The conclusion to this series of Grand Final tries brings us somewhat appropriately to, together with the Dragons of 1956-66, one of the finest sides to ever play in the premiership – the last team to win three titles in a row, the Jack Gibson coached Parramatta teams of 1981-1983.

Using 1982 as a guide, this legendary side, simply dripping with internationals, had, without doubt, one of the greatest backlines in the history of club rugby league.

Supported by indomitable Kangaroo lock Ray Price, the ball would regularly move down the all-international backline through players of the sheer quality of virtuoso half Peter Sterling, princely five-eighth Brett Kenny, stately centre Mick Cronin, frighteningly fast centre Steve Ella, and blockbusting winger Eric Grothe.

Even more so, Gibson – often remembered for his defensive capabilities as a coach – gave his team open slather to use the ball and attack judiciously, resulting in some of the most beautiful and complex tries scored throughout the entire 1980s.

Manly in the 1982 decider had a remarkable team themselves, consisting as it did of ten internationals in the starting side, including absolute legends such as the bull-like Graham Eadie at fullback, pacy winger John Ribot, massive centre Chris Close, silky smooth five-eighth Alan Thompson, and a pack which was made up entirely of current, future or past Australian players, such as the fearsome Les Boyd and workaholic second rower Paul Vautin.

The non-international players in the side were hardly slouches themselves – the irresistible Blake brothers (Michael and Phil) and former NSW country representative, the very reliable Phil Carey. Games between Parramatta and Manly would become so famous in this era that they solidified a place in Australian popular culture, epitomised by a series of popular Tooheys beer commercials which were dedicated to the bitter rivalry between the teams.

After early tries to Phil Blake (off his own bomb) and Ella were exchanged, the game was evenly matched at 6-6, when this Parramatta special was scored. Manly, attacking 35 metres from their own line, dropped the pill when Thompson's inside ball to Michael Blake went astray, and Eels hooker and captain Steven Edge dived on the scraps. Parramatta, always looking to shift the ball rapidly on a turnover, immediately fired the ball right through Sterling at dummy half to Kenny.


The always unselfish Kenny moved the ball on quickly to the soft hands of inside centre Cronin, who offloaded to his outside centre Ella at full speed. Ella reversed the play cleverly while in the tackle by passing back on the inside and Kenny reached out to take the ball just in front of Cronin.

At this time, the sublime and intuitive attacking sparkle of Kenny sprang to the fore, when his massive left foot step took him “in-and-away” (in the words of Rex Mossop), completely wrong-footing Ribot on the outside.

Kenny drew Michael Blake in cover and then fed the rampaging Grothe, who had read the play perfectly, backing up in the interior corridor created by Kenny's stylish run. Still with a considerable amount of work to do, Grothe speared through both Eadie and Phil Blake to score a scorching try.

Manly, shocked by this superb ball movement, were a little out of sorts from then on, and the Eels would eventually secure their second premiership on the hop, 21-8.

Manly would incredibly add even more internationals to their team for 1983 (by the time of the 1983 Grand Final, the starting side had twelve internationals and the (international worthy) Phil Blake), and would have the wood on Parramatta earlier that year, including in the Major Semi-Final.

In the end this counted for little, as the unstoppable Eels went on to win their third premiership in a row, again battering the Sea Eagles in the biggest game of the season, this time 18-6. Following a further title in 1986, the longest current premiership drought (36 years) in the NRL commenced, which the Eels will be hoping to shatter tomorrow.

They could do much worse than seek to channel the spirit of the 1981-83 teams, a golden generation of players which have not since been replicated at Parramatta, by ensuring that they play their best football and do not die wondering.

Year: 1982
Player: Eric Grothe
Score: Parramatta Eels 21 defeat Manly Sea Eagles 8
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground
Crowd: 52,186