1981 NSWRFL season
|1981 New South Wales Rugby Football League|
|Premiers||Parramatta (1st title)|
|Minor premiers||Eastern Suburbs (15th title)|
|Top points scorer(s)||Steve Rogers (194)|
|Player of the year||Kevin Hastings (Rothmans Medal)|
|Top try-scorer(s)||Terry Fahey (16)|
The 1981 New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership was the 74th season of Sydney's professional rugby league football competition, Australia's first. Twelve clubs, including six of 1908's foundation teams and another six from around Sydney competed for the J J Giltinan Shield and WD & HO Wills Cup during the season, which culminated in a grand final between the Parramatta and Newtown clubs. NSWRFL clubs also competed in the 1981 Tooth Cup and players from NSWRFL clubs were selected to represent the New South Wales team.
In 1981 the "sin-bin" was introduced to rugby league in Australia, enabling referees to send players from the field for five or ten minute periods for minor or deliberate technical offences. Newtown Jets hooker Barry Jensen became the first player to be sent from the field in this manner.
Midway through the season, players contracted to NSWRFL clubs were selected to represent the New South Wales team in two games against the Queensland team in 1981. After that the experimental 1981 State of Origin game was played, and for the second time in history NSWRFL clubs' players were able to represent Queensland.
Twenty-two regular season rounds were played from March until August, resulting in a top five of Easts, Newtown, Parramatta, Cronulla and Manly who battled it out in the finals.
Eastern Suburbs' halfback Kevin Hastings won the 1981 season's Rothmans Medal as well as Rugby League Week's Player of the Year award. The Dally M Award went to Cronulla-Sutherland centre, Steve Rogers.
This was to be the final year that the NSWRFL premiership was an all-Sydney competition, with the introduction of teams from Canberra and Illawarra in 1982 starting a new era of expansion which would see the League transform into a national, then international competition.
The elimination semi-final between the Newtown Jets and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles will always be remembered for the notorious all-in brawl, with the main combatants Newtown's Steve Bowden and Manly hardman Mark Broadhurst. Bowden was marched for the incident and was unable to take part in the Preliminary Final against Eastern Suburbs or the Grand Final against Parramatta.
|Date and Time||Venue||Referee||Crowd|
|Newtown Jets||8-10||Parramatta Eels||5 September 1981||Sydney Cricket Ground||John Gocher||17,265|
|Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks||11-14||Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||6 September 1981||Sydney Cricket Ground||Greg Hartley||21,635|
|Eastern Suburbs Roosters||8-12||Parramatta Eels||12 September 1981||Sydney Cricket Ground||Greg Hartley||27,600|
|Newtown Jets||20-15||Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||13 September 1981||Sydney Cricket Ground||John Gocher||22,440|
|Eastern Suburbs Roosters||5-15||Newtown Jets||19 September 1981||Sydney Cricket Ground||Greg Hartley||25,243|
|Newtown Jets||Position||Parramatta Eels|
|Phil Sigsworth||FB||Steve McKenzie|
|John Ferguson||WG||Graeme Atkins|
|Mick Ryan||CE||Mick Cronin|
|Brian Hetherington||CE||Steve Ella|
|Ray Blacklock||WG||Eric Grothe|
|Paul Morris||FE||Brett Kenny|
|Tommy Raudonikis (c)||HB||Peter Sterling|
|Steve Blyth||PR||Ron Hilditch|
|Barry Jensen||HK||Steve Edge (c)|
|Craig Ellis||PR||Bob O'Reilly|
|Michael Pitman||SR||John Muggleton|
|Phil Gould||SR||Kevin Stevens|
|Graeme O'Grady||LK||Ray Price|
|Geoff Bugden||Res.||Steve Sharp|
|Jim Walters||Res.||Paul Taylor|
|Warren Ryan||Coach||Jack Gibson|
Newtown had reached their first grand final in twenty-six years. Parramatta led 7-6 at half-time, but the Jets looked set to spring a major upset when tough half back Tommy Raudonikis crashed over to score early in the second-half. Then the Eels' brilliant backline exploded into action. The combination of Brett Kenny, Mick Cronin, Peter Sterling, Eric Grothe and Steve Ella dominated and would go on to feature in five grand finals and four premierships by the end of 1986.
Master coach Jack Gibson had just six words for a packed Parramatta Leagues Club auditorium, who had just witnessed the Eels' first ever premiership since their 1947 entry to the competition. "Ding, dong, the witch is dead," he said before the thunderous chants of the success-starved blue and gold army of fans.
Parramatta 20 (Tries: Kenny 2, Atkins, Ella. Goals: Cronin 4.)
Newtown 11 (Tries: Hetherington, Raudonikis, O'Grady. Goal: Morris.)
In the resultant celebrations at Parramatta with a large group of supporters having gathered at the Eels homeground of Cumberland Oval, subsequently lit a fire that burned the grandstand to the ground. In late 1984 a construction contract was signed by the NSW Government, with the new Parramatta Stadium being opened on 5 March 1986 by Queen Elizabeth II. Parramatta Stadium itself was knocked down along with the adjacent public pools, in 2017. The new stadium, the Western Sydney Stadium was opened on 14 April 2019.
- Middleton, David (2008). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia (PDF). National Museum of Australia. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-876944-64-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-01-12.
- 1981 NSWRFL Semi-final - Manly vs Newtown fight