Broncos and Dragons boast some of the best finals

Broncos and Dragons boast some of the best finals

I have been asked a few times recently what is the favourite grand final I ever attended.

There have been a few.

But the one that will always hold a special place in my heart was when I jumped on the Manly ferry to Circular Quay with a few school mates from my junior football team and headed to the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1965.

While I was a Manly supporter back then, I wanted to watch the mighty St George Dragons attempt to win a 10th straight premiership in 1965.

As it turned out, I almost didn't get to see St George beat South Sydney 12-8, with concerned officials forced to close the giant SCG steel gates two hours before kick-off.

I remember my mates and I could not find a seat anywhere in the ground, which was jammed sardine-can tight.

Fathers had young children hoisted on their shoulders, others stood on milk and coke crates, craning their necks to see the game once it started.

When it kicked off to an almighty roar of approval, there were 78,000 people squashed into the ground which had an official capacity of 70,000.

The crowd still remains a record for the famous ground.

I remember climbing up on one of the big concrete columns in the grandstand that had an edged border around it and just clinging on.

As a rugby league writer for 40 years I've been privileged to have seen some wonderful players in recent times, among them Brad Fitter, Andrew Johns, Laurie Daley, Darren Lockyer, Allan Langer, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and of course Cameron Smith.

But being able to say I actually watched the likes of 'Changa' Langlands, Reg 'the Magic Dragon' Gasnier, 'Poppa' Clay, Ian Walsh, Norm Provan and Johnny Raper play a grand final at the famous SCG against South Sydney greats Michael Cleary (1962 Empire Games bronze medallist), John O'Neill, Bob McCarthy, John Sattler and Ron Coote, is pretty special.

Of course, there was Balmain's stunning 1969 mother-of-all-upsets over South Sydney and Canberra's remarkable 1989 victory over Balmain, as well as the 17-16 epic between the North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos in 2015 that rate highly as well.

Those three grand finals were special for their own reasons.

So was Brisbane's 2006 upset victory over white-hot favourites Melbourne, who'd come off an unbelievable season.

It was special to me because this time, I was not working or covering the game for any news organisation.

When you report on big games, well any game for that matter, you miss so much of what actually happens.

With deadlines to meet after rushing to the dressing rooms to grab some colourful quotes from players, you don't really get a chance to fully enjoy the game as much as the fan sitting in the stands.

But this particular year I went from watching it from the press box to watching from the grandstand.

I remember when I found out I would not be reporting on the game, I wanted to go as a spectator and enjoy it like most other people.

I purchased my own tickets and paid for my flight to Sydney.

Having convinced my long-time friend, Trevor Hazledine - a St George tragic since he was a young kid – to come with me, we sat in the stands at Telstra Stadium along with close to 80,000 fans for a rare NRL grand final which diD not involve a NSW-based team.

It was also Shane Webcke's 254th and final game for the Broncos.

But the big-hearted prop was not expected to go out a winner by all the experts – most to a man tipping a Storm victory.

The two teams had met twice during the season, Melbourne winning both clashes on their way to a runaway minor premiership in which they won 20 of their 24 games.

Coach Wayne Bennett made a tactical decision to play the brilliant Justin Hodges at fullback and move regular No.1 Karmichael Hunt onto the wing.

It was a Hodges try which gave Brisbane an 8-4 half time lead.

Melbourne rallied under skipper Cameron Smith, levelling the scores at 8-8 before a converted Shaun Berrigan try and Darren Lockyer field goal in the second half completed the stunning upset.

I remember riding the emotional rollercoaster during a tense final 10 minutes of the grand final hoping Webcke would get his fairy tale farewell and Locky another premiership ring.

While I wasn't able to go into the dressing sheds after the game, I can still recall the after-game party, mixing with the likes of Darren Lockyer, Petero Civoniceva, Sammy Thaiday and Hodgo.

I took great delight in telling Wayne Bennett I had been sitting in the crowd as a fan after paying my own way to the game.

I remember he seemed impressed at the time that a journalist would go to such extremes.

I also got a few good 'scoops' from a few Brisbane players as they celebrated a victory that cemented a strong rivalry between the two power clubs.

That 2006 grand final in some ways was personal.

The same men who had helped set up Brisbane - John Ribot and Chris Johns - set up Melbourne Storm.
Melbourne even recruited Craig Bellamy from Brisbane as its coach.

The Storm, did not take the defeat well, questioning a lot of the decisions during the game and claiming they were the better team.

When contact by QRL Media, Bennett would not buy into categorising the 2006 grand final among his other six premiership wins.

"They (premierships) are all special and they were all hard to achieve," he said.

The fact few experts gave Brisbane (who finished third) a chance made it sweeter for Bennett.

"We were up and down like a yo-yo all season to be honest and we'd been thrashed by 60 points by Canberra during the Origin period," Bennett said.

"It wasn't our finest year in many ways, but the players came together at the end of the season and pulled together for each other."

"We had a lot of experience, a lot of Origin players and it was Webcke's last game – I think a lot of them were playing for him."

Bennett's decision to keep Hodges at fullback and play Hunt on the wing proved a winning tactic.

"We won a few games when he was playing their while Karmichael was injured, he just made such a difference," he said.

"He was wonderful, he was one of the reasons why we won the grand final."