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Best never: 2001 Eels voted top team to not win premiership in modern era

One of the joys of grand final day is the knowledge that either side can take home the trophy, with the entire season coming down to 80 minutes of football.

The flipside of that is sometimes the best team simply doesn't win the title.

In the past 30 years we've had some truly great rugby league sides that have come up short when it comes to winning the premiership.

And after more than 64,000 votes, the record-breaking Parramatta side of 2001 has been voted the best team of the modern era that didn't quite taste grand final glory.

That team was a juggernaut - obliterating the record for most points in a season with 943 (beating Brisbane's mark of 871 in 1998) and also boasting the league's best defensive record and a points differential of +433.

However, they came up short on grand final night, upset 30-24 by the Andrew Johns-led Newcastle Knights.

NRL.com recently launched the search for the Simply The Best players from 1990 to now to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the iconic Tina Turner promotional campaign, which was again featured in this year's advertisement for the Telstra Premiership, and is calling on the fans to have their say on a range of topics on the modern era.

The NRL.com newsroom initially narrowed the list of candidates to 10 and after fans voted in this article – we trimmed it back to the two frontrunners with polls on the official NRL Instagram and Facebook accounts deciding once and for all which team was Simply The Best to miss out on a trophy.

Best teams to not win the title of the past 30 years

(in chronological order)

1993 Canberra Raiders

The pain of a rapid finals exit was shortlived for this team, which went on to win the grand final a year later.

Noa Nadruku on the fly for Canberra.
Noa Nadruku on the fly for Canberra. ©NRL Photos

But before being bounced out of the play-offs with back-to-back losses this Canberra side was an attacking powerhouse, capitalising on the new 10-metre rule to pile on 587 points with a +315 points differential (105 better than any other side) with Ricky Stuart winning the Dally M Medal, Steve Walters named Rugby League Week's player of the year and Noa Nadruku the league's top tryscorer.

They looked certain to challenge Brisbane for the '93 title until Stuart broke his leg late in the season.

1995 Manly Sea Eagles

The finals were expanded from five teams to eight this season, a development that would come back to bit a dominant Manly side that was beaten by the sixth-placed Bulldogs in the decider.

Before that the Sea Eagles won the minor premiership with the best attacking and defensive records in the league, with second-row superstar Steve Menzies topping the try tally with 22 four-pointers in as many matches and Matthew Ridge the league's top point-scorer.

Geoff Toovey leads Manly out for the 1995 grand final.
Geoff Toovey leads Manly out for the 1995 grand final. ©NRL Photos

1990s North Sydney Bears

In the six seasons from 1993 to 1998 North Sydney finished sixth, second, eighth, third, fourth and fifth, and yet they never reached a grand final in that time.

It extended an infamous grand final drought that had being going since 1943, with the club having not won a premiership since 1922.

North Sydney went close several times in the 1990s to elusive grand final glory.
North Sydney went close several times in the 1990s to elusive grand final glory. ©NRL Photos

The team featured three members of the club's Team of the Century – Greg Florimo, Gary Larson and David Fairleigh – plus goal-kicking wizards Daryl Halligan (until '93) and Jason Taylor, and was mentored by 1994 Dally M Coach of the Year Peter Louis.

Late '90s Cronulla Sharks

Since their inception in 1967 Cronulla struggled to challenge for a premiership, losing two grand finals in the '70s and not going particularly close in the next couple of decades.

That was until the Super League era began and the Sharks almost went all the way, beaten by a Broncos team stacked with rep stars in the decider.

Cronulla's 1999 side won the minor premiership but came up short in the playoffs.
Cronulla's 1999 side won the minor premiership but came up short in the playoffs. ©NRL Photos

Two years later Cronulla finished top of the table, with David Peachey winning fullback of the year and John Lang named coach of the year, only to be beaten by arch-rivals the Dragons in the preliminary final.

1999 St George Illawarra Dragons

The Dragons side that ended the Sharks' campaign in '99 looked destined to clinch the premiership when they led 14-0 at half-time against the Melbourne Storm.

They had plenty of talent with the league's top tryscorer Nathan Blacklock plus rep players like Paul McGregor, Shaun Timmins, Anthony Mundine and Trent Barrett, but they let the game slip through their grasp after a Mundine knock-on over the tryline sparked a Storm comeback.

The foundation St George Illawarra squad.
The foundation St George Illawarra squad. ©NRL Photos

A penalty try awarded over a Jamie Ainscough high tackle three-minutes from full-time put Melbourne in front, handing the Storm their first premiership and the Dragons a fifth grand final defeat since St George's previous premiership in 1979.

2001 Parramatta Eels

Parramatta produced one of the most dominant regular season performances of any club in 2001, smashing the record for most points scored in a season with 943 (beating Brisbane's mark of 871 in 1998).

They also boasted the league's best defensive record and a points differential of +433, the next best that season being the Broncos' +185.

Nathan Hindmarsh, Daniel Wagon and Brad Drew won positional Dally M awards, Brian Smith was the coach of the year, and Jason Taylor broke Daryl Halligan's point-scoring record.

Parramatta were a powerful squad in 2001.
Parramatta were a powerful squad in 2001. ©NRL Photos

And then…? They ran into a Knights team with nothing to lose led by Andrew Johns and Ben Kennedy that steamrolled the Eels in the first half of the grand final before hanging on to a 30-24 win.

2003-04 Sydney Roosters

The Roosters played in four grand finals between 2000 and 2004, but won just one of them.

Brad Fittler during the 2003 grand final loss to Penrith.
Brad Fittler during the 2003 grand final loss to Penrith. ©NRL Photos

In their title defence in 2003 they were beaten by a Penrith side with nothing to lose and the following year, in Hall of Famer Brad Fittler's final match, they lost by three to Canterbury in an epic grand final.

2009 Parramatta Eels

While they were extremely inconsistent in the regular season, Parra caught lightning in a bottle in the final rounds and then blitzed their way through the playoffs.

Parramatta's 2009 squad.
Parramatta's 2009 squad. ©NRL Photos

With fullback Jarryd Hayne in a career-best purple patch, the Eels thundered into the grand final only to be beaten 23-16 by a Melbourne Storm side which later had its title stripped due to salary cap breaches.

2015 Brisbane Broncos

With veteran coach Wayne Bennett back at the helm, the star-studded Broncos looked certain to break their nine-year premiership drought when they took on their Queensland cousins, the Cowboys in the grand final. 

A look back at the 2015 Grand Final

They were less than a minute from wrapping up the trophy but a Kyle Feldt try and a subsequent Johnathan Thurston field goal in extra-time snatched the premiership dream away from Brisbane.

2018-19 Melbourne Storm

Over the past two seasons, Melbourne have consistently dominated the regular season and looked set to carry that superiority through the play-offs only to be brought undone.

Storm fullback Billy Slater during the 2018 grand final.
Storm fullback Billy Slater during the 2018 grand final. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

In 2018 in Billy Slater's last season they went down to the Roosters in a grand final remembered for the Storm's former halfback Cooper Cronk overcoming a major shoulder injury to help Luke Keary pilot them to victory. Last year they were eliminated in the preliminary final by the same opponents.