You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Peter Tunks, Paul Langmack and Michael Hagan.

In the latest in a series of fresh looks back at the grand finals of yesteryear, revisits the memorable 1988 grand final between Canterbury and Balmain. has gone into the vault to find footage of the grand finals from the pre-NRL era dating back to 1966 and will be showcasing these games, including a full replay, a mini version of each game, match highlights and great moments from these encounters.

If you want drama, you've come to the right place.

As well as Canterbury winning the 1988 title, it is the heavy knock that limited English star Ellery Hanley to just 30 minutes of action that remains the big talking point more than three decades later.

Full Match Replay: Bulldogs v Tigers - Grand Final, 1988

Sign up for a free NRL Account to access this video and other exclusive content.

Sign Up

Already have an NRL Account?

Log In

Not sure?   Learn more about an NRL Account .

Hanley was collected by Canterbury five-eighth Terry Lamb in an off-the-ball incident and was left heavily dazed with the clock ticking towards the 30-minute mark.

After spending 10 minutes in the "head bin" he briefly returned to the field but was unable to come back out for the second half.

While Canterbury won their fourth premiership of the decade (after wins in 1980, '84 and '85) the title drought for Balmain stretching back to 1969 would continue.

In the first grand final played at the new Sydney Football Stadium, rookie Bulldogs coach Phil Gould and a band of uncompromising players prevented the Tigers from achieving what would have been a premiership win for the ages.

Balmain needed to win a midweek playoff against Penrith to even make the final five after both teams finished the home-and-away season with 15-7 records.

Extended Highlights: Bulldogs v Tigers

With that challenge successfully navigated, they had to beat Manly, Canberra and minor premiers Cronulla to reach the decider. Across those four sudden-death matches they conceded a total of 22 points.

The Bulldogs finished the year with a 16-6 record and won their first two finals matches to qualify for the grand final and book an all-important week off between the major semi-final and the grand final.

Benny Elias scored the first try, touching down after following his own kick before Michael Hagan answered for the Bulldogs following some good work from Andrew Farrar and Glen Nissen. The Dogs led 10-8 at the break.

David Gillespie, Lamb and Nissen scored second-half tries to push the lead out to 24-8 before Bruce McGuire scored a consolation four-pointer for Balmain.

Benny on the spot

Play of the day

This Canterbury side was a no-nonsense unit, but they could also play some attractive football.

At no stage was this more evident than the long-range try Canterbury scored in the first half.

After crisp, long passes from halves Michael Hagan and Lamb inside their own 30-metre area, Farrar stepped Scott Gale (who had replaced Hanley) before drawing Balmain winger Ross Conlon and getting the ball out to Nissen.

He charged up the eastern wing, outpacing Paul Sironen before stepping inside Gary Freeman. He then drew Tigers fullback Garry Jack and passed the ball to Hagan who ran away to score.

Hagan and the Bulldogs strike from long range

Best player

Paul Dunn was named as the Clive Churchill Medal winner, but he was just one of a host of good players for Canterbury. Hagan scored a try and set up another with a perfectly placed kick. 

Paul Langmack was his usual mix of toughness and skill, while for a star-studded Tigers team, Wayne Pearce and Garry Jack turned in strong performances.

Bulldogs forward Paul Dunn.
Bulldogs forward Paul Dunn. ©NRL Photos

The quote

"I don't know if it was caused by Terry Lamb, or if it was just my head hitting the ground. I couldn't tell you because I have never looked at it since. Some people have said Terry got a good shot on me. I suspect, however, it was more a case of my head hitting the ground. I like to think it was accidental."  - Hanley recounting the incident involving Terry Lamb in Inside Sport magazine in 2005

The 1988 Balmain Tigers.
The 1988 Balmain Tigers. ©NRL Photos

The what-if moment

There's only one real contender here: What if Ellery Hanley had played the entire 80 minutes?

Hanley played just eight matches for the Tigers after arriving late in the season following representative commitments. What followed was some brilliant attacking play - just what you'd expect from the player who won the Golden Boot award that same year.

Terry Lamb is always in support

His powerful running game was something that wowed fans of all teams and once the Bulldogs no longer had to worry about him their job got a lot easier. That said, Canterbury's second-half performance would probably still have been enough if Hanley had played the entire 80 minutes.

Unsung hero

With club legend, NSW and Australian representative Steve Mortimer watching from the bench, there was no shortage of pressure on Michael Hagan.

Hagan delivered on the biggest stage, doing everything that was asked of him by coach Gould.

Also, was the case for most of his stellar career, Steve Folkes was a tireless worker who made everyone around him better.

Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Tigers

The following year

Balmain fans don't need any reminder. They led 12-2 at half-time of the 1989 grand final before Benny Elias hit the crossbar with a field goal attempt and Canberra forced the match into extra-time and went on to score a 19-14 victory. 

The Bulldogs found the going tough, missing the finals after having just 10 wins from 22 matches. They finished ninth in a 16-team competition.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

View All Partners