Top 9 rugby league trilogies
The past three clashes between the Cowboys and Broncos have been some of the most gripping in NRL history but where do they sit alongside other great rugby league trilogies. Here are our top eight from the past 40 years.
Sea Eagles v Storm (2014-2015)
They traded grand final victories in the late 2000s but the most intense battles between the Sea Eagles and Storm have come in more recent seasons. When the 2014 season kicked off the runners-up from 2013 sprung out of the blocks, Manly leading 20-0 late in the first half. But as is their want the Storm fought back and Cameron Smith's first career field goal five minutes into extra-time would ultimately prove the difference. When the two teams met again in Round 9 the Storm again conjured a great escape – this time on home soil – coming back from 19-10 down with 10 minutes left to win 22-19 but they were denied in Round 2, 2015, Manly hanging on 24-22 after leading 24-6 in the wake of Daly Cherry-Evans's announcement that he would be joining Gold Coast in 2016.
Wests Tigers v Raiders (2005-2006)
With a daring and a confidence that would take them all the way to the 2005 Telstra Premiership the Wests Tigers engaged in a number of epic battles with the Raiders and it was the boys from Canberra who more often than not came out on top. Riding the wave of a five-game winning streak in 2005 the Tigers were down 14-0 at half-time in Canberra in Round 22 but took advantage of the departure of Jason Smith to score 22 unanswered points. But the defending premiers would suffer heartbreak in 2006 and both would come in golden point extra-time. The only teams to have played two golden point games in the same season, a Clinton Schifcoske penalty goal gave the Raiders a 20-18 win in Round 19 and then a month later it was a Todd Carney field goal in golden point that proved the difference. In both matches the scores were deadlocked at 12-all at half-time.
Raiders v Dragons (2002-2003)
For more than a decade the Raiders held a hoodoo over the Dragons that saw them drop just two games out of 19 but St George Illawarra could have broken that early if some luck had gone their way. In Round 9, 2002 the Dragons were forced to fight back from a 21-8 half-time deficit to level the scores at 21-all with a field goal that came from a differential scrum penalty in front of the Raiders' posts. With torrential rain making handling difficult a Simon Woolford try in the second half was enough to give the Raiders enough of a buffer for an 18-14 win and then in Round 18 a late call-up for Brad Drew proved prophetic as he potted a 68th minute field goal to earn Canberra a 19-18 win at Kogarah.
Warriors v Storm (2008-2009)
Few teams got the better of the Storm in 2008 but the Warriors somehow twice found a way to best the eventual minor premiers. In atrocious conditions in Auckland in Round 20 a late penalty against Michael Crocker gave Warriors fullback Lance Hohaia the opportunity to sneak his side in front for an 8-6 win. They would next meet in Week One of the finals having entered finals football at opposite ends of the top eight. Having snuck into eighth position with a win over the Eels in Round 26 and then shocked the NRL with an 18-15 win over the Storm in Melbourne, the first eighth-placed team to beat the minor premiers under the McIntyre system. A heated finals match will be most remembered for the winning try, not only for its historical significance but the nonchalant way in which Michael Witt grounded the ball two minutes from full-time. Melbourne was again the venue for their meeting on Anzac Day, 2009 where more drama ensued. With the scores locked at 14-all at full-time Hohaia was denied what appeared to be a match-winning field goal when referee Tim Mander ruled that Warriors half Stacey Jones had fumbled the ball before passing to Hohaia, the teams unable to be split.
Sea Eagles v Roosters (2013)
The Sea Eagles and Roosters met four times in the space of five months in 2013 and on each occasion there was high drama. The first meeting came in Round 9 when the Roosters overcame the send-off of prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to leave Brookvale with a rare 16-4 win and then in Round 16 Sonny Bill Williams' shift to five-eighth inspired the Roosters to an 18-12 victory. But the best was yet to come. Having finished the season in first and fourth positions respectively, the Roosters and Sea Eagles met in the Qualifying Final and put on one of the most thrilling semi-finals in recent memory. Only one try was scored – in the 10th minute to Roosters fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – but it was the unyielding desire to defend from both sides that made it such an enthralling spectacle. There was one more clash to come – in the Grand Final no less – where the Roosters fought back from an 18-8 deficit to claim the Telstra Premiership and a Sea Eagles clean sweep.
Rabbitohs v Roosters (2011-2012)
Close contests between these two foundation clubs stretched all the way back to 1908 but it was in 2012 where the NRL's oldest rivalry reached extraordinary heights. In Round 19, 2011 a successful Chris Sandow conversion and 49-metre field goal after seven minutes of extra-time earned the Rabbitohs a pulsating 21-20 win at ANZ Stadium but that would soon pale in comparison to the finishes we would witness the following season. Down 20-12 with less than three minutes remaining the Roosters looked no chance of winning the Round 1 encounter before tries to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Anthony Minichiello saw them steal a 24-20 win described as arguably the most remarkable in 103 years of Roosters-Rabbitohs clashes. And then it was topped after just five months. Nathan Merritt scored for Souths with only 100 seconds left on the clock to bring his team back to within four and then with 45 seconds left the Rabbitohs launched an audacious raid from the kick-off that was sparked by Dave Taylor. Chris McQueen, Merritt and Issac Luke were all involved before Adam Reynolds scooped up the ball 10 metres from the Roosters line to level the scores and then win the game for his team with a successful conversion from wide out. It prompted this now classic piece of commentary from Fox Sports' Warren Smith: "You can take me now I have seen it all!"
Bulldogs v Eels (1984)
The two most dominant teams of the 1980s had many see-sawing encounters but few could match the drama that played out over the course of the 1984 season. With their brilliant backline the Eels were in search of a fourth straight premiership but faced stiff opposition from a hard-nosed Bulldogs forward pack expertly drilled by master coach Warren Ryan. Almost 23,000 people crammed into Belmore Sports Ground in Round 14 where a Terry Lamb field goal looked to have earned victory for the home side before a late penalty goal to Eels replacement Keith Rugg saw the Eels win 14-13. The Bulldogs would have their revenge when it mattered most though, winning the major semi-final 16-8 at the SCG and the Grand Final two weeks later 6-4, a rare off day for Mick Cronin with the boot costing the Eels a rare piece of history. All told, 99,869 people watched the two fierce rivals do battle in 1984.
Cowboys v Broncos (2015-2016)
Friday night's clash in Townsville could spark another list of the greatest quartet of contests in premiership history if it can any way live up to the three that have immediately preceded it. Superlatives were in abundance for both teams following the Qualifying Final they played in Week One of last year's finals series, a fast-paced clash that only ended when Corey Oates snared a cross-field kick by Johnathan Thurston as the Cowboys looked for some way to bridge the 16-12 scoreline against them. They met again in what has been widely regarded as one of the greatest grand finals in rugby league history, Kyle Feldt's try in the corner with seconds remaining, Thurston's conversion from the sideline that hit the post and his subsequent extra-time field goal just three highlights in an unforgettable encounter. And just when we thought we'd seen it all they delivered a grand final rematch almost as good as the original with a frantic final few minutes echoing the premiership decider of six months prior, Anthony Milford exacting some kind of revenge for Brisbane with an extra-time field goal of his own for a 21-20 win. An incredible 179,322 people who watched history happen in person in those three games can only wonder at what might be next.
Queensland v New South Wales (1991)
Every State of Origin Series is a blockbuster trilogy in its own right but none have been more evenly contested than the classic 1991 Series. The biggest margin at half-time was Queensland's 8-4 lead in Game Three and all three matches were decided by two points, the Maroons claiming a 2-1 Series win amidst all sorts of controversy. In Queensland's 6-4 win in Game One Greg Alexander had a shot at penalty goal from halfway on full-time to tie the game, the ball falling short and into the arms of Wally Lewis. At the height of his powers Lewis was again in everything in Game Two, most notably a stand-off with Blues firebrand Mark Geyer before half-time that 25 years on remains an enduring Origin image. Michael O'Connor's famous sideline conversion saw the Blues keep the Series alive with a 14-12 win before the teams returned to Lang Park for what would be Lewis's final game for Queensland. Queensland led 8-4 at half-time but the Blues hit back with two more tries to lead 12-8, Mal Meninga's sideline conversion of a Dale Shearer try clinching the greatest series in Origin history for the Maroons.