrashed North Queensland 50-6 with full-back Hodgson scoring 30 points with a hat-trick of tries and nine goals.

Six-time premiers Brisbane were up next in the semi-final but, again, Wests were impressive in winning 34-6 with star half-backs Scott Prince and Benji Marshall both crossing.

The second-placed Dragons stood between them and the Grand Final but the run continued as the Tigers edged it 20-12 – ensuring there would be a rematch with the Cowboys on the biggest stage.

Grand Final

The Cowboys were also in their first final after they bounced back from their week one humbling.

Their run saw a 24-16 victory over Melbourne followed by an outstanding 29-0 triumph over minor premiers Parramatta.

North Queensland struck first in the showpiece event when full-back Matt Bowen collected a loose pass to cross after just eight minutes.

The free-scoring Tigers hit back though to lead 18-10 at the break after tries from Bryce Gibbs and Richards.

The latter was a doubt to play after suffering an ankle injury against St George Illawarra but impressively finished one of the greatest Grand Final tries when he collected Marshall’s stunning flick pass after the half-back’s break from his own half.

It was a fitting way for the wing to mark his final Tigers game before he moved to Wigan Warriors, with 26 tries in 39 matches for the joint-venture club.

They extended their lead soon after the restart through Anthony Laffranchi – only for Travis Norton to cut the deficit to 18-12.

Daniel Fitzhenry pushed the lead out further with Matt Sing’s late try a mere consolation before Todd Payten slid over in the final minute with Hodgson’s conversion sealing a 30-16 triumph.

Wests: Hodgson; Fitzhenry, Elford, Whatuira, Richards; Marshall, Prince; Laffranchi, Farah, Skandalis, Galea, O’Neill, Halatau. Subs: Fulton, Heighington, Gibbs, Payten.

North Queensland: Bowen; Williams, Hannay, Bowman, Sing; Smith, Thurston; Rahihi, Payne, Tronc, Southern, O’Donnell, Norton. Subs: Firman, Faiumu, Sargent, Jensen.

Post-final disappointment

Due to their win Wests qualified for the 2006 World Club Challenge where they played Super League champions Bradford.

With the departure of Richards and injuries ruling out Marshall and Payten, they were brushed aside 30-10 by the Bulls.

The 2006 season was a disappointing one with the Tigers finishing 11th, hampered by lengthy injuries to Marshall and Hodgson. However, they will never forget the 2005 season when they achieved their dream. 

By Sam Harris

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