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1997 Super League grand final rewind: Sharks run into unstoppable Broncos

As part of a series of fresh looks at the grand finals of yesteryear, NRL.com revisits the decider between Brisbane and Cronulla from the lone Super League season in 1997.

NRL.com 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.

The one and only season of Super League in Australia featured eight breakaway teams from the Australian Rugby League and two new clubs – the Hunter Mariners and Adelaide Rams – with the Broncos and Sharks finishing atop the ladder at the end of the regular season.

Both clubs had featured within the top five of the 20-team ARL competition the year before, with Brisbane an established powerhouse having already won two titles during the 1990s while Cronulla were still chasing their first premiership after three decades as a club.

The top-five finals series meant the Broncos actually had two rest weeks during the playoffs, while Cronulla played four matches against just two teams.

Full Match Replay: Broncos v Sharks - SL Grand Final, 1997

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The Sharks beat Canberra in week one, were thumped by Brisbane 34-2 in the major semi-final in week two, then beat Canberra again in week three to book a rematch with the Broncos in the grand final.

Minor premiers Brisbane went into the match as hot favourites, with the kind of star-studded line-up that would be hard to imagine during the salary cap era (the cap would be reintroduced for the merged National Rugby League competition in 1999).

Brisbane's backline featured present or future representative stars Darren Lockyer, Allan Langer, Kevin Walters, Wendell Sailor, Steve Renouf, Anthony Mundine, and Michael Hancock off the bench. The starting pack included Shane Webcke, Gordon Tallis, Brad Thorn, Andrew Gee and Darren Smith.

The Sharks side wasn't too shabby either, led by Australian internationals Andrew Ettingshausen, Mat Rogers and Jason Stevens, Kiwis forward Tawera Nikau and star fullback David Peachey. And while the Broncos boasted much of the Maroons Origin side there was a similar flavour to the Sharks outfit as well, with five Queenslanders in the side.

Lockyer and Rogers traded early penalty goals, and the contest was tight after half an hour with Brisbane leading 4-2. The only try of the first half came when Rogers failed to defuse an Allan Langer bomb, with Steve Renouf pouncing for his first try of the night.

Cronulla trailed 10-2 at the break but hit back less than four minutes into the second half, Wendell Sailor throwing a shocking pass inside his own half before Geoff Bell toed the ball ahead for Russell Richardson to score.

It was as close as the Sharks would get.

Match Highlights: Broncos v Sharks

In the 55th minute, Renouf was in again, receiving a Lockyer pass on the end of a sweeping backline movement to the left after Peachey had lost the ball in a tackle.

Renouf's hat-trick was complete 10 minutes later, this time taking an inside ball from Lockyer to crash over.

When Smith offloaded to an unmarked Hancock with a couple of minutes left on the clock the Broncos had run out 26-8 winners in front of a 58,912-strong Brisbane crowd – the largest attendance at a grand final since 1977.

Play of the day

Lockyer had a superb game, with five goals from six attempts in torrential conditions plus two try assists, and his pass for Renouf's third try was probably his best moment.

Having sent his star centre over with a flat, fast cutout pass 10 minutes earlier, this time Lockyer looked to run himself – sliding towards the left wing and drawing the opposition centre before throwing an inside pass for Renouf.

The centre's angled run was too strong, beating two attempted tackles on the way to the line.

Renouf gets a grand final hat-trick

Best player

Renouf, the third player to score a hat-trick in a grand final, was the obvious choice for man of the match. A superb tackle-busting ball-runner, Renouf finished the season with 14 tries from 15 appearances for Brisbane.

Lockyer puts Renouf in for his second

The quote

"He is going to be a superstar, Darren Lockyer" - Peter Sterling was on the money during commentary for Channel Nine, predicting big things for the 20-year-old Broncos fullback who would go on to win two Golden Boot awards, the Clive Churchill Medal, the Wally Lewis Medal, six individual Dally M positional awards and become a member of the Australian Hall of Fame.

The what-if moment

Sharks fullback David Peachey's error metres from his own tryline in the 55th minute opened the floodgates for Brisbane.

Peachey had actually brought down a booming Darren Lockyer bomb fairly comfortably, but lost possession in a tackle from Brisbane back-rower Peter Ryan. A couple of plays later Renouf had his second try of the game and Cronulla were never really in the contest from that point on.

Broncos v Sharks - Grand Final, 1997

Unsung hero

Peter Ryan didn't have the representative pedigree of most of his teammates but his status as one of Brisbane's toughest defenders was vital in turning the game his team's way.

In a scrappy contest in difficult conditions, neither team was as slick in attack as they would've liked and Ryan's hit on Peachey broke the game open – giving the Broncos' star-studded backline a golden try-scoring opportunity that they didn't waste.

Ryan, who played for Queensland's Super League Tri-Series side in 1997 and played two matches for the Maroons the following year, would go on to work as a defence coach for the Broncos, North Queensland Cowboys and ACT Brumbies.

The following year

Brisbane established themselves as the best team of the decade with a premiership in the inaugural NRL season in 1998, once again winning the minor and major premierships. Gorden Tallis won the Clive Churchill Medal while Lockyer – still only 21 – was named Dally M Fullback of the Year.

The Sharks, meanwhile, slipped to 11th place on the ladder, missing the finals. They would bounce back in 1999 with a super minor premiership-winning season, but would be made to wait until 2016 for their first grand final victory.