It’s NRL grand final week, and we’re paying tribute to the unheralded players who saved their most memorable performance for the game’s biggest stage.
- Michael Robertson – Manly Sea Eagles (2008)
In a team of backline superstars, underrated winger Michael Robertson was the standout in Manly’s record 40-0 grand final rout of Melbourne in 2008. Electrifying fullback Brett Stewart, rookie winger David Williams and rep veteran Jamie Lyon had attacted most of the plaudits during the season, but Robertson outshone the trio to become just the second player in 47 years to score a hat-trick of tries in a decider. The ultra-consistent flyer also set up departing Manly great Steve Menzies for a late try, capping an excellent performance that was unlucky to not be rewarded with the Churchill Medal and World Cup selection for Australia.
- Scott Sattler – Penrith Panthers (2003)
Workhorse Penrith backrower Scott Sattler spent much of his career in the shadow of his father, famed South Sydney enforcer John, who is revered for playing through the 1970 grand final with a broken jaw. But Scott also played himself into Grand final folklore as a 31-year-old in 2003. The decider against the Roosters was evenly poised at 6-all when, in the 55th minute, Roosters winger Todd Byrne streaked away down the touchline. But the veteran Sattler, not renowned for his speed, hared across the sodden field to cut Byrne down and bundle him into touch in one of Rugby League’s most famous cover tackles. The momentum swung Penrith’s way and the underdogs went on to win the premiership 18-6, with Sattler lauded as the hero in his final game as a Panther.
- Steve Jackson – Canberra Raiders (1994)
Hardworking Canberra prop Steve Jackson became ensconced in grand final folklore with one of the most memorable solo tries ever scored in a decider. Jackson sat on the bench for most of the epic 1989 Canberra-Balmain epic, but grabbed his moment of glory in extra time after the Raiders had edged in front 15-14. Jackson, making just his fifth first grade appearance of the season, accepted an offload from captain Mal Meninga and embarked on a bumping, weaving run from the 20-metre line, leaving defenders strewn in his wake and carrying three over the line to seal the Raiders’ maiden premiership 19-14. Jackson subsequently played nine Origins for Queensland from Wests and Gold Coast, but is chiefly remembered for his phenomenal try in the greatest decider of all time.
- Craig Smith – Melbourne Storm (1999)
Winger Craig Smith was the unwitting, unconscious hero of the Melbourne’s grand final victory over St. George Illawarra in 1999. A first grade regular in the club’s debut 1998 season, Smith was out of favour the following year and spent the entire regular season turning out for feeder club Brisbane Norths, before receiving a shock call-up to first grade during the finals series. Smith booted three goals and produced a crucial try-saving tackle on Anthony Mundine as the Storm clawed back from a 14-point halftime deficit in the decider. He was then awarded a premiership-winning penalty try after being tackled high by Jamie Ainscough as he was about to score in the dying minutes. Sadly, Smith retired after the match aged just 26, disillusioned with the game after a difficult year.
A late replacement in Canberra’s side for the suspended John Lomax, ball-playing prop Paul Osborne became a grand final hero for the ages with a brilliant cameo. Osborne played just 10 regular season games in 1994, stuck behind Kiwi Test front-rowers Lomax and Quentin Pongia, and was set to take up a deal in England before the Australian season finished. But he delayed his departure to provide depth for the Raiders’ finals campaign, receiving his opportunity on the biggest stage of all. Sensational Osborne off-loads produced the opening two tries for David Furner and Ken Nagas in the opening 16 minutes as Canberra hammered Canterbury 36-12 in a one-sided Grand final. Osborne decided to retire after the match (aged just 28), benefitting from his new-found popularity in the nation’s capital by embarking on a career in ACT politics.