The Grand Final is a stage where careers can be made, where dreams can come true and the biggest stars can become legends. Every Grand Final tends to have that one special player who rises to the occasion and writes their name in the morning’s headlines as they more often than not claim the Harry Sunderland Award as well as victory at the Theatre of Dreams. With it being that time of year again, we thought we’d look at the best of the best and rank the five greatest individual Grand Final performances ever.
5. Liam Farrell (2016)
The 2016 Grand Final was a battle royale between the two top teams. Wigan and Warrington butted heads at Old Trafford with the biggest prize of all at stake. This resulted in a tight affair in which there were only three tries. You might think that to stand out in such a contest would be hard, but Liam Farrell did just that going above and beyond what is expected of a second-rower as he proved the difference between the two sides. After all, it was his break and assist for Oliver Gildart which got Wigan back into the game.
4. Lee Smith (2008)
Lee Smith very nearly didn’t play in the 2008 decider. He faced a nervous wait at the start of Grand Final week to see whether or not he’d cop a ban despite being the semi-final hero with two tries. Fortunately, he avoided suspension so he could step into the fullback role vacated by the injured Brent Webb. He looked like being Leeds’ weakness but in the end, he was the hero with a simply perfect performance at the back. He poached Leeds’ opening score before producing a game breaking 40/20 in the second half to shift things back in Leeds’ favour after St Helens had clawed back level. From the resulting scrum, Danny McGuire put Leeds in the lead again at 18-12 and the Rhinos would never surrender the lead again.
3. Michael Withers (2001)
As the only man to score a hat-trick in a Grand Final, Michael Withers simply had to find his way onto this list. He haunted the Wigan defence that night as the Warriors simply failed to handle the barrage Bradford hit them with. An illusive runner all night and always in the right place at the right time, he created history with his treble of touchdowns.
2. Rob Burrow (2011)
All 37 journalists in attendance at the 2011 Grand Final voted for Rob Burrow as the Man of the Match and that tells you everything you need to know. Not only did he score what is considered by many the greatest Grand Final try in history when he carved open the St Helens defence, but he also came up with what proved to be the match-winning play. Leeds had clawed back level at 16-16 before Burrow again sliced through Saints before timing his pass to Ryan Hall perfectly to put the winger in for a famous score as Leeds went onto win 32-16.
1. Danny McGuire (2017)
Following in the footsteps of his old partner in crime, Danny McGuire became only the second player to win the Harry Sunderland Award with all the votes in the 2017 Grand Final. You might argue that Burrow’s 2011 performance was better but, although brilliant, Burrow’s showing was condensed into two divine moments whereas McGuire’s input on the 2017 decider was sprinkled throughout. He kicked Castleford to death for the entire 80 minutes with his boot proving particularly decisive as Leeds opened the scoring off his crossfield kick which was put down by Tom Briscoe. He then made a try saving tackle on Greg Eden, nailed a drop goal before halftime to give the Rhinos a 7-0 lead, scored Leeds’ second try of the game just after halftime, featured in the flowing move that culminated in Briscoe crossing again all before he poached another try himself – his eighth in nine Grand Final appearances – to give Leeds a 23-0 lead. It then became 24-0 as he rubbed more salt into Castleford’s wounds with a second drop goal.