10 of the Greatest Individual NRL Finals Performances of All Time
In the high-pressure, all-or-nothing cauldron of finals football, it often takes an extra special performance from one player to get a team over the line. September footy is littered with inspirational, brilliant displays that kept seasons alive and spearheaded premiership drives.
Last Sunday North Queensland duo Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo produced individual showings that are destined for finals folklore, getting the Cowboys home in extra-time against Cronulla.
Whittling down the gamut of unforgettable finals performances from 109 years of premiership football was a tough ask – but it’s hard to make a case against any of the 10 chosen here.
Some are merely one blinder among many from all-time greats such as Darren Lockyer, Graeme Langlands and Andrew Johns, while others – from the likes of Gary Coyne, Francis Meli and Dick Dunn – would prove to be career-defining.
10. Gary Coyne – Canberra v Manly, 1991
An underrated worker in the Canberra pack that powered the club to grand final victories in 1989-90, Queensland Origin second-rower Coyne had his name up in lights after the Raiders’ 34-26 win over Manly in a minor semi-final epic in ’91. Coyne scored four tries – a pair in each half – in the see-sawing clash, equalling the all-time finals record.
9. Graeme Langlands – St George v Parramatta, 1964
The 23-year-old fullback ‘Changa’ was the glittering star of St George’s 42-0 major semi-final destruction of Parramatta in 1964. Langlands raced over for three tries and landed nine goals from 12 attempts for a finals record 27 points – a mark which would still stand today if not for the increase in value of tries from three to four points.
8. Brett Hodgson – Wests Tigers v North Queensland, 2005
Lightweight fullback Hodgson broke Graeme Langlands’ 41-year-old finals record by racking up 30 points in the Tigers’ 50-6 qualifying final demolition of North Queensland in 2005. Hodgson scored three tries – including two half-field efforts – and kicked nine goals from nine attempts, while he went on to score a premiership record 58 points across the entire finals campaign.
7. Andrew Johns – Newcastle v Canterbury, 1998
Few players have deserved to be on a losing side less than the mercurial ‘Joey’ Johns when his depleted Newcastle outfit was run down by Canterbury during the ’98 finals. The inspirational halfback set up all three tries as the Knights opened up a 16-0 lead, and was outstanding in all facets of play until the final whistle – but he could not prevent a Bulldogs comeback and an eventual 28-16 extra-time loss.
6. Jarryd Hayne – Parramatta v St George Illawarra, 2009
Hayne lifted the Eels to the ’09 finals with an amazing sequence of individual displays that saw him carry off the Dally M Medal. The fullback was equally influential in Parramatta’s qualifying final upset of minor premiers St George Illawarra, hoisting a bomb for his side’s first try and making a long break in the lead-up to their second to craft a 12-8 halftime lead. Hayne was faultless at the back as the Eels clung to their advantage, before beating a horde of Dragons defenders on his way to one of the great finals tries, sealing the 25-12 win with three minutes to go.
5. Francis Meli – Warriors v Bulldogs, 2003
Meli was a blockbusting, but error-prone winger in the Warriors’ exhilarating line-up of the early-2000s. The 23-year-old powerhouse was the main beneficiary of the Auckland-based club’s stunning 48-22 thrashing of raging-hot favourites the Bulldogs on the 2003 qualifying final weekend, finding his way to the try-line a finals record five times. It was just the sixth haul of five tries in a first grade match since 1977, while it remains a Warriors club record.
4. Anthony Mundine – St George Illawarra v Cronulla, 1999
St George Illawarra trailed minor premiers Cronulla 8-0 at halftime of the preliminary final in their first season as a joint venture, but gifted five-eighth Mundine swung the match with a second half performance of rare virtuosity. He put the Dragons on the board with a fiercely determined close-range try in the 44th minute and outleaped Sharks fullback David Peachey to claim a Nathan Brown kick, pushing his side out to 12-8 in front 10 minutes later. Mundine then handled twice brilliantly to set up teenage fullback Luke Patten’s try, before sealing the 24-8 boilover with a sizzling 30-metre sprint to the corner inside the final five minutes, completing a breathtaking second half hat-trick and sending the Dragons into the grand final.
3. Darren Lockyer – Brisbane v Bulldogs, 2006
Several players contributed immensely to the Broncos’ comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit to down the Bulldogs 37-20 in the 2006 preliminary final, but none were better than talismanic skipper Lockyer. The cool-headed five-eighth finished off a thrilling 60-metre movement he started, had a major hand in three other tries and kicked a field goal in Brisbane’s 31-0 second half shutout.
2. Greg Alexander – Penrith v Canberra, 1990
‘Brandy’ Alexander buried reservations over his big-match temperament once and for all with a commanding individual display to propel Penrith into its first grand final. The major semi against Canberra was locked 12-all at fulltime, but the Panthers prevailed 30-12 after extra-time thanks to the wizardry of their halfback, who scored two tries and kicked seven goals for a 22-point haul. Alexander combined brilliantly with Brad Fittler to score in the first half and dived over from dummy-half for his second during the added period, before laying on a try for Fittler to seal the result.
1. Dick Dunn – Eastern Suburbs v Balmain, 1945
Unwanted by Easts after the club’s disappointing 1944 campaign, goalkicking lock Dunn fought back the following season and was a key figure in their charge to the minor premiership. In the ’45 premiership final (mandatory grand finals were still almost a decade away) Dunn produced one of the most famous individual performances of all time, scoring three of Easts’ four tries and landing five crucial goals as the Tricolours outlasted Balmain 22-19 to take out the title.