Top 5 Courageous Grand Final Performances
Sam Burgess’ incredible display of bravery in South Sydney’s 2014 grand final defeat of Canterbury – playing virtually the entire match with serious facial fractures – stirred up memories of some of rugby league’s most famous individual performances. See where Burgess’ heroic effort ranks in the pantheon of the greatest feats of grand final courage.
5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall – Sydney Roosters (2013)
Rangy Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall evoked comparisons with John Sattler after playing 75 minutes of the 2013 decider with a broken jaw. While taking an early hit-up, the Kiwi Test veteran had one of his rear teeth dislodged and suffered a hairline fracture of the jaw. But he refused to leave the field – or even tell his coach or teammates he was in severe pain. Kenny-Dowall played a vital role in the Roosters’ come-from-behind triumph over Manly, backing up to finish off the brilliant 70-metre team try that put the Tricolours ahead in the 60th minute after they had trailed by 10 points. ‘SKD’ was hailed a hero after the extent of his injury was revealed, while the resultant surgery ruled him out of New Zealand’s subsequent World Cup campaign.
4. Shane Webcke – Brisbane Broncos (2000)
Unrivalled as the game’s benchmark front-rower during the late-1990s and early-2000s, Broncos great Shane Webcke ranks among the toughest players of the modern era. Webcke’s broken arm injury late in the 2000 regular season put the runaway minor premiers’ seemingly irresistible charge to the NRL title under a cloud. The rugged Test and Origin stalwart returned just five weeks later, however, helping the Broncos to a tense preliminary final win over Parramatta and laying the foundation up front as they defeated the Sydney Roosters 14-6 in the grand final. He refused to shirk his responsibilities as the cornerstone of Brisbane’s pack despite carrying the still-healing injury. One of the all-time great props, Webcke illustrated his courage again four years later when he lined up in a semi-final against North Queensland less than a week after undergoing an arthroscopy on a recurring knee injury.
3. Andrew Johns – Newcastle Knights (1997)
Newcastle’s 1997 campaign hinged on the influence of talismanic halfback Andrew Johns, and a rib injury suffered during his match-winning display in the first week of the finals against Parramatta threatened the Knights’ compelling premiership bid. After missing the following match, the 23-year-old returned for Newcastle’s preliminary final showdown with North Sydney, but a misguided painkilling needle at half-time left him with a punctured lung. Johns endured a spell in hospital and his health dominated the grand final week build-up, with Manly, NSW and Australian team doctor Nathan Gibbs sensationally claiming ‘Joey’ risked death by playing against the Sea Eagles in the decider with a punctured lung. But he fronted up for the feverishly-anticipated clash, and despite his obvious discomfort – he attempted to leave the field at one stage, but was ordered to return to the fray by Newcastle coach Malcolm Reilly – Johns orchestrated the Knights’ dramatic 22-16 triumph. Johns kicked five goals, while his blindside burst from dummy-half in the dying seconds set up Darren Albert’s iconic match-winning try.
2. Sam Burgess – South Sydney Rabbitohs (2014)
In one of the most dramatic openings to a grand final imaginable, Souths’ powerhouse lock Sam Burgess took the first hit-up and reeled out of the tackle after clashing heads with Canterbury prop and fellow Englishman James Graham. The rugby union-bound Burgess was in obvious distress and it was later revealed he had suffered a fractured cheekbone and eye socket. But not only did the inspirational 25-year-old carry on – he starred. Burgess played out the entire 80 minutes, producing the phenomenal figures of 35 tackles, 22 runs for 199 metres, and three offloads – a mountain of work for a fully-fit forward – and came up with a number of key plays in the Rabbitohs’ 30-6 triumph. He became the first player from overseas to claim the prestigious Clive Churchill Medal as the best player in the grand final, while his courageous performance is destined to become entrenched in the code’s folklore.
1. John Sattler – South Sydney Rabbitohs (1970)
South Sydney captain John Sattler’s performance in the 1970 grand final remains the most fabled example of courage in Australian rugby league history. The front-row enforcer had his jaw fractured in three places and several teeth knocked out in a savage off-the-ball attack by Manly counterpart John Bucknall after just six minutes of the SCG decider, but fought through the excruciating pain to lead the Rabbitohs to their third premiership in four seasons. Sattler, aided by his teammates who had to hold him up at stages of the physical clash, continued to cart the ball ahead and make his tackles in an astounding show of bravery. Despite the severity of the damage to his jaw, Sattler remained out on the field until well after full-time, accepting the premiership spoils while attempting to hide the injury to remain in contention for selection in Australia’s World Cup squad. It was to no avail as Sattler was hospitalised for two weeks after the match and had his jaw wired for three months, but his heroics became embedded in the fabric of rugby league lore and he secured his legacy among South Sydney’s greatest players. “It wasn’t about trying to be a hero,” Sattler humbly recalled of his famous display. “It was just something that had to be done. It was a grand final and nothing was going to stop me.”