2005 grand final rewind: Magical Tigers stun Cowboys

The 2005 grand final was the coming together of two fairytales - the Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys captured the imagination of the NRL when each of them for the first time made the premiership decider.

For the joint-venture Wests Tigers, in just their sixth year since the Magpies and Balmain merged, the premiership win marked the culmination of a magical end to their season under coach Tim Sheens in which they played flamboyant football to silence their critics and upset raging hot favourites St George Illawarra in the grand final qualifier.

The match is remembered for one of the most spectacular tries in NRL history, highlighted by Benji Marshall's flick pass to send Pat Richards over the line.

For the Graham Murray-coached Cowboys, they were also given little chance of finals success after finishing fifth on the ladder but thumped Parramatta in the preliminary final to set up their clash with the Tigers.

While Matthew Bowen was the first to score, the Cowboys couldn't maintain their momentum, and the Tigers eventually ran over the top of them to win 30-16.

The Cowboys' lack of experience showed as they simply couldn't keep up with the Tigers, with Marshall sending Richards over five minutes before half-time to give his side a 12-6 lead at the break.

North Queensland gave themselves a fighting chance in the second stanza via four-pointers to Travis Norton and Matt Sing, but the Tigers kept them at arm's length with Anthony Laffranchi, Daniel Fitzhenry and Todd Payten getting among the try scorers.

Best player

Scott Prince took out the Clive Churchill Medal for his deft control of the match through his kicking game.

The Tigers captain set up a try, and his control of the game allowed Marshall to work his own magic.

Wests Tigers captain Scott Prince.
Wests Tigers captain Scott Prince. ©NRL Photos

Unsung hero

Richards came into the match with a serious ankle injury but was on hand to take the now-iconic flick pass from Marshall to give the Tigers a half-time lead. He was replaced midway through the second half

The play of the day

Marshall's efforts in making a break from deep inside his own territory before flicking inside for Richards was a massive body blow for the Cowboys. It is one of the most replayed grand final moments in NRL history.

Wests Tigers lock Dene Halatau remembers Marshall's moment like it was yesterday: "JT's got the kick in, a bit of a broken defensive line. It was just half a gap, he skipped away and skirted around JT. Patty had an ankle injury and had a stack of painkillers, Benji hopped to his left. None of us had seen what happened, just that the ball got put away. It wasn't until we watched the replay.

Wests Tigers winger Pat Richards scores a try against the Cowboys at ANZ Stadium.
Wests Tigers winger Pat Richards scores a try against the Cowboys at ANZ Stadium. ©NRL Photos

The what-if moment

The Cowboys drew first blood but a wild pass close to their own line was seized upon by Wests Tigers prop Bryce Gibbs, who scored to level the scores at 6-6. The Tigers never trailed from that point on. 

Halatau said the frenzied start to the match affected both teams. "It was all a blur - the first 20 minutes I was caught up in the moment. They scored the first try and it was on the edge I was on, they kept it alive for Matty Bowen. We thought we'd started better than them so it made us nervous.

"Then Paul Bowman made the mix up in-goal with Matty and Bryce Gibbs scored, they got it all wrong. From there we grew another leg and were back on track."

The quote

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald about his flick pass after the match, Marshall said: "There wasn't much on, but I thought there might be a bit of a gap so I put the hammer down and tried to run my hardest. I got to Matty [Bowen] and tried to get around him, but that didn't work so I threw a flick pass. I didn't even plan it, so it came out of my arse, I suppose."

Recollections of a champion

Wests Tigers lock Dene Halatau

"I remember right at the end that Todd Payten scored we all were stacks on. We had that feel we were going to win it so I started to struggle with my breath. I remember not being able to breathe properly 10 minutes after the game.

"I remember going up to JT and congratulating him on his game, and Paul Rauhihi, who I'd known through the Kiwis, had an aggressive game. I remember him shattered on the ground and thinking I'm glad it wasn't me.

"It was a long celebration, we went back to Wests Ashfield with all the fans. It was the first time we had something to eat. Then we went across to Balmain and Victoria Road was chock-a-block, they shut it all down. I slept in the bar auditorium."

Recollections of a runner-up

Cowboys winger Ty Williams

"In 2005 it was a case of the sleeping giant had finally awoken. In 2004 we finally made the semi-finals for the first time and a lot of people were predicting we'd fall off the radar the following year but we kicked on and made the grand final," he said.

"The boys have since gone on to bigger and better things in the last 13 years.

The Cowboys were valiant but outclassed in the 2005 grand final.
The Cowboys were valiant but outclassed in the 2005 grand final. ©NRL Photos

"I look at 2005 as the starting point of the Johnathan Thurston era. He came to us from the Bulldogs and got a starting position where he was able to lead the team around after our coach Graham Murry gave him the reins.

"We received a lot of respect from other NRL teams from that year onwards, just knowing that we were a genuinely competitive team.

"It was also fantastic to see the way our supporters were able to wear their Cowboys jerseys with a lot of pride. It is something they still do now, which is great."

The year after

The Tigers came crashing back to earth, falling by the wayside in 2006 to finish in 14th position. While the Cowboys started the season in dominant fashion, they missed the finals, finishing in ninth.