1989 NSWRL season

The 1989 NSWRL season was the 82nd season of professional rugby league football in Australia. Sixteen clubs competed for the New South Wales Rugby League's J J Giltinan Shield and Winfield Cup Premiership during the season, which culminated in a grand final between the Canberra Raiders and Balmain Tigers. This season NSWRL teams also competed for the 1989 Panasonic Cup. This would be the last time a mid-season competition was played concurrent with the regular season. From 1990 it would become a pre-season competition.

1989 New South Wales Rugby League premiership
PremiersCanberra colours.svg Canberra (1st title)
Minor premiersSouth Sydney colours.svg South Sydney (17th title)
Matches played183
Points scored5537
Top points scorer(s)St. George colours.svg Ricky Walford (146)
Balmain colours.svg Andy Currier (146)
Player of the yearCronulla colours.svg Gavin Miller &
Newcastle colours.svg Mark Sargent (Rothmans Medal)
Top try-scorer(s)Canberra colours.svg Gary Belcher (17)

Season summaryEdit

Twenty-two regular season rounds were played from March till August, resulting in a top five of Souths, Penrith, Balmain, Canberra and Cronulla (who finished equal with Brisbane but beat them in a play-off for fifth) to battle it out in the finals.

This year Penrith forward Geoff Gerard set new record for most first-grade NSWRL permiership games at 320 before retiring at the end of the season.

The 1989 season's Rothmans Medal was shared by Cronulla-Sutherland forward Gavin Miller and Newcastle Knights front-rower Mark Sargent. Miller also won the Dally M Award and was named Rugby League Week's player of the year.


The lineup of teams remained unchanged from the previous season, with sixteen clubs contesting 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
82nd season
Ground: Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Warren Ryan
Captain: Wayne Pearce
Brisbane Broncos
2nd season
Ground: Lang Park
Coach: Wayne Bennett
Captain: Wally Lewis
Canberra Raiders
8th season
Ground: Seiffert Oval
Coach: Tim Sheens
Captain: Mal Meninga
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
55th season
Ground: Belmore Oval
Coach: Phil Gould
Captain: Peter Tunks
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
23rd season
Ground: Caltex Field
Coach: Allan Fitzgibbon
Captain: David Hatch
Eastern Suburbs Roosters
82nd season
Ground: Sydney Football Stadium
Coach: Russell Fairfax
Captain: Hugh McGahan
Gold Coast Giants
2nd season
Ground: Seagulls Stadium
Coach: Bob McCarthy
Captain: Ron GibbsBilly Johnstone
Illawarra Steelers
8th season
Ground: Wollongong Stadium
Coach: Ron Hilditch
Captain: Chris Walsh

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
43rd season
Ground: Brookvale Oval
Coach: Alan Thompson
Captain: Paul Vautin
Newcastle Knights
2nd season
Ground: Newcastle ISC
Coach: Allan McMahon
Captain: Sam Stewart
North Sydney Bears
82nd season
Ground: North Sydney Oval
Coach: Frank Stanton
Captain: John Dorahy
Parramatta Eels
43rd season
Ground: Parramatta Stadium
Coach: John Monie
Captain: Peter Sterling
Penrith Panthers
23rd season
Ground: Penrith Stadium
Coach: Ron Willey
Captain: Royce Simmons
South Sydney Rabbitohs
82nd season
Ground: Sydney Football Stadium
Coach: George Piggins
Captain: Mario Fenech
St. George Dragons
70th season
Ground: Kogarah Oval
Coach: Craig Young
Captain: Brian Johnston
Western Suburbs Magpies
82nd season
Ground: Orana Park
Coach: John Bailey
Captain: Cameron Blair


1989 was a watershed year for the New South Wales Rugby League's advertising commencing an association with Tina Turner that would last until 1995. In those years the NSWRL, its ad agency Hertz Walpole and promotions consultant Brian Walsh would fundamentally change the image and popular perception of the game in Australia.

Agency copywriter Paul Knights inspired by the brutal simplicity of the game, saw a link to the lyrics in Tina Turner's 1987 hit What You Get Is What You See[1] written by Terry Britten & Graham Lyle. Negotiations were assisted by the fact that her Australian manager Roger Davies was familiar with the game and the rights deal was easily done.

There was initially no intention to film Tina performing the song but at the last minute an availability appeared in her schedule. The agency and a production crew were despatched to England along with the NSWRL's General Manager John Quayle bearing bags of balls, jumpers and branded goalpost pads. Leading players Cliff Lyons (Manly) and Gavin Miller (Cronulla) were both in England at the time playing for Leeds and Hull Kingston Rovers respectively and made themselves available for the film and promotional stills shoot with Tina. In the finished ad the Tina footage is interspersed with the usual big hits and crowd scenes plus shots of the star players of the time in pre-season training. Lyons appears in the commercial in a hammy locker room shot with Tina.

Initial questions about the relevance of Tina to the Australian game were displaced when the up tempo, sexy ad appeared and the long running and successful association began.


Team Pld W D L PF PA PD Pts
1   South Sydney 22 18 1 3 390 207 +183 37
2   Penrith 22 16 0 6 438 241 +197 32
3   Balmain 22 14 1 7 380 236 +144 29
4   Canberra (P) 22 14 0 8 457 287 +170 28
5   Brisbane 22 14 0 8 398 290 +108 28
6   Cronulla-Sutherland 22 14 0 8 368 281 +87 28
7   Newcastle 22 11 0 11 281 281 0 22
8   Parramatta 22 11 0 11 346 366 -20 22
9   Canterbury-Bankstown 22 10 2 10 280 337 -57 22
10   St. George 22 10 0 12 330 356 -26 20
11   Eastern Suburbs 22 9 1 12 348 346 +2 19
12   Manly-Warringah 22 9 1 12 334 343 -9 19
13   Western Suburbs 22 7 1 14 229 389 -160 15
14   Gold Coast 22 7 1 14 223 383 -160 15
15   North Sydney 22 5 1 16 194 406 -212 11
16   Illawarra 22 2 1 19 256 503 -247 5


Cronulla and Brisbane, having finished equal 5th, played off for a semi-final berth. With Cronulla taking 5th spot in a dominant display, in a midweek clash on neutral turf at the recently constructed Parramatta Stadium.

Despite being on fourth place on the ladder, Canberra went on to win the competition, the first club to do so since the top five system's introduction. They won their last nine games of the season. Canberra's win also saw them become the first non-Sydney based club to win the premiership.

Home Score Away Match Information
Date and Time Venue Referee Crowd
  Brisbane Broncos 14-38   Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 29 August 1989 Parramatta Stadium Mick Stone 9,047
Qualifying Finals
  Canberra Raiders 31-10   Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 2 September 1989 Sydney Football Stadium Bill Harrigan 18,186
  Penrith Panthers 12-24   Balmain Tigers 3 September 1989 Sydney Football Stadium Mick Stone 29,508
Semi Finals
  Penrith Panthers 18-27   Canberra Raiders 9 September 1989 Sydney Football Stadium Mick Stone 20,314
  South Sydney Rabbitohs 10-20   Balmain Tigers 10 September 1989 Sydney Football Stadium Bill Harrigan 40,000
Preliminary Final
  South Sydney Rabbitohs 16-32   Canberra Raiders 17 September 1989 Sydney Football Stadium Bill Harrigan 31,469
Grand final
  Balmain Tigers 14-19   Canberra Raiders 24 September 1989 Sydney Football Stadium Bill Harrigan 40,500

Grand finalEdit

Balmain Tigers Position Canberra Raiders
Garry Jack FB Gary Belcher
Steve O'Brien WG Matthew Wood
Tim Brasher CE Mal Meninga (c)
Andy Currier CE Laurie Daley
James Grant WG John Ferguson
Mick Neil FE Chris O'Sullivan
Gary Freeman HB Ricky Stuart
Steve Roach PR Brent Todd
Benny Elias HK Steve Walters
Steve Edmed PR Glenn Lazarus
Paul Sironen SR Dean Lance
Bruce McGuire SR Gary Coyne
Wayne Pearce (c) LK Bradley Clyde
Kevin Hardwick Bench Kevin Walters
Shaun Edwards Bench Steve Jackson
Michael Pobjie Bench Paul Martin
Warren Ryan Coach Tim Sheens

For only the second time ever, the grand final was not an all-Sydney affair. A number of rugby league writers have referred to the 1989 grand final as the greatest ever;[2] The Canberra Raiders, who were beaten grand finalists in 1987, had won five games straight in order to make the finals, and in the finals accounted for Cronulla, the emerging Penrith Panthers, and minor premiers South Sydney to qualify for their second grand final, though any loss would have eliminated the side from contention.

Canberra captain Mal Meninga had to overcome a broken arm from earlier in the season and played in a special cast. Also playing for the Raiders were future representative stars Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde, Ricky Stuart, Steve Walters and his younger brother Kevin and Glenn Lazarus, as well as established stars Gary Belcher, Brent Todd and John "Chicka" Ferguson. Canberra were coached by Tim Sheens.

Their opponents Balmain, beaten grand finalists in 1988, boasted a Test-strength pack including Steve "Blocker" Roach, Paul Sironen, Ben Elias, Bruce McGuire, and inspirational captain Wayne "Junior" Pearce, as well as a backline that included Garry Jack, goalkicking English import Andy Currier, New Zealand halfback Gary Freeman, former Wallaby rugby union winger James Grant, and schoolboy sensation Tim Brasher, were favourites to win. The Tigers were again coached by former Canterbury-Bankstown dual premiership winning coach Warren Ryan.

The pre-match entertainment was provided by Marc Hunter, Debra Byrne, Michael Edward Stevens, boy soprano Ben Hawks & John Williamson.[3]

Balmain led 12-2 at half time, having scored two tries against the run of play. The first came after an intercept by winger James Grant, snatching an offload from Raiders prop Brent Todd. The second was a great team effort with Paul Sironen steaming over under the posts after lead-up work from Andy Currier and Grant, all starting from a kick ahead by Currier after he had received a perfect offload from Steve Roach.

Canberra had looked marginally the better side in the first half and coach Tim Sheens spoke effectively to his players at the break, stressing that they could be considered unlucky to be trailing. Fifteen minutes into the second half referee Bill Harrigan controversially ruled against Balmain lock Bruce McGuire for using offside Raider Steve Walters as a shepherd.[4] From the ensuing penalty the Raiders kicked for touch and "Chicka" Ferguson set up the Raiders' first try when he escaped an attempted tackle by Currier, passed to Belcher, who also beat Currier to score. The gap was narrowed to 12-8.

Twice in the last twenty minutes Balmain nearly wrapped up the match. Michael Neil was ankle-tapped five metres from the line in a desperate dive by Mal Meninga. Then the Tigers' captain Wayne Pearce lost the ball with the line wide open and centre Tim Brasher unmarked.

Warren Ryan's decisions with fifteen minutes left to replace the enforcer Roach with defender Kevin Hardwick may have been the turning point in the game. Ryan effectively set out to defend a six-point lead, a tactic which ultimately backfired. Benny Elias' field goal attempt hit the cross bar, after he'd earlier had one charged down by Meninga. However, with 90 seconds to go and it seemingly all over for the Raiders, the evergreen Ferguson scored the try of his life. Chris O'Sullivan sent up a searching bomb, Laurie Daley was there to palm the ball to Ferguson who stepped back inside past three converging defenders to score close to the posts, enabling an easy conversion for Meninga to level.[5]

With Canberra's confidence mounting, the game became the first grand final since 1977 to go into same-day extra time. At this point the Sironen/Roach replacements became crucial with neither able to resume the field for the extra period.

Garry Jack knocked on two minutes into extra time and from the scrum Canberra's five-eighth Chris O'Sullivan kicked a field goal. Minutes from the finish, Raiders replacement Steve Jackson received the ball fifteen metres from the line and made for the tryline, beating two men and then carrying a further three with him. As he was being brought down he reached out to place the ball one-handed on the line.

It was Canberra's first ever premiership; the first grand final won by an out-of-Sydney club; and the first team to win from 4th position. Canberra's nineteen-year-old lock Bradley Clyde was a deserved Clive Churchill Medal winner as the man of the match, though most agreed that a number of Raiders could have won the medal, including fullback Gary Belcher.

Such was the drama of the match that an account of it was written by Thomas Keneally entitled "A movie script that came to life".[6] This memorable match is now commemorated each year with the 1989 League Legends Cup.

Canberra Raiders 19 (Tries: Belcher, Ferguson, Jackson. Goals: Meninga 3/5. Field Goals: O'Sullivan)

Balmain Tigers 14 (Tries:Grant, Sironen. Goals:Currier 3/4)

Referee: Bill Harrigan

Attendance: 40,500

Clive Churchill Medal: Bradley Clyde (Canberra)[7]

World Club ChallengeEdit

On 4 October, Canberra played British champions Widnes in the 1989 World Club Challenge at Old Trafford, Manchester. The Raiders lost 18 to 30 in front of 30,768 people.

Player statisticsEdit

The following statistics are as of the conclusion of Round 22.


  • Clarkson, Alan (1997). The Greatest Games We Ever Played (Essay Collection, ed Geoff Prenter). Sydney: Ironbark Publishing.
  • Rugby League Tables - Season 1989 Rugby League Tables.


  1. ^ Clemes, Michael D. (2002). New Zealand Case Studies in Strategic Marketing. Thomson Learning Nelson. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-86469-419-5.
  2. ^ [Clarkson, The Greatest Games We Ever Played p133]
  3. ^ MacDonald, John (25 September 1992). "Shut your Eyes, plug your Ears, and cringe". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australia: Fairfax. p. 75. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
  4. ^ "The pain of a grand final penalty". news.com.au. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  5. ^ Keneally, Thomas (2001). The best ever Australian Sports Writing. Australia: Black Inc. pp. 350–253. ISBN 1-86395-266-7. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
  6. ^ Headon, David (October 1999). "Up From the Ashes: The Phoenix of a Rugby League Literature" (PDF). Football Studies Volume 2, Issue 2. Football Studies Group. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 August 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
  7. ^ 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