Published in Rugby League World in 2009
1996 London Broncos 28-32 St Helens
Forget Paris v Sheffield – this was the game of 1996!
Saints won the league by one point from Wigan and it was the two sides’ results against London that proved crucial.
The Broncos had snatched an unlikely point at Wigan in June but Saints avoided the same banana skin – just – by pulling out all the stops to beat the Broncos at The Valley when all looked lost.
An incredible game was eventually settled in the 78th minute when Apollo Perelini crashed over for a hotly disputed try – one of the most talked about video referee decisions since its inception.
1997 Leeds Rhinos 13-12 St Helens
Having been jeered by the home fans for the entire match, former Loiner Bobbie Goulding silenced the 12,683-strong crowd with a last-minute try next to the posts which left an easy conversion which would inch the champions a point ahead.
But, incredibly, the pressure got to Goulding who fluffed his kick and the South Stand roof was almost lifted off by the explosion of noise which erupted underneath it.
The game had been an absolute belter with Iestyn Harris’s kicking – for goal and in general play – on his full debut for Leeds, playing a significant part in the Rhinos’ win.
1998 Wigan Warriors 8-15 Leeds Rhinos
In one of the most brutal games of recent times, Leeds showed they were no longer the soft-centred under-achievers as they stormed through to win an absolute classic.
Wigan hooker Robbie McCormack lasted about ten seconds as an Adrian Morley tackle straight from the kick off led to him being carried off – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HCyzM0V4pk.
Mick Cassidy later sorted out Morley with an outrageously high elbow as the Great Britain forward charged into the Wigan defence – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqBZa1HLvQ8.
Francis Cummins scored twice with Simon Haughton replying for Wigan with a long-range effort but Brad Godden sealed the game in the final moments with a superb solo score.
1999 Wigan Warriors 28-20 St Helens
The last-ever game of Rugby League at Central Park was a match to savour as Wigan beat St Helens in one of the best games of the summer era played by that point.
After an inconsistent season by his own high standards, Jason Robinson came good when his fans wanted it most. In a dazzling performance, he mesmorised the Saints defence making a number of clean breaks. He ended up with two tries and set up Denis Betts for another beauty. Highlights from the afternoon are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wQ1PKjReY8
But Saints had the last laugh, lifting the Super League trophy at Old Trafford just over a month later.
2000 Wigan 28-30 St Helens
Saints turned over table-toppers Wigan in an incredible game at the JJB Stadium in July 2000, with stand-off Tommy Martyn at his imperious best.
If you watch a tape of this game now, you’ll wonder how Martyn never played for Great Britain. His hat-trick, which included a last-minute winner, was absolutely magnificent.
Anthony Sullivan weighed in with a trademark long-distance try while Steve Renouf scored twice for the eventually shell-shocked Wiganers.
Saints had endured a difficult start to the season with the sacking of Ellery Hanley but this win proved to be a crucial turning point for Ian Millward’s men en route to another title.
2003 Leeds Rhinos 22-23 Wigan Warriors
Danny Tickle’s late drop-goal, from a scrum that should never have been, was the ultimate difference in this magnificent final eliminator match.
It was also the late Mike Gregory’s finest hour as a coach, and he was still unbeaten as Wigan’s head coach at this point haven taken over at the end of the July following the sacking of Stuart Raper.
It was also Brian Carney’s finest match in a Wigan jersey with the Irishman scoring two sensational long-range tries to break Leeds’ hearts after Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire seemed to have done enough for the home side. Carney’s crucial second-half try is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSGiVB3SYU0
2006 Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 29-17 Castleford Tigers
The ultimate local derby – relegation for the losers and Super League safety for the winners. There couldn’t have been any more at stake.
The Wildcats looked gone two weeks earlier when Cas beat Harlequins but they bounced back to win at Odsal a week later.
Cas were first out of the block with tries to Willie Manu and Adam Fletcher but Wakefield hit back to lead 14-11 at the break.
Danny Nutley struck first for the Tigers in the second half but tries by Monty Betham, Kevin Henderson and James Evans sent the home crowd into raptures and the Tigers into National League One.
2007 Bradford Bulls 38-42 Leeds Rhinos
Going into the last minute of this Millennium Magic encounter in 2007, the Bulls led 38-36 in what had been an entertaining, but relatively unintense game.
But you don’t hear anyone mention that now – most people have forgotten about the first 79 minutes.
As the clocked ticked down, referee Steve Ganson awarded Leeds a harsh looking penalty. Kevin Sinfield’s 40-metre goal kick hit the crossbar but the chasing Jordan Tansey, clearly offside, caught the rebound and scored the try that won the game.
Pandemonium, as you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0Gf80CVX3M
As a footnote, the Bulls later unsuccessfully challenged the Rhinos for the two competition points.
2007 Bradford Bulls 30-31 Wigan Warriors
The greatest comeback? The greatest play-off match?
For 55 minutes, the Bulls were dominated a disappointingly one-sided game, leading 30-6, against an atrocious Wigan outfit.
But then Mark Calderwood scored. A consolation try surely? Then he scored again.
With 15 minutes to go, Harrison Hansen crossed and mission impossible began to look more and more achievable. Even so, any Bradford score would end the contest there and then.
But it didn’t come and with nine minutes left, Calderwood streaked away for a long-range to level the scores before Pat Richards kicked a late drop-goal to keep the Warriors’ season alive. The crucial try and drop goal are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7E67Spw4aU
2008 Catalans Dragons 32-26 Harlequins
Trailling the Dragons 0-14 at the break last July, the Quins produced an almighty second half fightback to tie the scores at 26-26 when Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook scored with just three minutes remaining.
It had already been one of the games of the season but what happened in the final minute defied belief.
An 80th-minute brawl saw Adam Mogg and McCarthy-Scarsbrook sent from the field. The Dragons were awarded the penalty, in their own half, and had one tackle to make something happen.
And sure enough Thomas Bosc kicked ahead and Clint Greenshields followed up to score one of Super League’s most dramatic ever tries. The incredible action – and commentary! – is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRniqQokcxU