IT was the ultimate “Clayton’s” Queensland grand final win – an NRL premiership Queenslanders could savour when they couldn’t have a Queensland team win the premiership.
South Sydney’s amazing and historic grand final win was an elixir for rugby league after a tough season where the game has taken blow and blow in negative headlines around the Sharks’ ASADA scandal, coach sackings, Alex Mackinnon’s terrible injury and refereeing controversies.
The Rabbitohs’ brilliant 30-6 grand final win over Canterbury was scripted so perfectly, you couldn’t help but wonder if club owner and Hollywood superstar Russell Crowe is already developing a screenplay.
South Sydney’s 21st premiership was finally delivered 43 years after their 20th, with a game for the ages at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
Following the lead of inspirational forward Sam Burgess, who delivered a heroic performance worthy of his Clive Churchill Medal, the Rabbitohs skipped away late in the game to seal the win and restore Souths’ reputation as the “Pride of the League”.
Burgess was herculean in his performance, and a key part of the South Sydney fairytale, given his shattered his cheekbone in the very first tackle of the game in an accidental head clash with fellow Brit and Bulldog rival James Graham.
It could have been the moment that undermined South Sydney’s premiership charge. Instead, it was the moment that defined it.
Refusing to leave the field and channeling the great John Sattler, who 44 years earlier played through the pain of the broken jaw to lead his team to a grand final victory, Burgess was the personification of inspiration.
The victory sent long-suffering South Sydney fans into raptures, but gave plenty of joy too to the game as a whole, with the Rabbitohs fighting their way back to the top after a chequered four decades that at one stage saw them kicked out of the competition.
Similarly, the win was well-received in Queensland, given the large number of Maroons in the South Sydney line-up.
Most obvious is Greg Inglis, who produced flashes of his brilliant best during the game, scoring one try and blowing the game open at one stage with one of his massive trademark runs.
Maroons second-rower Ben Te’o was given the best send-off possible before he heads abroad to play rugby union, producing the toughness and menace in the middle of the field that helped make him a mainstay of the Queensland pack for the past few years.
Similarly, Chris McQueen and Dave Tyrrell relished the hard stuff in the middle, although Tyrrell finished the game on the bench and a little worse for wear after also copping a head clash from Graham.
Five-eighth Luke Keary, still the centre of eligibility conjecture, showed maturity beyond his years to steer his team around from five-eighth.
Lote Tuqiri looked to have a fairytale of his own when he crossed for the first try of the match, but the try was pulled back for an infringement in the lead-up.
One man who did score a try, centre Kirisome Auva’a, declared his footballing allegiance to New Zealand after the game despite having played for the Queensland under-18s in 2010 and being 18th man for the Maroons in the under-20s State of Origin game in 2012.
But there was also plenty for Queensland league fans to celebrate in the curtain-raisers, with the Northern Pride making a big statement for the state’s Intrust Super Cup competition with an incredible win over Penrith in the inaugural NRL State Championship final.
Pitting the winner of the Queensland and NSW state leagues together in a “Superbowl” showdown, the Pride were given little chance of winning – especially by the bookies – against a Panthers team dripping with NRL talent.
But the Pride must not have seen the memo, fighting back late in the piece when the game seemed to be slipping away to storm home for a great win.
In the under-20s grand final, the Broncos showed remarkable courage to fight back from the dead in their clash with the Warriors, but ultimately fell just short in a heartbreaking 34-32 defeat.
The Baby Broncos actually trailed 34-6 late in the match, but stormed home – scoring a try with two minutes remaining to give them a chance of snatching a draw and sending the game into extra time.
Unfortunately, the crucial conversion sailed wide, leaving the Broncos two points adrift and allowing the Warriors to fall across the line and win the premiership.