If you view sport as a kind of art as I do, then there can be no better canvas than the Grand Final. The Theatre of Dreams is exactly what it says on the tin, it is the perfect stage for dreams to come true, for the finest players to shine and for moments to be carved into stone. But which players are the greatest artists the Grand Final has ever seen? Who continually rose to the occasion when October rolled around and made Old Trafford their own? Today we’re answering that question with the 10 greatest Grand Final players in Super League history.
10. Sean O’Loughlin
He may never have won the Harry Sunderland Award, but you cannot deny the influence he had on all four of Wigan’s Grand Final wins during his tenure as captain. Those four victories make him Super League’s second most successful skipper and it should come as no surprise. There’s a reason the Warriors medical team scrambled to make sure he was fit for these Old Trafford deciders because he had the capacity to give Wigan something extra on the biggest stage and guide them to glory.
9. Jamie Peacock
With nine Grand Final wins to his name, Peacock has the most in Super League history. A treble winner with two clubs, he claimed three Grand Final wins as a Bull and six with home town team Leeds. Like O’Loughlin, he had the ability to raise the games of those around him and his work ethic and experience often gave his team, especially Leeds, an edge in the Grand Final which cannot be measured by any statistic other than Leeds’ insane success in Grand Finals. We should also commend some of his brilliant and gusty Grand Final showings, namely 2007 when he did 80 minutes at prop against a brutal St Helens pack and his determined last performance for Leeds in the 2015 Grand Final.
8. Sean Long
Only one man can claim to have kicked the decisive drop goal in a Super League Grand Final and that man is Sean Long. That piece of individual brilliance came in the 2002 Grand Final but he’d already shown his aptitude for stepping up when it came to Grand Finals in the years prior. He played a key role in St Helens’ back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000, and was at the hub of St Helens’ dominant 2006 success over Hull FC. The only sully on his Old Trafford reputation came in the shape of three consecutive Grand Final defeats to Leeds.
7. Leon Pryce
Not even Long’s partnership with the mercurial Leon Pryce could stop the Rhinos from 2007-09. That said, Pryce’s presence in the 2006 decider proved critical as he poached a magnificent solo try as the Saints downed the Black and Whites. A year earlier and he was claiming the Harry Sunderland Award as Man of the Match after an immaculate showing against Leeds for Bradford helping the Bulls secure a fourth Super League title. He did also feature in Bradford’s two other Grand Final wins in 2001 and 2003.
6. Michael Withers
Another ever-present in Bradford’s three Grand Final wins, Michael Withers made history in 2001 when he became the first and, at presented, the only player to score a Grand Final hattrick as Bradford dismantled Wigan. He also crossed the whitewash a year later in defeat to St Helens. With four Old Trafford tries to his name, he’s one of the most potent scorers in Grand Final history.
5. Lee Smith
As is Lee Smith. Smith only played in three Grand Finals, but he won all three and scored in all three despite playing in three different positions. In 2007, the young and upcoming back started on the wing and scored a spectacular try off a Danny McGuire kick. A year later, he started at fullback scoring Leeds’ opener when he sniffed out an opportunity from a Jamie Jones-Buchanan offload. Then, in 2009, he scored twice to complete a hattrick of Grand Final wins over St Helens and take his tally of Grand Final tries up to four as well. His best performance undoubtedly came in the 2008 decider as a late replacement for Brent Webb at the back. A perfect showing from Smith was adorned by a brilliant 40/20 which turned the tide in Leeds’ favour as they went on to win as Smith was named Man of the Match.
4. James Roby
As one of the four players to win two Harry Sunderland Awards, James Roby simply had to be in the upper echelons of this list. He won his very first Grand Final a long time ago in 2006 as a youngster. A year later, he scored a superb try in the 2007 decider but it was in vain as the Saints began a streak of five consecutive Grand Final defeats. Another seven years would pass before he would taste victory at Old Trafford again and he would play a key role in the 2014 triumph. Named Man of the Match, he stepped up when the Saints lost their last natural halfback Lance Hohaia. He controlled the game from hooker guiding the Saints to victory. Five years later he would captain them back to Old Trafford where Grand Final glory again befell him before he claimed a second Harry Sunderland Award for a faultless showing in last year’s Grand Final win over Wigan. Meanwhile, last night he led his Saints team to history as they became only the second team to win three Super League titles in a row.
3. Rob Burrow
Rob Burrow’s 2011 Grand Final performance is arguably the greatest we’ve seen. He came off the bench and proceeded to tear St Helens’ defence apart. He scored a mesmeric solo try in the first half outfoxing the brilliant Paul Wellens on route to scoring what some consider to be the greatest Grand Final four-pointer ever. Then in the second half, he produced the match winning play when creating Ryan Hall’s try. That saw him win the Harry Sunderland Award with all 37 votes but four years earlier the little general had won his first Harry Sunderland Award. That day, he somehow stood out in a brilliant team performance thanks to his dynamic running threat and potent kicking game. In total, he won eight Grand Finals and is the most successful one club man in Super League history.
2. Kevin Sinfield
Super League’s greatest ever captain takes second spot in this list. He lifted the Super League trophy as skipper a record seven times and his leadership was key in all seven Grand Final wins he oversaw as captain. Another two-time winner of the Harry Sunderland Award, his performance in 2009 is perhaps underrated. He kicked well all night, produced a smart drop goal to hand Leeds the momentum after halftime and produced the greatest try-saving tackle the Grand Final has ever seen. In 2012, he was even better kicking five from five with the boot, scoring a try and kicking Warrington to death despite being taken out late twice. That said, his other five Grand Final performances are also superb. In 2004, he executed the game plan immaculately tiring out the dangerous Lesley Vainikolo with his probing kicks. Meanwhile, 2008 was also a brilliant showing from the Leeds skipper as he used the wet conditions to Leeds’ advantage with a brilliant kicking game, his boot leading to two tries. Meanwhile, his performances in 2007, 2011 and 2015 are nothing to be scoffed at either.
1. Danny McGuire
With eight Grand Final wins to his name, he and Burrow sit second in the all-time list behind former teammate Jamie Peacock. However, even more history belongs to McGuire where Old Trafford is concerned. No player has scored nearly as many tries as McGuire in Grand Finals with the former Leeds number six poaching eight in nine appearances. He can also lay claim to a number of assists in those showings proving just how vital he was to Leeds on the biggest stage. In 2004, he scored the winning try to end Leeds’ 32-year wait for a Championship and in 2015 and 2017 he scored a brace of tries as he claimed the Man of the Match. His performance in the 2017 decider is another candidate for best ever in a Grand Final as he, like Burrow in 2011, claimed all the Man of the Match votes after kicking Castleford to death and producing a superb try saving tackle on Greg Eden.