Few games live longer in the memory than those decided in the dying seconds, when a near-certain defeat is transformed into a stunning victory by a piece of utter brilliance and a last-gasp try.
The Book of NRL Lists, by Commentary Box Sports’ own Will Evans and Rugby League journalist Nick Tedeschi and published in September by Slattery Media Group, is a treasure trove of the best, worst and most obscure players, matches and moments in the code’s history – 200-plus passionately-compiled top 5s, 10s and 20s about everything rugby league, packed into 672 pages.
Check out this exclusive excerpt from The Book of NRL Lists – the Top 10 miracle finishes of the NRL era.
TOP 10 MIRACLE FINISHES OF THE NRL ERA
1. 2008: Brisbane 30 – Parramatta 26
A see-sawing 2008 clash between Brisbane and Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium appeared destined for extra-time at 26-all as the Broncos played the ball on halfway with only seconds remaining. A loose dummy-half pass prevented Darren Lockyer from having a long-range field goal shot as the siren sounded, but the captain skirted the Eels’ defence and chip-kicked towards the left-hand touchline. The ball sat up for young winger Denan Kemp, who scooted 30 metres to score in the corner as he was tackled by Joel Reddy and Eric Grothe, winning the match and equalling the club record of four tries in a match in the process.
2. 2012: Sydney Roosters 24 – South Sydney 20
Archrivals Souths and Sydney Roosters produced two of the most stunning last-minute match-winners of all-time in the same season, with each club stealing a miraculous victory over the other in 2012. In the opening round, the Roosters trailed 20-12 but clung to a sliver of hope when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves crashed over with two minutes and 20 seconds to go. From the restart, the Roosters spread the ball from their 30-metre line on the third tackle. Mitch Aubusson found space and passed inside on halfway to backrower Boyd Cordner, who kicked ahead. Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello outpaced the cover to latch onto the ball and score with 20 seconds remaining.
3. 2012: South Sydney 24 – Sydney Roosters 22
In a carbon copy with the clubs’ roles reversed towards the end of the 2012 season, Souths seemed headed for defeat when Mitchell Pearce scored with five minutes left to put the Roosters ahead 22-12. But Chris McQueen sent Nathan Merritt over to finish a 50-metre movement with less than two minutes on the clock, setting up another – even more unlikely – grandstand finish. The timepiece read 79:12 when the Roosters restarted, but Dave Taylor veered wide after accepting the kick-off and passed to McQueen, who strode up to halfway and linked again with Merritt. The winger found Isaac Luke, and the hooker flung the ball back for Adam Reynolds to scoop it up and dive over next to the posts, finishing a 95-metre match-winning try.
4. 2003: Brisbane 22 – South Sydney 20
A rampaging performance by skipper Gorden Tallis saved Brisbane from an embarrassing early-season loss to lowly Souths in 2003. Tallis had scored a powerful second half try in an attempt to inspire his lacklustre team-mates, but the Rabbitohs looked set to produce a major boilover when they led 20-12 inside the final 10 minutes. Tallis intervened again, putting through a superb grubber kick that took a freakish bounce and resulted in a try to Michael De Vere. Souths held out a late Brisbane attacking raid and only had to ruck the ball out for the few remaining seconds to claim a famous two-point victory – but Tallis was intent on producing a trifecta of big plays. Reliable prop Paul Stringer carted the ball forward off his own line, before Tallis wrenched it free in a one-on-one strip. Shaun Berrigan swung the ball wide for Brent Tate to score his second try in the corner and secure one of the NRL’s great escapes, 22-20.
5. 2001: St George Illawarra 27 – Wests Tigers 22
The Dragons trailed the Tigers by a point inside the final minute at Leichhardt Oval in 2001, when a cut-out pass found prolific winger Nathan Blacklock near the sideline with space in front of him and 75 metres to travel. Blacklock scorched over the halfway line, chipped over Tigers fullback Joel Caine and regathered to race way for a try – his third of the afternoon – regarded simultaneously as one of the finest individual tries and greatest match-winning tries of all-time.
6. 2006: Melbourne 16 – Bulldogs 12
Melbourne’s 11-match winning streak at Olympic Park was in jeopardy when they trailed the Bulldogs 12-6 late in the second half of a mid-season encounter with their fellow contenders. But a superb pass from second-rower Ryan Hoffman sent Jake Webster over in the corner with a couple of minutes remaining. Cameron Smith’s conversion attempt hit the post, however, leaving Melbourne two points adrift. In the final minute of play, Storm halfback Cooper Cronk put in a beautifully weighted cross-field kick from inside his own half, which was picked up by a wide-ranging Hoffman on the first bounce. Despite the attention of Bulldogs Trent Cutler and Luke Patten, Hoffman again found Webster with a brilliant one-handed pass, and the Kiwi winger powered away for the match-winner in the shadows of fulltime.
7. 2010: Warriors 20 – Sydney Roosters 18
In rainy, freezing conditions at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium, the Sydney Roosters led the Warriors 18-8 with five minutes to go, but a powerhouse try to Manu Vatuvei kept the Warriors hopes’ alive. Young winger Kevin Locke had already scored a memorable first-half double, and toed a Lance Hohaia grubber kick ahead from near halfway in the final minute of play. Displaying electrifying pace, Locke narrowly won the race to the ball ahead of Roosters speedster Phil Graham and planted the ball as his torso was simultaneously bent around the goalpost. Replays showed Locke had successfully scored the gutsy leveller, while James Maloney added the simple conversion after the siren to win a thrilling encounter 20-18. Locke’s bravery cost him two weeks in the injury ward, but earned a place in club folklore.
8. 1998: Auckland 24 – Melbourne 21
Brett Kimmorley appeared to wrap up a tense contest at Melbourne’s Olympic Park with a field goal two minutes from fulltime, giving the home side a 21-18 advantage over Auckland. But on the last play of the game, the Warriors swung the ball from one sideline to the other, before Stacey Jones launched a bomb after the siren sounded. Despite a horde of Storm players waiting at the kick’s destination, the Warriors managed to bat the ball back, and centre Nigel Vagana fired it out for an unmarked Tony Tatupu to score. After an agonising wait for the video referee’s decision as he dissected the myriad fumbles and rebounds in the movement, the try was awarded, handing victory to Auckland—a rare highlight in a dismal season for the club.
9. 2011: Penrith 23 – Parramatta 22
Parramatta led Penrith 22-16 in the dying stages of captain Nathan Hindmarsh’s 300th match, when Jarryd Hayne attempted to put in a clearing last-tackle kick for the Eels. The ball rebounded off a Panthers player and was cleaned up by Luke Burt, who took the tackle 10 metres out from his own line with 10 seconds remaining. But the referee ruled the ball had not been charged down and ordered a turnover, controversially calling time off. The Panthers played the ball with two seconds on the clock, desperately flinging the ball from one sideline to the other and back again before the ball landed in Michael Jennings’ hands. The quicksilver centre evaded several Eels defenders, then put in a grubber kick which was pounced on by Penrith fullback Lachlan Coote – 20 seconds after the siren had sounded. Travis Burns’ conversion locked up the scores and halfback Luke Walsh’s field goal with four minutes of golden point left secured an extraordinary win for the Panthers.
10. 1999: Newcastle 22 – St George Illawarra 20
The scorer of the most famous last-gasp try in Grand Final history reprised his match-winning role less than two years later in a dramatic Newcastle victory in 1999 at the SFS. St George Illawarra looked to have snatched a late victory in a see-sawing round 24 clash against the Knights when hooker Nathan Brown crossed for a try with three minutes on the clock. Trailing 20-18, the Knights recovered the ball from a short kick-off. With only seconds remaining, centre Matthew Gidley slipped a brilliant trademark pass to winger Darren Albert, who tiptoed down the sideline to win the game 22-20. Albert scored the buzzer-beating try in the 22-16 Grand Final defeat of Manly at the same venue in 1997 that delivered Newcastle’s first premiership.