1997 ARL season

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1997 Australian Rugby League
100%
Teams 12
Premiers Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle (1st title)
Minor premiers Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly (9th title)
Matches played 141
Points scored 5370 (total)
38.085 (per match)
Attendance 1,496,040 (total)
10,610 (per match)
Top point scorer(s) North Sydney colours.svg Jason Taylor (242)
Top try scorer(s) Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Terry Hill (22)

The 1997 Australian Rugby League season was the 90th season of professional rugby league football in Australia, and the third season run by the Australian Rugby League. While several clubs had left the League to compete in the 1997 Super League season, twelve ARL-loyal teams - eight from across Sydney, two from greater New South Wales and two from Queensland - competed for the Optus Cup Trophy. The fairytale came true for thousands of Novocastrians when the Knights won their first ever premiership, staging a comeback from 8-16 to shatter Manly's hopes.

Pre season[edit]

The season is most notable for being run parallel to the rival Super League competition. This was the only season when the two competitions actually ran, notwithstanding that 1995 and 1996 had been disrupted by the Super League war.

ARL chairman Ken Arthurson resigned in February 1997 in an effort to enable re-unification negotiations held during the season to succeed. It wouldn't be 'til after the season's end in December that the boards of every ARL club would gather at the SCG in an unprecedented meeting to consider the proposed peace deal following five months of secret negotiations between Ian Frykberg and Neil Whittaker.

Regular season[edit]

In 1997 the official player of the year award, the Provan-Summons Medal was won by Brad Fittler. This award was replaced by the Dally M Medal from the following year. The Illawarra Steelers' Scott Cram was named the 1997 season's rookie of the year.[1]

Teams[edit]

The eight ARL teams that had aligned themselves with Super League were absent from this year's ARL premiership, instead spending the year competing in the new Telstra Cup competition. The Balmain Tigers changed their name back from the Sydney Tigers this season.

Balmain home jersey 1908.svg
Balmain Tigers
90th season
Ground: Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Wayne Pearce
Captain: Paul Sironen
Gold Coast Chargers
10th season
Ground: Carrara Stadium
Coach: Phil Economidis
Captain: Graham Mackay
Illawarra Steelers
16th season
Ground: WIN Stadium
Coach: Andrew Farrar
Captain: Paul McGregor
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
51st season
Ground: Brookvale Oval
Coach: Bob Fulton
Captain: Geoff Toovey
Newcastle Knights home jersey 1997.svg
Newcastle Knights
10th season
Ground: Marathon Stadium
Coach: Mal Reilly
Captain: Paul Harragon
North Sydney Bears
90th season
Ground: North Sydney Oval
Coach: Peter Louis
Captain: Jason Taylor
Parramatta Eels
51st season
Ground: Parramatta Stadium
Coach: Brian Smith
Captain: Dean Pay
South Queensland Crushers home jersey 1995.svg
South Queensland Crushers
3rd season
Ground: Suncorp Stadium
Coach: Steve Bleakley
Captain: Craig Teevan
South Sydney Rabbitohs
90th season
Ground: Sydney Football Stadium
Coach: Ken Shine
Captain: Sean Garlick
St. George Dragons
77th season
Ground: Kogarah Oval
Coach: David Waite
Captain: Mark Coyne
Sydney City Roosters
90th season
Ground: Sydney Football Stadium
Coach: Phil Gould
Captain: Brad Fittler
Western Suburbs Magpies
90th season
Ground: Campbelltown Stadium
Coach: Tommy Raudonikis
Captain: Paul Langmack

Ladder[edit]

The Optus Cup trophy
Team Pld W D L PF PA PD Pts
1 Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly 22 15 2 5 521 366 +155 32
2 Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle 22 14 1 7 512 320 +192 29
3 Parramatta colours.svg Parramatta 22 14 1 7 431 359 +72 29
4 North Sydney colours.svg North Sydney 22 13 1 8 529 341 +188 27
5 Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Sydney City 22 13 1 8 487 366 +121 27
6 Illawarra colours.svg Illawarra 22 10 3 9 423 376 +47 23
7 Gold Coast Chargers colours.svg Gold Coast 22 10 1 11 438 466 -28 21
8 Balmain colours.svg Balmain 22 10 0 12 339 340 -1 20
9 Western Suburbs colours.svg Western Suburbs 22 10 0 12 355 424 -69 20
10 St. George colours.svg St. George 22 9 1 12 331 392 -61 19
11 South Sydney colours.svg South Sydney 22 4 1 17 323 630 -307 9
12 South Queensland colours.svg South Queensland 22 4 0 18 321 630 -309 8

Ladder progression[edit]

  • Numbers highlighted in green indicate that the team finished the round inside the top 7.
  • Numbers highlighted in blue indicates the team finished first on the ladder in that round.
  • Numbers highlighted in red indicates the team finished in last place on the ladder in that round
Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
1 Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 14 15 16 18 18 20 20 22 24 24 26 28 30 30 32
2 Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle 2 2 4 6 8 10 10 12 12 121 14 14 14 16 17 19 21 21 23 25 27 29
3 Parramatta colours.svg Parramatta 2 2 2 2 2 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 24 26 28 28 29
4 North Sydney colours.svg North Sydney 0 2 2 3 5 7 7 9 11 13 15 15 17 19 19 21 23 25 25 25 27 27
5 Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Sydney City 2 4 6 6 6 6 8 10 12 14 14 14 14 14 15 15 17 19 21 23 25 27
6 Illawarra colours.svg Illawarra 2 4 4 5 7 9 9 9 10 10 10 11 11 13 15 17 17 19 19 19 21 23
7 Gold Coast 2 2 4 4 4 6 6 6 8 9 11 11 13 15 17 17 19 19 19 19 21 21
8 Balmain colours.svg Balmain 0 0 0 2 4 4 6 8 8 8 8 10 12 12 14 14 16 16 18 18 20 20
9 Western Suburbs colours.svg Western Suburbs 0 0 0 2 2 2 4 6 6 8 10 12 14 14 14 16 16 16 18 20 20 20
10 St. George colours.svg St. George 0 0 2 4 6 8 8 8 10 10 10 12 12 12 12 14 14 14 16 18 18 19
11 South Sydney colours.svg South Sydney 0 2 4 4 4 4 6 6 6 61 6 7 7 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
12 South Queensland colours.svg South Queensland 0 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 4 4 4 4 4 4 6 6 6 6 8

1 The round 10 match between Newcastle and South Sydney was postponed due to rain. This match was played during round 16.


Finals[edit]

The Sydney Roosters and the North Sydney Bears played out a bizarre Qualifying Final with the Roosters winning 33-21. The Roosters fought back from 14-2 down with 10 minutes to go to get it back to 14-14, then both sides kicked a field goal to send it to extra time at 15-15. The Roosters went on to play the Gold Coast Chargers who were in their first ever finals campaign with Roosters winning 32-10 to book a Preliminary Final showdown with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. A peculiarity of the finals system saw Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights face off in what later realised to be a pointless game where both the winner and loser progressed to a Grand Final qualifier the following week. The Roosters had another fight back when they came from 16-6 down to get it back to 16-16, but it was a Sea Eagles field goal that proved the difference to book themselves a third straight Grand Final berth with a 17-16 win. The Newcastle Knights got into their first ever Grand Final.

Home Score Away Match Information
Date and Time Venue Referee Crowd
Minor Qualifying Finals
Illawarra colours.svg Illawarra Steelers 14-25 Gold Coast Chargers colours.svg Gold Coast Chargers 5 September 1997 Parramatta Stadium David Manson 8,197
North Sydney colours.svg North Sydney Bears 21-33 Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Sydney City Roosters 6 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium Kevin Jeffes 11,332
Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle Knights 28-20 Parramatta colours.svg Parramatta Eels 7 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium Paul McBlane 17,849
Major Qualifying Finals
Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Sydney City Roosters 32-10 Gold Coast Chargers colours.svg Gold Coast Chargers 12 September 1997 Parramatta Stadium Paul McBlane 10,466
Parramatta colours.svg Parramatta Eels 14-24 North Sydney colours.svg North Sydney Bears 13 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium David Manson 17,025
Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly Sea Eagles 27-12 Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle Knights 14 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium Kevin Jeffes 26,531
Preliminary Finals
Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle Knights 17-12 North Sydney colours.svg North Sydney Bears 20 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium Kevin Jeffes 22,540
Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly Sea Eagles 17-16 Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Sydney City Roosters 21 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium David Manson 30,794
Grand Final
Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly Sea Eagles 16-22 Newcastle colours.svg Newcastle Knights 28 September 1997 Sydney Football Stadium David Manson 42,482[2]

Grand final[edit]

The fairytale came true for thousands of Novocastrians when the Knights won their first ever premiership, staging a comeback from 8-16 to shatter Manly's hopes.

1st half

Manly-Warringah
Sea Eagles
Posit. Newcastle
Knights
Shannon Nevin FB Robbie O'Davis
Danny Moore WG Darren Albert
Craig Innes CE Adam MacDougall
Terry Hill CE Owen Craigie
John Hopoate WG Mark Hughes
Geoff Toovey (c) FE Matthew Johns
Craig Field HB Andrew Johns
David Gillespie PR Tony Butterfield
Anthony Colella HK Billy Peden
Mark Carroll PR Paul Harragon (c)
Steve Menzies SR Wayne Richards
Daniel Gartner SR Adam Muir
Nik Kosef LK Marc Glanville
Cliff Lyons Reserve Troy Fletcher
Neil Tierney Reserve Scott Conley
Scott Fulton Reserve Lee Jackson
Andrew Hunter Reserve Steve Crowe
Bob Fulton Coach Malcolm "Mal" Reilly

The long-running duel between opposing front rowers Mark Carroll and Paul Harragon erupted once again in the 2nd minute when Carroll reacted to a Harragon shot on Geoff Toovey. Newcastle applied pressure early when they regained possession inside Manly's 20m and shortly after that Andrew Johns took a penalty attempt, but Manly's defence and luck stood firm and the score stayed nil-all. Manly scored first after rookie hooker Anthony Colella won a scrum against the feed. John Hopoate exploited a weakness in Newcastle's right side defence and got between Darren Albert and Mark Hughes to score. Nevin's sideline conversion gave the Sea Eagles a 6-0 lead. In 13th minute Manly suffered a blow when Toovey was steamrolled. He left the field concussed for Cliff Lyons to come on.

Johns went within inches of scoring for Newcastle in the 24th minute when his blindside break on the last tackle was stopped by a desperate Hopoate. Manly responded with a thrilling try in the 25th minute. The movement started 55 metres out - Hopoate making the initial break down the left-hand side with Lyons backing up to enable Craig Innes to crash over for a Manly 10-0 lead. Newcastle's first points came through a Johns' penalty goal. Then in the 34th minute they scored their first ever Grand Final try after a clever kick from Matthew Johns was taken by Hopoate who was bundled into touch. From the scrum win, Robbie O'Davis got outside Terry Hill to score. Andrew Johns' conversion brought Newcastle within two points. Manly hit back in the 38th minute after some magical work from Lyons. He swept onto the ball which had been dropped by Harragon and spun around to find Shannon Nevin on the inside. The Newcastle forwards couldn't get across to cover the overlap and Nevin then converted his own try for a 16-8 half-time scoreline.

2nd half Early in the second half there was more concern for Toovey after he was stomped on by Adam MacDougall. Manly then almost put Newcastle away in the 51st minute when Steven Menzies powered through close to the line only to be stopped by Troy Fletcher scrambling well to effect a try- and match-saving tackle for the Knights. Andrew Johns booted a penalty goal in the 57th minute to claw Newcastle back to within a converted try. In the 61st minute Adam Muir dropped a pass from Andrew Johns a metre from Manly's line but it was a sign that the Knights were back in the game. Manly on the other hand, began to play conservatively to their own ultimate cost. They received a penalty after another Harragon high tackle and elected to kick at goal 32 metres out with a swirling breeze. Nevin missed and Darren Albert returned the kick with a 40 metre run. Manly applied pressure for the next ten minutes but came away empty handed. Colella and then Nik Kosef both dropped balls inside Newcastle's 30m line while trying to off-load. A 69th minute last tackle raid ten metres out by Manly also fell short when a field-goal might have sealed the game. Having withstood the pressure, Newcastle then lifted. Following a long break by Fletcher, Andrew Johns received the ball from his brother. He stood in a tackle, handed to O'Davis, who spun and planted the ball on the line. Johns' conversion levelled the scores 16-16 with five minutes remaining.

The match is ultimately best remembered for its classic grandstand finish, when Darren Albert's try broke the 16-16 deadlock seven seconds from full-time.[3] The effervescent Andrew Johns unexpectedly went down a narrow blind-side before slipping a pass to Albert who raced over to score prompting scenes of euphoria from the Knights fans and players who had won their inaugural title.[4]

Newcastle Knights 22
Tries: O'Davis 2, Albert
Goals: Johns 5/5

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 16
Tries: Hopoate, Innes, Nevin
Goals: Nevin 2/3

Clive Churchill Medal: Robbie O'Davis[5]

Seventy per cent of the winning squad were Newcastle juniors. The win was a huge morale boost to the blue-collar Newcastle district in the same year that the area's biggest employer, the BHP steelworks had announced its closure. A Super Bowl style match between the Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos, the 1997 Super League season's premiers was mooted, but did not eventuate.[6] Newcastle only had to wait another four years for its next premiership, whilst Manly had to wait until 2007 for another shot at the title, which was unsuccessful. Manly's next premiership would however come the year after.

Post season[edit]

With twenty-two teams playing in two competitions in 1997 crowd attendances and corporate sponsorships were spread very thinly, and many teams found themselves in financial difficulty by the end of the season. Despite having the financial backing of Optus, the Australian Rugby League decided that it was not in the best interests of the game to run two competitions and undertook moves to approach News Limited and invite the traditional clubs back into the main competition. As a consequence of the negotiations that followed, on 23 September 1997 the ARL announced that it was forming a new competition in partnership with News Limited. The National Rugby League was formed from the ARL and Super League competitions.

It was announced that the 1998 season would have 20 teams competing, 19 of the ARL and Super League teams and the Melbourne Storm, who were owned by News Limited. Clubs on both sides of the war were shut down. News decided to close the Hunter Mariners and the financially ruined Western Reds, who were $10million in debt at the end of 1997, while the ARL decided to close down the South Queensland Crushers, who were also in financial trouble. Additionally, at the end of the following season News Limited would decide to close down the Adelaide Rams and the ARL would close down the Gold Coast Chargers, even though they were one of the few clubs to make a profit during the Super League war.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Illawarra History". dragons.com.au. St. George Illawarra Dragons. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  2. ^ NRL Grand Final History at rl1908.com
  3. ^ "Sydney Football Stadium Magic Moments". sydneycricketground.com.au. Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  4. ^ Roberts, Michael (2008). Great Australian Sporting Moments. Australia: The Miegunyah Press. ISBN 978-0-522-85547-0. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  5. ^ D'Souza, Miguel. "Grand Final History". wwos.ninemsn.com.au. AAP. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  6. ^ "Broncos: Super Bowl no go". Illawarra Mercury (Fairfax Media). 19 September 1997. p. 85. Retrieved 28 February 2011.