After the conclusion of the 2023 Super League season with Wigan Warriors claiming the title against Catalans Dragons, it is time to reflect.
The game was a tough and tight battle sullied by a couple of yellow cards.
But where does it rank compared to the rest of the Grand Finals? That is a question we’re answering today.
So after 26 Grand Finals, where does the 2023 decider rank?
26. Bradford 37-6 Wigan 2001
This was never a contest. The biggest Grand Final victory went to the Bulls after they had finished top. When it came to Old Trafford they completely outshone second place Wigan. I’ll never forget Stevo’s famous line: “anyone who’s got double-decker busses bring it down to Old Trafford because I’ll tell you what you’ve got plenty of space to park it.” That summed up how the Bulls carved open Wigan with Michael Withers grabbing a first half hat-trick.
25. Leeds 24-6 Castleford 2017
If 2001 was about Bradford ripping Wigan apart, this Grand Final was a masterclass in killing your opponent slowly with game management. Castleford went into the game desperate to win their first ever title but it was Leeds who got their fairytale ending as the departing Burrow and McGuire lifted the trophy. McGuire was outstanding and bossed the game from start to finish but in doing so sapped the life from the game making for a less exciting Grand Final but a very dominant one for the Rhinos.
24. St Helens 26-4 Hull FC 2006
This Grand Final is adorned by stories. Hull in their first Grand Final inspired by the amazing Steve Prescott against a treble-chasing St Helens. There were special moments in this one too including a superb try-saving tackle from Paul Wellens and an even better one from Shaun Briscoe. But eventually the Saints simply ran away with it as the game ceased to be a contest.
23. Wigan 12-4 Warrington 2018
Oddly, this is the only Grand Final without any goals and the only one to see the Harry Sunderland Award handed to someone on the losing side. That somewhat points to a lack of classic performances apart from the victors but it should be said Stefan Ratchford was impressive. The third Grand Final meeting between these two saw only four tries with the crowd having to wait 45 minutes between the third and fourth scores. Not the most entertaining Grand Final but certainly not a bad one as it was a tight and titanic tussle.
22. St Helens 23-6 Salford 2019
Another Grand Final which was all about the story, the tale in this one was could Salford do the unthinkable and win the Grand Final. Despite Saints’ fast start, there was a period when Salford looked like they could do it, they scored a superb try and played some scintillating rugby. I often wonder what would’ve happened had Tui Lolohea’s try been awarded. Eventually, Salford’s time in the sun faded and the Saints strangled the life out of the game cruising to a 7th Super League title.
21. Bradford 25-12 Wigan 2003
A relatively close Grand Final, despite Wigan’s halftime lead it did feel like there was only ever going to be one winner as the Bulls looked to claim the treble. A dominant second half from the West Yorkshire side saw them ease to victory with the departing Jimmy Lowes grabbing a try and bowing out a Super League champion. This Grand Final is also remembered for Terry Newton’s heartbreak at defeat as he shed tears having lost another Grand Final. He deserved to win one after all.
20. Wigan 10-2 Catalans Dragons
A nail biting affair. The first half itself would rank a lot higher but the game lost all of its edge in the second half. Wigan deserved to be further ahead and were irrepressible in the second half. Still a great watch but in the end there was only going to be one winner.
19. Wigan 22-10 St Helens 2010
A derby always spices up a Grand Final, but Wigan’s fast start took away the contest away from an injury hit St Helens side. The Warriors did play some superb rugby early on as they stormed to a three score lead. They then masterfully pulled through the second-half to victory. Meanwhile, St Helens ensured the game never got too far away from them giving their fans hope with a late try but it was never going to be enough.
18. St Helens 24-12 Leeds 2022
Last year’s title decider was always in the hands of St Helens however there were instances when you believed Leeds could nick it especially on the stroke of halftime as the Rhinos scored a lovely off the cuff try. Meanwhile, after Rhyse Martin’s try in the second half, there was a moment when a comeback seemed possible. However, Saints always had enough and scored some lovely tries through Mark Percival and Matty Lees.
17. Leeds 24-16 St Helens 2008
This Grand Final pitted the two finest Super League teams of all time against each other in my opinion. In the second of their three Grand Final meetings in a row, Leeds defied the odds to beat Saints – who were on a 23 game unbeaten run – to claim back-to-back titles. Despite being a tight contest, the game loses marks for feeling like it was always in the grind. There wasn’t that dramatic moment when the game began to turn, instead two sides just battled and eventually Leeds pulled away to an 8 point win.
16. Leeds 33-6 St Helens 2007
It might seem strange to place this game above its much closer sequel, but for me the most complete Grand Final performance from the Rhinos deserves to be credited. Home to one of the most underrated Grand Final tries of all time as Scott Donald “left Paul Wellens for dead” as Stevo put it, it saw Leeds score 11 points in 3 sets to storm passed the Saints and on the road to inflicting St Helens’ first ever Grand Final defeat.
15. St Helens 29-16 Wigan 2000
This Grand Final was a role reversal of their battle a decade later. The Saints were utterly dominant as the claimed back-to-back titles storming 17-4 ahead but Wigan were dogged and wouldn’t go away. In fact, two superb tries carried Wigan back to within one point, but Saints powered to victory late on.
14. Wigan 30-16 Warrington 2013
A special Grand Final down to the fact it featured the greatest comeback in the title decider’s history. 16-2 up, Warrington seemed finally headed to their first Super League crown. But this Wigan team desired the double and were a special side full of special players. They briskly turned the game around – helped on by a pair of injuries to Joel Monaghan and Stefan Ratchford – and claimed a 14 point victory with one of the best second half performances Old Trafford has seen.
13. Bradford 15-6 Leeds 2005
In 2005, Bradford created history by becoming the first side from outside the top 2 to win the Grand Final. Despite only being blessed with three tries it felt like a titanic tussle between two rivals that could’ve gone either way especially given Bradford’s Grand Final pedigree and Leeds’ status as reigning Champions. After a tight first half, the Bulls scored 7 points without reply in the second stanza and went onto claim the trophy.
12. Leeds 16-8 Bradford 2004
A year earlier, the Rhinos claimed the spoils in the first all-Yorkshire Grand Final. Similar to 2005, this was a tight contest between two sides well-prepared for a tough and tight encounter. It was a proper Grand Final but had enough touches of class to warrant a place higher up the list. Whether it was Diskin’s superb solo effort or McGuire and Senior combining for a dramatic clinching try, it had plenty of special moments as Leeds ended their 32 year wait to be crowned Champions.
11. St Helens 12-10 Catalans 2021
This was a really tense affair from start to finish. Both sides looked fairly evenly matched though the Dragons had to produce some superb defence to deny the Champions on a number of occasions. The Saints did breach the Dragons twice with brilliant tries from Kevin Naiqama and there was a touch of controversy with the Grand Final’s first ever yellow card.
10. Wigan 10-4 Leeds 1998
You never forget your first. Like 2004, this was a tight Grand Final and felt like a proper big game with neither side willing to give an inch. It was a battle, a war between the competition’s two best teams in 1998. It was eventually decided by a superb solo try from Jason Robinson which still stands as one of the best Grand Final tries of all time. A classic try to decide a classic and tight Grand Final.
9. Wigan 12-6 Warrington 2016
We continue our run through low-scoring but special Grand Finals with the 2016 decider. The low score line meant it looked as if the game could go either way at any point. It had its fair share of controversy too with a Ryan Atkins try disallowed when the Wolves were leading 6-2 with 26 minutes to go. Had the try been awarded, Warrington would’ve likely become the 5th side to be crowned Super League Champions. But Wigan’s defensive efforts denied him and that proved to be the turning point with Wigan finding back to back tries to win an incredibly close game between the competition’s best two teams at the time.
8. Leeds 26-18 Warrington 2012
This is arguably the most underrated Grand Final. Both teams played some fine rugby with scintillating tries from Ben Jones-Bishop, Joel Monaghan and Ryan Hall. There were spells when Leeds looked like they could pull away and times when the Wolves looked as if they could do the same. But the quality of both sides in attack and defence ensured no one ever led by more than 8 points which was the winning margin in the end as Leeds again defied the odds to claim back-to-back titles from 5th.
7. St Helens 14-6 Wigan 2014
Another of those low scoring Grand Finals, this was a brutal derby where defences were on top. The stage was set when Ben Flower became the first man to be sent off in Grand Final history. Not only did that leaves tempers at fever pitch but it set the stage for a 12 man Wigan team to take on a St Helens side without any natural halves. It became about scrapping for everything you could get which is what a Grand Final should be about – what will you do to win? Eventually, the Saints had enough to claim their first Grand Final win in 8 years.
6. Leeds 18-10 St Helens 2009
The 2009 title decider was another of those underrated affairs. This really felt like a main event. It was like watching Muhammad Ali fight Mike Tyson to decide who was the greatest of all-time. The third Grand Final in a row between the two teams was only decided late on by a controversial Lee Smith try. Before that the two sides exchanged the odd point here and there with both teams holding one point leads. The defining moment of this final was Kevin Sinfield’s try saving tackle on Kyle Eastmond at 11-10. Perhaps the greatest Grand Final tackle of all time and would ultimately help Leeds claim their third Grand Final win in a row.
5. Leeds 32-16 St Helens 2011
I love this Grand Final. Home to what most consider the greatest Grand Final try in history as Burrow tore apart the St Helens defence as well as its underappreciated sequel as the Rhinos number 7 again carved open the Saints to tee up Ryan Hall, this was a Grand Final full of superb examples of rugby league. Don’t let the score line fool you. This was a tight Grand Final with St Helens leading 16-8 with 17 minutes to go before Leeds produced the best 17 minutes of Grand Final rugby ever to blast past the Saints in one of the most exciting Grand Finals of all time.
4. St Helens 8-6 Bradford 1999
Complete with an amazing try and a dramatic video referee decision, this Grand Final had everything. Tight enough to still have fans biting their nails in the last minute but also with enough amazing moments for it to live long in the memory. Henry Paul’s try is only bettered by Burrow’s 12 years later and Leon Pryce’s disallowed try would’ve likely seen the Bulls crowned Champions but for the smallest of Michael Withers’ knock ons. That was one of many close calls in a game that could’ve easily ended 28-26 instead of 8-6 if not for some great defence.
3. St Helens 8-4 Wigan 2020
This Grand Final was special. Despite the lack of fans and the change of location to Hull’s MKM Stadium, it quickly became one of the greats. The ending aside, it was perhaps the best Grand Final every from a defensive point of view with neither side willing to give an inch. Even though it only featured two tries, it was full of big moments and big decisions and is the closest we’ve ever come to golden point in the title decider. The last minute winner will live on forever as an amazing moment but the lack of attacking quality keeps this one outside the top two.
2. Leeds 22-20 Wigan 2015
Want a Grand Final full of stories, this is the one for you. With three legends set to retire, Leeds were pursing the treble. It had been a dramatic journey to the Theatre of Dreams for the Rhinos and many doubted whether a battered and bruised Leeds team could claim a 7th Super League title and send the likes of Sinfield out on a high. Burgess scored a sublime opener for Wigan but McGuire’s second topped that as Leeds scored one of the great team tries in Old Trafford history. That was after Moon’s controversial score had given Leeds the lead. Wigan battled back from 10 points down but were denied by a try from an unlikely source – Josh Walters. At 22-20 with 15 minutes to go the game remained on a knife edge with plenty of close calls until Ryan Hall mopped up Wigan’s probing kick in the final play to secure the treble.
1. St Helens 19-18 Bradford 2002
No Grand Final has ever been closer than this one. This was the Grand Final of its era as Super League’s early dominant forces butted heads in the rematch of the closely fought 1999 decider. This was even better with six very good tries and a dramatic late drop goal to give St Helens the win. But that wasn’t the end of the drama as some still believe Bradford should’ve been awarded a penalty for a voluntary tackle from Saints skipper Chris Joynt. The penalty wasn’t awarded and St Helens clung on denying Bradford revenge by the smallest of margins.