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The 1981 New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership was the 74th season of Sydney's professional rugby league football competition, Australia's first. Twelve clubs, including six of 1908's foundation teams and another six from around Sydney competed for the J J Giltinan Shield and WD & HO Wills Cup during the season, which culminated in a grand final between the Parramatta and Newtown clubs. NSWRFL clubs also competed in the 1981 Tooth Cup and players from NSWRFL clubs were selected to represent the New South Wales team.

1981 New South Wales Rugby Football League
PremiersParramatta colours.svg Parramatta (1st title)
Minor premiersEastern Suburbs colours.svg Eastern Suburbs (15th title)
Matches played138
Points scored4160
Top points scorer(s)Cronulla colours.svg Steve Rogers (194)
Player of the yearEastern Suburbs colours.svg Kevin Hastings (Rothmans Medal)
Top try-scorer(s)Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Terry Fahey (16)

Season summaryEdit

In 1981 the "sin-bin" was introduced to rugby league in Australia, enabling referees to send players from the field for five or ten minute periods for minor or deliberate technical offences.[1] Newtown Jets hooker Barry Jensen became the first player to be sent from the field in this manner.

Midway through the season, players contracted to NSWRFL clubs were selected to represent the New South Wales team in two games against the Queensland team in 1981. After that the experimental 1981 State of Origin game was played, and for the second time in history NSWRFL clubs' players were able to represent Queensland.

Twenty-two regular season rounds were played from March until August, resulting in a top five of Easts, Newtown, Parramatta, Cronulla and Manly who battled it out in the finals.

Eastern Suburbs' halfback Kevin Hastings won the 1981 season's Rothmans Medal as well as Rugby League Week's Player of the Year award. The Dally M Award went to Cronulla-Sutherland centre, Steve Rogers.


This was to be the final year that the NSWRFL premiership was an all-Sydney competition, with the introduction of teams from Canberra and Illawarra in 1982 starting a new era of expansion which would see the League transform into a national, then international competition.

Balmain Tigers
74th season
Ground: Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Frank Stanton
Captain: Allan McMahonNeil Whittaker
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
47th season
Ground: Belmore Oval
Coach: Ted Glossop
Captain: Mark Hughes & Garry Hughes
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
15th season
Ground: Endeavour Field
Coach: Greg Pierce
Captain: Steve Rogers
Eastern Suburbs Roosters
74th season
Ground: Sydney Sports Ground
Coach: Bob Fulton
Captain: Royce Ayliffe
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
35th season
Ground: Brookvale Oval
Coach: Ray Ritchie
Captain: Max Krilich
Newtown Jets
74th season
Ground: Henson Park
Coach: Warren Ryan
Captain: Tommy Raudonikis
North Sydney Bears
74th season
Ground:North Sydney Oval
Coach: Ron Willey
Captain: Mark Graham
Parramatta Eels
35th season
Ground: Cumberland Oval
Coach: Jack Gibson
Captain: Steve Edge
Penrith Panthers
15th season
Ground: Penrith Park
Coach: Len Stacker
Captain: Tim Sheens
South Sydney Rabbitohs
74th season
Ground: Redfern Oval
Coach: Bill Anderson
Captain: Nathan GibbsMitch Brennan
St. George Dragons
61st season
Ground: Kogarah Oval
Coach: Harry Bath
Captain: Craig Young
Western Suburbs Magpies
74th season
Ground: Lidcombe Oval
Coach: Roy Masters
Captain: Warren Boland


Team Pld W D L PF PA PD Pts
1   Eastern Suburbs 22 16 0 6 385 225 +160 32
2   Newtown 22 14 2 6 326 268 +58 30
3   Parramatta 22 14 1 7 398 246 +152 29
4   Cronulla-Sutherland 22 13 1 8 339 337 +2 27
5   Manly-Warringah 22 12 2 8 350 317 +33 26
6   Western Suburbs 22 11 1 10 311 352 -41 23
7   North Sydney 22 9 0 13 322 355 -33 18
8   St. George 22 8 1 13 320 399 -79 17
9   South Sydney 22 8 1 13 322 423 -101 17
10   Canterbury-Bankstown 22 8 0 14 340 344 -4 16
11   Penrith 22 8 0 14 305 350 -45 16
12   Balmain 22 6 1 15 293 395 -102 13


The elimination semi-final between Newtown and Manly-Warringah will always be remembered for the notorious all-in brawl, with the main combatants Newtown's Steve Bowden and Manly hardman Mark Broadhurst. Bowden was marched for the incident and was unable to take part in the Preliminary Final against Eastern Suburbs or the Grand Final against Parramatta.[2]

Home Score Away Match Information
Date and Time Venue Referee Crowd
Qualifying Finals
  Newtown Jets 8-10   Parramatta Eels 5 September 1981 Sydney Cricket Ground John Gocher 17,265
  Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 11-14   Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 6 September 1981 Sydney Cricket Ground Greg Hartley 21,635
Semi Finals
  Eastern Suburbs Roosters 8-12   Parramatta Eels 12 September 1981 Sydney Cricket Ground Greg Hartley 27,600
  Newtown Jets 20-15   Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 13 September 1981 Sydney Cricket Ground John Gocher 22,440
Preliminary Final
  Eastern Suburbs Roosters 5-15   Newtown Jets 19 September 1981 Sydney Cricket Ground Greg Hartley 25,243

Grand FinalEdit

Newtown Jets Position Parramatta Eels
Phil Sigsworth FB Steve McKenzie
John Ferguson WG Graeme Atkins
Mick Ryan CE Mick Cronin
Brian Hetherington CE Steve Ella
Ray Blacklock WG Eric Grothe
Paul Morris FE Brett Kenny
Tommy Raudonikis (c) HB Peter Sterling
Steve Blyth PR Ron Hilditch
Barry Jensen HK Steve Edge (c)
Craig Ellis PR Bob O'Reilly
Michael Pitman SR John Muggleton
Phil Gould SR Kevin Stevens
Graeme O'Grady LK Ray Price
Geoff Bugden Res. Steve Sharp
Jim Walters Res. Paul Taylor
Ken Wilson Res.
Shane McKellar Res.
Warren Ryan Coach Jack Gibson

Newtown had reached their first grand final in twenty-six years. Parramatta led 7-6 at half-time, but the Jets looked set to spring a major upset when tough half back Tommy Raudonikis crashed over to score early in the second-half. Then the Eels' brilliant backline exploded into action. The combination of Brett Kenny, Mick Cronin, Peter Sterling, Eric Grothe and Steve Ella dominated and would go on to feature in five grand finals and four premierships by the end of 1986.

Steve Edge became the first player to captain two different sides to premiership victory having captained the St George Dragons to a win over Parramatta in season 1977.

Master coach Jack Gibson had just six words for a packed Parramatta Leagues Club auditorium, who had just witnessed the Eels' first ever premiership since their 1947 entry to the competition. "Ding, dong, the witch is dead," he said before the thunderous chants of the success-starved blue and gold army of fans.

Parramatta 20 (Tries: Kenny 2, Atkins, Ella. Goals: Cronin 4.)

Newtown 11 (Tries: Hetherington, Raudonikis, O'Grady. Goal: Morris.)


  1. ^ Middleton, David (2008). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia (PDF). National Museum of Australia. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-876944-64-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-01-12.
  2. ^ 1981 NSWRFL Semi-final - Manly vs Newtown fight

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