Top 10 NRL moments of the last 20 years

Johnathan Thurston

The NRL is the pinnacle of club rugby league and since 2000 it has thrown up many memorable moments on and off the field and Love Rugby League chose 10 of the best. 

New Zealand Warriors reach their first finals – 2001 

Rebranded from the Auckland Warriors, the NRL’s only non-Australian team became the New Zealand Warriors in 2001. 

Tipped to struggle, the Warriors qualified for their first-ever finals series but finished in eighth place where highlights included a 29-18 win over runaway Minor Premiers Parramatta. 

They were in danger of missing out on the top-eight but four successive wins with three over fellow finals sides the Bulldogs, Sharks and Roosters got them back on track.

Their place was sealed with a point against the Storm in the penultimate regular season game but their finals series was brief, thrashed 56-12 by Parramatta in what was the biggest ever loss in finals history. 

Golden point introduced – 2003

Golden point was introduced as a concept in the 2003 NRL season as a way of deciding matches which are level at 80 minutes. 

If the scores are level at the end of 80 minutes, five minutes are played, the teams swap ends with no break, and a further 5 minutes are played. Any score (try, penalty goal, or field goal) in this 10-minute period secures a win for the scoring team, and the game ends at that point.

In finals matches, the golden point period is 20 minutes (10 minutes each way) and the first finals match was in fact also the 50th golden point match, ending in a 19-15 win for Sydney Roosters over Wests Tigers.

The maiden golden point was in June 2003 in a match between Manly and Parramatta which finished 34-34 after 80 minutes with Ben Walker slotting over the crucial penalty. 

In 2015, the only Grand Final to be settled in golden point, between the Broncos and Cowboys took place with Johnathan Thurston’s drop goal sealing a 17-16 victory for North Queensland. 

Of the 125 Golden Point matches to have been played, 14 remained a draw after the extra period with the first one coming between South Sydney Rabbitohs and North Queensland Cowboys in 2004. 

The best team in golden point is Canterbury with nine wins from 13 matches with Wests Tigers having the worst record with 14 losses from 19 matches. 

The Bulldogs have however played the least amount of golden point matches with Cronulla’s 20 matches the most. 

Queensland’s Origin dynasty starts – 2006

Coming into the 2006 Origin series, New South Wales were on a three-year winning streak and looking to become the first team to win four straight.

Both sides had new coaches with Graham Murray at the helm for the Blues and Mal Meninga taking over for the Maroons. 

Queensland also named seven debutants in game one including Greg Inglis, Matt Scott and Sam Thaiday. 

However, they lost the first match to a late Brett Finch drop goal but restored parity with a 30-6 thrashing in game two. 

Darren Lockyer inspired a Queensland turnaround in a 16-14 win as he collected a wayward Brett Hodgson pass to start a dynasty which saw the Maroons win eight consecutive series until 2013. 

New South Wales won at least one game every year except for 2010, also forcing a decider in five of the eight series. All five deciders were decided by 12 or fewer points.

Manly 40-0 Melbourne – 2008 Grand Final

In a repeat of the previous year’s showpiece, Manly faced Melbourne, the top two in the regular season. 

The Storm had won their last three matches against the Brookvale outfit including 34-8 in the 2007 Grand Final.

It was a cagey affair but tries in the final quarter of the first-half from Matt Ballin and Michael Robertson gave the Sea Eagles an 8-0 half-time lead, with Dally M winner Matt Orford failing to convert either. 

Two tries in three minutes from Robertson after the break effectively sealed the game, one of the only hat-tricks in a Grand Final. 

Brent Kite and David Williams also crossed as Manly were putting on a show before tries in their last games for the club for Steve Menzies and Steven Bell confirmed the biggest-ever Grand Final victory. 

It also remains the only time in the NRL era that a team was kept scoreless and was Manly’s first premiership since 1996. 

Roosters and Rabbitohs first finals meeting – 2014 

Despite being foundation clubs, the two arch rivals Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs had never met in a finals match until 2014.

They faced each other in the preliminary final with the Roosters aiming to go onto become the first team since 1992 and 1993 to win back-to-back titles while Souths were looking for their first Grand Final since 1971. 

The Roosters struck early through Mitchell Pearce and Anthony Minichello with James Maloney converting both as they led 12-0 after just 10 minutes.

Lote Tuqiri and Alex Johnston replied for Souths as the score was level at 14-14 at the break.

Tries after the restart from Ben Te’o and Greg Inglis made it 24 unanswered points for the Bunnies as they seemed set for the final. 

Another Inglis try and an Adam Reynolds drop goal sealed the victory before Aidan Guerra and Minichello added consolation scores but Souths triumphed 32-22. 

Cowboys finally win a Premiership – 2015

In one the best Grand Finals in recent memory, the Cowboys triumphed in the most dramatic circumstances to seal their first Premiership.

With one minute remaining and their dream slipping away, Michael Morgan drew three Brisbane players and fed winger Kyle Feldt to dive in at the corner and level the scores at 16-16. 

Legendary goal kicker Johnathan Thurston had the chance to seal a maiden title for North Queensland but saw his touchline conversion agonisingly hit the post. 

For the first time ever, the Grand Final would be decided in golden point, with Thurston slotting over a drop goal to seal a 17-16 win. 

Their opponents Brisbane Broncos had never lost a Grand Final and hit the front early through a Corey Oates try, converted by Corey Parker who also added a penalty.

However, the Cowboys replied swiftly through Justin O’Neill and led when James Tamou crashed over. 

The Broncos went into the sheds ahead though as Matt Gillett broke the line to put Jack Reed over which was converted by Jordan Kahu. A penalty extended the lead before the dramatic finale. 

Introduction of the bunker – 2016 

In 2016, the bunker was introduced in an effort to improve the accuracy, speed and transparency of in-game decision making.

An on-field referee will indicate to the review officials a live decision (try or no try) and communicate to the bunker what they would like reviewed.

Review officials will playback and review individual camera replays and verbally indicate decision considerations before the senior review official makes the final decision. 

Decision outcome (try or no try) will be displayed on the stadium video screen and into broadcast.

Sharks end their Grand Final drought – 2016

The 2016 Grand Final was contested by Melbourne and Cronulla, with the latter looking for their first-ever Premiership, having lost to Brisbane in their only previous final appearance in 1997. 

Ben Barba scored the opening try of the match with James Maloney converting, adding to his earlier penalty, as the Sharks kept their illustrious opponents scoreless in the first half.

However, the Storm hit the front after the break with tries from Jesse Bromwich and Will Chambers, both converted by the ever-reliable Cameron Smith.

Within minutes though, Shane Flanagan’s men regained the lead as prop Andrew Fifita bulldozed his way over with Maloney converting for a 16-14 lead with 10 minutes left. 

Cronulla held on to end a 52-year drought without a premiership. 

Bargaining agreement with RLPA – 2017

As CEO of the NRL, Todd Greenberg was tasked with discussions about equal partnership for players in the game and a 29.5% share of the revenue.

These talks between Greenberg and the Rugby League Players Association CEO Ian Prendergast ended in a historic $980m deal for NRL players – the biggest in the game’s history – a rise in the salary cap to $9.4m, an injury hardship fund and a top up of the minimum wage.

This included plans for 2022 such as the salary cap rising to $10m and the minimum wage increasing to $120,000 a year. 

Women’s NRL is formed – 2018

Shortly after the 2017 Women’s World Cup, it was announced that the inaugural NRL women’s season would begin in August 2018. 

It operated in a round robin format with some matches held as curtain-raisers to men’s matches including the Grand Final.

The founding teams of the league were chosen to be: Brisbane Broncos, New Zealand Warriors, St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters. 

Brisbane Broncos have won the Premiership in both years, beating the Dragons in the first final and Sydney Roosters in 2019. 

The 2020 campaign is expected to go ahead, with teams playing each other once as in 2018. 

By Sam Harris

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