With the Super League Grand Final just over 24 hours away, we have put together a star-studded team of players based on those who have performed best in Grand Finals since 1998.
Of course the team is dominated with players from the only four teams to have won the Super League title to date – St Helens, Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors and Bradford Bulls.
Full-back: Paul Wellens
‘Wello’ was the natural pick at full-back. He featured in 10 Grand Finals, including six in a row from 2006 to 2011. Prior to defeat in 2007, he had never lost at Old Trafford and his Grand Final career ended on a triumphant note as he lifted the Super League trophy as captain in 2014. But arguably his finest hour at the Theatre of Dreams came in 2006 when he claimed the Harry Sunderland Trophy as Saints blitzed Hull FC to complete the treble.
Wingers: Jason Robinson and Lee Smith
As the first Harry Sunderland Trophy winner in a Grand Final, Robinson was an easy pick in this side. There have been few better, more exciting backs in Super League since he moved to rugby union and even fewer to grace the Grand Final. Sadly, his last Old Trafford appearance ended in defeat in 2000 but no one will ever forget his try in the inaugural 1998 Grand Final. The other winger may seem a little controversial, but with four tries in three consecutive Grand Final wins, a 100% record at the Theatre of Dreams and a Harry Sunderland trophy to his name, Lee Smith makes the side. After scoring a superb try in 2007, he grabbed the man of the match award in 2008 against St Helens and then he helped Leeds win an unprecedented third straight Grand Final with a brace from centre in 2009. The hardest thing about his selection was deciding where he should play.
Centres: Michael Withers and Martin Gleeson
Michael Withers is the only man to score a hat-trick in a Grand Final. It was one of the best individual performances the decider has ever seen as he helped fire Bradford to a record 37-6 win over Wigan in 2001. That wasn’t his only Grand Final appearance either, featuring in the Bulls 2003 and 2005 triumphs, while also grabbing a try in the 2002 defeat to Saints. Lining up against him that year was Martin Gleeson, with the prolific centre capping off his first season at Knowsley Road with a Grand Final win and a stellar performance despite his young age. Remarkably, eight years later Gleeson was breaking St Helens’ hearts with a brace against them for rivals Wigan in one of the most complete performances the Grand Final has ever seen.
Halves: Danny McGuire and Sean Long
Danny McGuire has arguably been the Grand Final’s best ever performer. He scored eight tries in nine appearances on the biggest stage. He also won eight of those nine Grand Finals, setting the record for the most Grand Final wins for a single club. On top of this, he won two Harry Sunderland Trophy awards in 2015 and 2017, the latter of which was one of the best single displays to grace the Theatre of Dreams as he scored a pair of tries and kicked two drop goals as he rounded off his Leeds career in style. Partnering him is Sean Long, a mercurial talent who was unplayable on his day. Long won four Grand Finals for Saints, with his winning drop goal in 2002 one of the showpiece events most memorable moments. The expert playmaker also provided the decisive points in 1999 Grand Final and he enjoyed a trophy-laden spell with the Saints, appearing in seven Grand Finals.
Props: Stuart Fielden and Jamie Peacock
Stuart Fielden relished Grand Final night and having lost to St Helens in his first go around at Old Trafford in 1999, he returned two years later and scored a try as Bradford trampled over Wigan to claim the crown. He then went on to win two more Grand Finals at the Bulls before moving to Wigan, overseeing a great transition from nearly being relegated in 2006 to winning the Grand Final in 2010. Joining Fielden in the front-row is his former Bradford teammate Jamie Peacock. As Super League’s most successful player with nine Grand Final wins from eleven appearances in the title-decider, ‘JP’ had to be in this side. His first three Grand Final triumphs came at Bradford, the last of which saw him lift the trophy as captain against his future team. After that, he guided Leeds to unprecedented success as he won six Grand Finals with his hometown club, including three in a row from 2007-09. Peacock ended his Rhinos career in style in 2015 as Leeds beat Wigan at Old Trafford to win the treble.
Hooker: Rob Burrow
Along with teammate Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow is one of only three players to win two Harry Sunderland Trophy awards in the Super League era. He also shares the record for most Grand Final wins at a single club, coming to life when his team needs him most. Burrow was the star man in 2007 as Leeds produced a great performance to beat St Helens which led to his first Harry Sunderland award. Four years later he produced arguably the best individual Grand Final performance to win his second. In the first half, he set Old Trafford alight with perhaps the best ever Grand Final try before producing a brilliant break and assist for Ryan Hall to score and fire Leeds in front as they went on to win a fifth Grand Final. Six years later he was lifting the Super League trophy aloft with Danny McGuire as they ended their Leeds careers on the highest of highs.
Second-rowers: Chris Joynt and Liam Farrell
As the only Harry Sunderland Award winning second-rowers in the Super League era, these two had to be the pair to make this side. Joynt was captain fantastic for Saints as he guided them to three Grand Final triumphs in four seasons from 1999-2002. His finest performance in the final came in 2000 as he scored twice and claimed the man of the match. Liam Farrell followed in his footsteps in 2016 when he claimed the Harry Sunderland award after a superb performance from the back-row to help Wigan defeat Warrington and claim the crown. That was just one of four Grand Finals Farrell has won with his beloved Warriors, and he will be hoping to make that five come Friday night.
Loose-forward: Kevin Sinfield
The Grand Final’s most successful skipper with seven wins from eight attempts just had to feature. Sinfield scored points in all eight of his Grand Final appearances, including a try in the 2012 victory over Warrington. That night also saw him win a second Harry Sunderland Trophy, making him, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow the only men to win two in the Super League era. His other came in the 2009 win over St Helens where he pulled off a fine try-saving tackle on Kyle Eastmond, before leading the Rhinos to their third consecutive Grand Final triumph. He finished his rugby league career in the best possible fashion on a Grand Final night as Leeds won the treble with his conversion being the difference in a 22-20 win over Wigan.