1988 NSWRL season

The 1988 NSWRL season was the 81st season of professional rugby league football in Australia, and saw the first expansion of the New South Wales Rugby League Premiership outside the borders of New South Wales, with the addition of three new teams: the Brisbane Broncos, Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants. The largest NSWRL premiership yet, sixteen clubs competed during the 1988 season, with the J J Giltinan Shield for minor premiers going to Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. The finals culminated in a grand final for the Winfield Cup between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Balmain Tigers. This season NSWRL teams also competed for the 1988 Panasonic Cup.

1988 New South Wales Rugby League premiership
PremiersCanterbury colours.svg Canterbury-Bankstown (6th title)
Minor premiersCronulla colours.svg Cronulla-Sutherland (1st title)
Matches played183
Points scored6559
Top points scorer(s)Canberra colours.svg Gary Belcher (218)
Player of the yearCronulla colours.svg Barry Russell (Rothmans Medal)
Top try-scorer(s)Canberra colours.svg John Ferguson (20)

Season summaryEdit

1988 was the year of the Australian Bicentenary celebrations, and on 4 March, the season opened with the first game of rugby league played at the newly built Sydney Football Stadium.[1] The St. George Dragons defeated the Eastern Suburbs Roosters 24–14. Easts and South Sydney would use the SFS as their home venue from 1988. This saw the end of both the Sydney Sports Ground (which closed due to the building of the SFS) and Redfern Oval as regular venues.

The brand new Brisbane Broncos club, featuring Australian Kangaroos captain Wally Lewis and starting their first ever season of football, played their first match against the previous season's premiers the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and won 44–10.

Eventual grand finalists the Balmain Tigers had a dreadful start to the season with six wins and five losses by the end of the first full round. But their plight was rescued by a masterstroke from their chief executive Keith Barnes. The Great Britain side was touring Australia that season and in strict secrecy Barnes negotiated to have the English captain and centre Ellery Hanley – judged the best player in the English competition the previous season and an undoubted world-class player – to join the Tigers. Barnes got to the NSWRL to register Hanley at 4.55pm on 30 June, just five minutes inside the deadline for signing players for that season.

The 1988 season's Rothmans Medallist was Cronulla-Sutherland's Barry Russell.[2] The Dally M Award went to Russell's teammate Gavin Miller, and Rugby League Week gave its player of the year award to Balmian's hooker, Ben Elias.

Twenty-two regular season rounds were played in total from March till August, with Cronulla-Sutherland winning their first ever minor premiership since joining the competition in 1967. Penrith and Balmain finished on equal points in fifth place and played each other for the place in the top five, alongside Cronulla, Canterbury, Canberra and Manly.


This season saw the premiership's first expansion since 1982 with the addition of three newly created teams: the Brisbane Broncos, the Gold Coast-Tweed Giants and the Newcastle Knights.[3] This brought the League another step closer to becoming a national competition as a total of sixteen teams, the largest number in the tournament's history, contested the premiership, including five Sydney-based foundation teams, another six from Sydney, two from greater New South Wales, two from Queensland, and one from the Australian Capital Territory.

Balmain Tigers
81st season
Ground: Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Warren Ryan
Captain: Wayne Pearce
Brisbane Broncos
1st season
Ground: Lang Park
Coach: Wayne Bennett
Captain: Wally Lewis
Canberra Raiders
7th season
Ground: Seiffert Oval
Coach: Tim Sheens
Captain: Dean Lance
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
54th season
Ground: Belmore Oval
Coach: Phil Gould
Captain: Peter Tunks
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
22nd season
Ground: Caltex Field
Coach: Allan Fitzgibbon
Captain: David Hatch
Eastern Suburbs Roosters
81st season
Ground: Sydney Football Stadium
Coach: Arthur Beetson
Captain: Hugh McGahan
Gold Coast-Tweed Giants
1st season
Ground: Seagulls Stadium
Coach: Bob McCarthy
Captain: Billy Johnstone
Illawarra Steelers
7th season
Ground: Wollongong Stadium
Coach: Terry Fearnley
Captain: Perry HaddockPaul Upfield

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
42nd season
Ground: Brookvale Oval
Coach: Bob Fulton
Captain: Paul Vautin
Newcastle Knights
1st season
Ground: Newcastle ISC
Coach: Allan McMahon
Captain: Sam Stewart
North Sydney Bears
81st season
Ground: North Sydney Oval
Coach: Frank Stanton
Captain: Mark Graham
Parramatta Eels
42nd season
Ground: Parramatta Stadium
Coach: John Monie
Captain: Peter Sterling
Penrith Panthers
22nd season
Ground: Penrith Stadium
Coach: Ron Willey
Captain: Royce Simmons
South Sydney Rabbitohs
81st season
Ground: Sydney Football Stadium
Coach: George Piggins
Captain: Mario Fenech
St. George Dragons
68th season
Ground: Belmore Sports Ground
Coach: Ted Glossop
Captain: Craig Young
Western Suburbs Magpies
81st season
Ground: Orana Park
Coach: Laurie FreierJohn Bailey
Captain: Ian Schubert


1988 saw the NSWRL move their advertising account from John Singleton Advertising to Hertz Walpole Advertising. There was initially however no shift in the prior campaign direction.

For the second year in succession a visual and vocal performance by Australian rock journeyman John "Swanee" Swan was used. Swanee recorded a purpose-written jingle entitled "The Greatest Game of All" and a rock clip style advertisement was shot on a stage setting with smoke, lights and fireworks. The performance footage was interspersed with game action.

Five years later Swan's younger brother Jimmy Barnes would also feature in an NSWRL season advertisement performing alongside Tina Turner.


Team Pld W D L PF PA PD Pts
1   Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 22 16 2 4 507 330 +177 34
2   Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (P) 22 16 0 6 412 268 +144 32
3   Canberra Raiders 22 15 0 7 596 346 +250 30
4   Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 22 15 0 7 538 347 +191 30
5   Penrith Panthers 22 15 0 7 394 258 +136 30
6   Balmain Tigers 22 15 0 7 402 341 +61 30
7   Brisbane Broncos 22 14 0 8 474 368 +106 28
8   South Sydney Rabbitohs 22 12 2 8 425 383 +42 24
9   North Sydney Bears 22 9 2 11 366 424 −58 20
10   St. George Dragons 22 9 0 13 352 493 −141 18
11   Parramatta Eels 22 8 0 14 359 412 −53 16
12   Eastern Suburbs Roosters 22 6 3 13 387 443 −56 15
13   Illawarra Steelers 22 6 1 15 353 510 −157 13
14   Newcastle Knights 22 5 1 16 270 460 −190 11
15   Gold Coast Chargers 22 4 2 16 238 484 −246 10
16   Western Suburbs Magpies 22 4 1 17 287 493 −206 9
  • South Sydney were stripped of 2 competition points due to an illegal replacement in one game.


Balmain had staged a gripping charge for the final five, winning nine of their last eleven games including five in a row to leave them in equal fifth spot with the Penrith Panthers at the regular season's end. They then won four sudden death finals to make it to the Grand Final.

Home Score Away Match Information
Date and Time Venue Referee Crowd
  Penrith Panthers 8–28   Balmain Tigers 16 August 1988 Parramatta Stadium Mick Stone 14,206
Qualifying Finals
  Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 6–19   Balmain Tigers 20 August 1988 Sydney Football Stadium Mick Stone 25,327
  Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 19–18   Canberra Raiders 21 August 1988 Sydney Football Stadium Graham Annesley 19,259
Semi Finals
  Canberra Raiders 6–14   Balmain Tigers 27 August 1988 Sydney Football Stadium Mick Stone 28,879
  Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 8–26   Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 28 August 1988 Sydney Football Stadium Graham Annesley 31,684
Preliminary Final
  Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 2–9   Balmain Tigers 4 September 1988 Sydney Football Stadium Mick Stone 34,848
Grand Final
  Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 24–12   Balmain Tigers 11 September 1988 Sydney Football Stadium Mick Stone 40,000

Grand FinalEdit

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Position Balmain Tigers
Jason Alchin FB Garry Jack
Glen Nissen WG Russell Gartner
Tony Currie CE Ellery Hanley
Andrew Farrar CE Michael Pobjie
Robin Thorne WG Ross Conlon
Terry Lamb FE Mick Neil
Michael Hagan HB Gary Freeman
Paul Dunn PR Bruce McGuire
Joe Thomas HK Benny Elias
Peter Tunks (c) PR Kerry Hemsley
David Gillespie SR Paul Sironen
Steve Folkes SR David Brooks
Paul Langmack LK Wayne Pearce (c)
Steve Mortimer Bench Kevin Hardwick
Brandon Lee Bench Steve Edmed
Darren McCarthy Bench Scott Gale
Mark Bugden Bench
Phil Gould Coach Warren Ryan

Following Balmain's extraordinary late season run in winning thirteen of fifteen games, the stage was set for a Grand Final of great appeal. 1980s master coach Warren Ryan of Balmain was up against the club he had coached for four years to three grand finals and two premierships, as well as being matched against the man who had replaced him at Canterbury – Phil Gould. It was master against pupil. At just 30 years of age, Gould was vying not only to become the youngest coach to win a grand final but the first since Balmain's Leo Nosworthy in 1969 to steer a team to premiership victory in his first season coaching the top-grade.

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs faced the Balmain Tigers on 11 September 1988 in the first Grand Final played at the Sydney Football Stadium and the last game for Steve Mortimer. The match was played early so that Channel Ten could broadcast the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Australian national anthem was performed by Glenn Shorrock.

After five minutes Peter Tunks was sent to the sin bin for ten minutes for treading on Ben Elias. The first points of the match were scored shortly after from Terry Lamb's successful penalty kick. Another penalty kick from Lamb put the Bulldogs in front 4 nil. However Balmain grabbed the first try an Elias put up a bomb and was first to the ball ahead of Bulldog Jason Alchin. Conlon's conversion from in front gave the Tigers the lead for first time at 6–4.[4]

A highly controversial tackle by Terry Lamb put Balmain's in form British import Ellery Hanley out of the game before the 30-minute mark had been reached.[5] Hanley staggered off, heavily concussed, with the score at 6–4. Under the rules of the time, Hanley was allowed 10 minutes to recover in the head bin. If he could not return he would need to be replaced. He returned just before half-time and stood, out-of-sorts, on the wing. The Bulldogs then ran in a 70-metre try from broken play and went to the break with a lead of 10–8.

Hanley did not return after half-time and the Bulldogs started to dominate. A great Canterbury team try to Michael Hagan sealed the match. Bruce McGuire scored Balmain's second try late in the match although the outcome was already clear. The match ended on a sentimental note when Gould called the Bulldog's representative star, former captain and 271 game veteran, Steve Mortimer to the sideline. He was less than fully fit and had his arm heavily padded to protect the wrist he had broken early in the season. However Mortimer had been named as a fresh reserve as tribute to his previous club contributions and the match ended with him moving to dummy half and taking the ball up for the last time.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 24
Tries: Nissen, Hagan, Gillespie, Lamb
Goals: Lamb 4

Balmain Tigers 12
Tries: Elias, McGuire
Goals: Conlon 2

Clive Churchill Medal: Paul Dunn (Canterbury)[6]


  1. ^ "Sydney Football Stadium Magic Moments". sydneycricketground.com.au. Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust. Archived from the original on 16 August 2007. Retrieved 2 September 2009.
  2. ^ Paul Tait & Heather Smith (1 September 1988). "Cool Russell is ready to shoulder the burden for Sharks". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australia: Fairfax. p. 50. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  3. ^ "History of the Premiership". centenaryofrugbyleague.com.au. Australian Rugby League. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  4. ^ Weidler, Danny (11 September 1988). "Minutes that mattered". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Digital. p. 3. Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  5. ^ Coady, Ben (28 September 2009). "Grand final dramas". WA Today. Australia: Fairfax Digital. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  6. ^ D'Souza, Miguel. "Grand Final History". wwos.ninemsn.com.au. AAP. Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2013.

External linksEdit