Season 2001 saw somewhat of an upheaval to the competition, when the Townsville Stingers controversially elected not to participate, leaving the completion with an all-time low 11 teams.
Bundaberg Rum was again secured as the major sponsor, and ABC TV continued its live Saturday coverage. However, the deal with Fox Sports to replay the game fell through. The major re-development of Suncorp Stadium into what we know today also commenced that year, which necessitated the grand final being played away from headquarters for the first time since 1957.
Staged at Dolphin Oval, it proved a huge success, clearly buoyed by the appearance of home team Redcliffe. There was also an increased number of allegiances with NRL clubs – Toowoomba (Broncos), Redcliffe (Roosters), Norths (Melbourne), Easts (Cronulla), Souths (Wests Tigers), Ipswich (Canberra), Central Comets (Parramatta), Wynnum (Northern Eagles), Wests (Warriors) and Logan City (Bulldogs).
Popular players to stand out during the season were Justin Hodges, Kirk Reynoldson, Michael Coorey, Nathan Friend and Michael Ryan (Toowoomba); Grant Adamson, Adam Hayden, Ryan Gundry and Shane O’Flanagan (Burleigh); Mick Roberts, Adam Mogg, Luke Scott, Ricky Hewinson, Russell Lahiff and Andrew Wynyard (Redcliffe); Marty Turner, JP Cherry and Wade Fenton (Norths); Scott Thorburn, Wade Liddell and Scott Sipple (Easts); Mohammed Allouche and Matt Lockyer (Souths); Marshall Chalk, Isaac Kaufman, Kerry Theuerkauf and Ricky Bird (Ipswich); Brent Webb, Steve Franciscus and Rob Tanielu (Wests); Clayton Maher and David Seage (Wynnum;) Kere Parata, Justin Loomans, Scott Minto and Graham White (Central Comets); Matt Anderton, Phil Shilvock and the Durnford brothers at Logan City.
After 22 rounds, it was again left to the same five teams for a third year to fight out the finals. Although Easts rattled up the half century to eliminate Norths, hindsight shows the Tigers, Bears and Devils were purely making up numbers.
The Dolphins and Clydesdales dominated the competition from the outset, with both sides undefeated until Toowoomba beat Redcliffe in round 10. The Clydesdales only defeat before the finals was to Burleigh during Origin time when many of their players were in Broncos colours. Their only other defeat was at the hands of Redcliffe in the semi.
Redcliffe halfback Michael Roberts became the first player to win the QANTAS/Sunstate player of the year award a second time, incredibly nudging out team-mate Adam Mogg who finished runner-up. Mogg, the Dolphins fullback, reversed the result by taking out the Courier Mail award as the competition’s best player. Easts winger Martin Allen was voted Colt of the Year, while Wynnum coach Geoff Naylor took the coaching award.
Burleigh centre Greg Burke, established a new record by scoring an incredible 248 points during the season. Another amazing effort was that of Wests fullback Brent Webb topping the try scoring with 22, even though his club finished second last.
A Redcliffe side buoyed by their big semi-final win and appearing in their fifth premiership decider in six years, packed Dolphin Oval with their supporters on grand final day. In arguably the best statewide match ever played, both sides hammered away for the full 80 minutes with the result not decided after full time.
A Toowoomba dropped ball on just the second tackle led to Dolphins centre Jason Webber scoring the first try. Five minutes later, captain Craig O’Dwyer dived on a Mogg grubber kick to give Redcliffe a solid 10-0 lead. However, the class of the Clydesdales saw them dominate the rest of the half, scoring tries in the 14th (Michael Ryan), 23rd (Duggan off a spilt McGuire bomb) and 35th (Reynoldson from short range in broken play) minutes to lead 16-10.
But a slick backline movement saw Dolphins winger George Wilson score right on half time. Roberts sideline conversion again levelled the scores 16-all at the break.
Redcliffe started the second half where they left off, with Andrew Wynyard strolling through poor defence two minutes after the resumption. Roberts extended the lead to 22-16 with his conversion. Roberts’ easiest kick of the day, a penalty goal five minutes later from right in front, inexplicably missed. It was a miss the Dolphins would live to regret.
Toowoomba winger Damien Quinn was the next to score in the 64th minute when he finished off a clever play from close range, levelling the scores once again with a sideline conversion. Dolphins back-rower Luke Scott then powered onto a short Gould pass to crash over for a 26-22 lead.
However, Roberts failed with his ensuing conversion, and Redcliffe’s upset win was still not guaranteed. The Clydesdales then left it to the last play of the match, when pivot Casey McGuire ran onto an inside Duggan pass to crash over next to the uprights as the fulltime siren sounded. The big pro-Redcliffe crowd was silenced in shock as the try was awarded, and it was left to Quinn’s fourth conversion to seal the second premiership for the Clydesdales.
This column and others by Peter Psaltis and Chris Garry can be found in this weekend's edition of Rugby League New - your weekly match-day programme.