The setting for this wonderful try was only the second NSWRL Grand Final played at the Sydney Football Stadium, following construction of the Moore Park ground in 1988.
A truly pulsating match, regarded widely as one of the greatest Grand Finals (and indeed games) ever, the 1989 decider had absolutely everything one could hope for in a memorable rugby league encounter – a developing but fierce rivalry, great tries, remarkable defence, and up to a dozen moments that could have changed the final outcome.
Canberra, a freakish attacking side featuring the likes of Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Bradley Clyde, had lost the 1987 Grand Final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but went into this game with the better offensive capabilities.
Sentimental favourites Balmain (losers of the 1988 Grand Final) could draw on the sort of stern defence that always thrived in Warren Ryan’s teams – nearly the entire pack was Test standard – while also featuring their own gifted and creative players such as Garry Jack, Steve Roach, Benny Elias, Wayne Pearce and Kiwi half Gary Freeman.
— NRL (@NRL) October 22, 2020
Balmain had the best of the early part of the first half, scoring an intercept try to winger James Grant off Kiwi prop Brent Todd’s wayward pass. With traded penalties, the score was Balmain 6-2 nearing the half-time break. Using a short blindside, Elias committed Daley at marker and flicked the ball back to his front-row partner in Kangaroo prop Roach.
Playing like a back, Roach provided English import Andy Currier with a lovely pass which gave him the narrowest of sideline corridors to work in. Despite the best efforts of the Canberra defence, centre Currier launched a high kick downfield fractionally before being bundled over the sideline.
A horrendous bounce on the Canberra quarter deceived both Canberra fullback Belcher and brilliant winger, the ageless John Ferguson, allowing Grant to race through and claim the ball. For the second time in the one movement, Balmain avoided going into touch by mere inches, when Grant was able to feed Currier (who had brilliantly followed his own kick) on the inside with a measured pass before going into touch.
Currier’s cross-field, mazy run saw him throw an exquisite dummy to Tigers’ five-eighth Mick Neil, which was completely swallowed by the Raiders, and this allowed Currier the time to pop a ball up for rampaging Australian second-rower, Paul Sironen. Despite the harassment of the Canberra scrambling defence, the 195cm Sironen charged over and planted the ball for a superb team try.
This epic (converted) score saw the teams head to the sheds at 12-2, with Balmain in a dominant position, seemingly poised to win their first premiership since 1969.
An incredible second half, literally containing too many incidents to list here, would instead see the teams locked together at 14-all at the end of regular time.
During extra time, Raiders forward replacement Steve Jackson’s own bullocking try would see Canberra eventually win a spectacular match for the ages 19-14. To this day, refereeing, playing and coaching decisions made in the seething cauldron of this match are picked over by the masses.
Player: Paul Sironen
Final score: Canberra Raiders 19 defeat Balmain Tigers 14 in Extra Time
Venue: Sydney Football Stadium