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The 1969 Balmain Tigers.

As part of a series of fresh looks at the grand finals of yesteryear, revisits the controversial 1969 grand final between Balmain and South Sydney. 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, match highlights and great moments from these memorable encounters.

A crowd of nearly 59,000 fans packed the Sydney Cricket Ground to see what would become the 11th and final premiership win for Balmain, an 11-2 boilover.

They made only two more grand finals – in 1988 and 1989 which both ended in heartbreak – before merging with fellow foundation club Western Suburbs after the 1999 season to form the Wests Tigers, who tasted premiership success in 2005.

The 1969 grand final pitted the two best teams of the season against each other – the Rabbitohs were the minor premiers after amassing 18 wins from 22 regular-season matches for a whopping +267 points differential.

Balmain were only two competition points behind in second with a 17-5 record.

Souths qualified for the grand final first after beating the Tigers 14-13 in their semi-final with Balmain making it to the title decider after edging out Manly 15-14.

The Rabbitohs had a star-studded line-up led by a pack featuring four future Hall of Famers in captain John Sattler, Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy and John O'Neill.

Full Match Replay: Tigers v Rabbitohs - Grand Final, 1969

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Six of their seven backs played international football during their career, including superboot fullback Eric Simms, dual international Mike Cleary and five-eighth Denis Pittard.

Souths had won the previous two premierships and would win the next two but what would have been a five-year dynasty, on the heels of St George's 11-year reign, was punctuated by Balmain's famous 1969 upset.

Not only were they up against a clearly superior team on paper, the Tigers did not have the services of their best young forward, future Immortal Arthur Beetson, who had been suspended for two matches for punching Coote in the semi-final.

With rookie coach Leo Nosworthy at the helm, the Tigers devised a strategy of disrupting South Sydney and bringing them back to Balmain's level by slowing down the play-the-balls and feigning injuries to stop play.

Respected rugby league author Ian Heads, in his book The Great Grand Final Heist, details how there were massive amounts wagered on the outcome of the match, which raised questions about links to the shady figures involved in underworld betting scene at the time.

Play of the day

Reserve winger Sid Williams scored the only try of the match when he finished off a clever play set up by British import Dave Bolton.

After accepting a pass from Tigers captain Peter Provan deep in Souths territory, Bolton jinks and shifts the ball back to Provan on the blind side, who takes the ball up to Sattler and offloads to centre Terry Parker, who gets to the outside of his defender before putting Williams over in the corner. 

It gave the Tigers a 9-0 lead 15 minutes into the second half.

Parker went on to be a successful administrator after hanging up his boots, serving a lengthy stint as South Sydney chief in the 1980s and '90s.

Sid Williams secures Balmain upset

Best player

When the centenary of rugby league in Australia was celebrated in 2008, the man of the match in the era of mandatory grand finals since 1954 were posthumously awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.

The 1969 award was assigned to Balmain playmaker Dave Bolton, who set up the decisive try and also kicked two field goals, back in the time when they were worth two points each and were often used in general play rather than at the end of matches like the modern era.

The quote

Allan Fitzgibbon, who went on to coach Cronulla and Illawarra, was a young Balmain centre in the grand final. When asked about the Tigers' dubious tactics in The Great Grand Final Heist, he said: "They were a great side [and] if we played the way they wanted us to play, we were going to get killed. So whatever tactics we had to employ to keep us in the contest, well, that’s what we did."

The what-if moment

Late in the first half, Rabbitohs forward Bob McCarthy was rampaging with only the fullback to beat to score a try which would have cut the 6-0 gap to one but the pass from prop John O'Neill was ruled forward even though replays suggest it had travelled backwards.

Peter Provan is congratulated by big brother Norm after Balmain's 1969 grand final win.
Peter Provan is congratulated by big brother Norm after Balmain's 1969 grand final win. ©Sydney Morning Herald

Unsung hero

Peter Provan lived in the shadow of his brother Norm for most of his career but on September 20, 1969, it was little brother's time to shine.

Peter, who had left St George for Balmain in 1961, retired after leading the Tigers to their grand final win over the Rabbitohs and his older brother, the future Immortal who had been integral to the Dragons' 11 straight premierships, was one of the first to congratulate him after the game.

The following year

The Tigers failed to recapture the magic of '69 the next season and missed out on the playoffs after finishing sixth. Souths regained their swagger to again win the minor premiership and went on to beat Manly 23-12 in the grand final, made famous by Sattler's heroic effort to play despite a broken jaw.


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