Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Kiwis gatecrashing league's biggest party

Krisnan Inu will be hoping to work the charm when he turns out for the Bulldogs today.
Photo / Getty Images
Krisnan Inu will be hoping to work the charm when he turns out for the Bulldogs today. Photo / Getty Images

When it comes to Kiwis in grand finals, what once was a trickle has become a flood. Eight New Zealanders will feature in today's showpiece match, continuing a remarkable trend of Kiwi representation in recent years.

In the past three years a total of 32 Kiwis have run out on to Stadium Australia for the NRL's biggest day, more than in the 1970s (two), 1980s (five) and 1990s (24) combined.

Since then there has been a burgeoning trend of men from this side of the Tasman competing in the grand final. Across the period 2000-09 New Zealanders made 47 grand final appearances, picking up 17 winners medals.

There has been Kiwi representation in the past 18 consecutive grand finals; the 1993 match between the Broncos and the Dragons was the last time no New Zealanders were involved.

Today Sam Perrett, Krisnan Inu, Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood will turn out for the Bulldogs, while Jesse Bromwich, Sika Manu and Kevin Proctor are in the Storm line up.

Despite the fact he has an asterix beside his name, Sam Kasiano is the eighth Kiwi on show today.

It will be a second grand final for Perrett (Roosters, 2009) and Manu (Storm, 2008) while Inu will improbably line up for his third (Eels, 2009; Warriors, 2011) though he has yet to win one.

The first grand final Kiwi was tough-tackling hooker Bill Noonan, who represented the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the 1974 decider versus Jack Gibson's Eastern Suburbs.

Pre-match entertainment at the Sydney Cricket Ground comprised marching girls and a brass band, quite a departure from the multi-layered extravaganzas of today.

The Bulldogs lost 19-4, a surprise after they had convincingly beaten the Roosters in the preliminary final.

The late Henry Tatana was the next Kiwi sighted on the last Sunday in September. Universally recognised as one of the toughest in the game, the goal-kicking prop had been part of the Bulldogs in 1974 but didn't get on the park. He was then recruited by the Dragons but the Southern Sydney side lost 38-0 to the Roosters in 1975, a game that was remembered most for Graeme Langlands and his white boots.

For the next 12 years there was no New Zealand representation in the grand finals as the Kiwis plying their trade across the Tasman were at the wrong clubs at the wrong times.

Not a single player from Graham Lowe's brilliant Kiwi side of 1983-1985 (men such as Dean Bell, Olsen Filipaina, Fred Ah Kuoi, Clayton Friend, Kurt Sorensen, Mark Graham and Hugh McGahan) ever tasted the thrill of grand final day.

It was a special occasion in 1987. Manly beat Canberra 18-8 in the NSWRL decider and there were Kiwis (Darrell Williams and Brent Todd) in both teams. Williams, who signed from the Mount Albert Lions in 1986, became the first New Zealander to win the game's ultimate prize.

The centre was lucky to be involved in the game, needing six painkilling injections before the match and another at halftime. He had torn anterior and medial cruciate ligaments in his knee the year before, but decided to keep it a secret and play through the pain - fearful that the Brookvale club would tear up his newly-inked contract if they knew.

Todd was a loser that day, but would play three more grand finals for the Canberra Raiders (1989, 1990 and 1991). Balmain Tigers halfback Gary Freeman was the only other Kiwi to make a grand final that decade (1988 & 1989).

Every year since 1994 there has been at least one New Zealander in the grand final and more than a few match-winners. Think of Matthew Ridge kicking Manly to victory in 1996; Tawera Nikau and Stephen Kearney inspiring an unlikely second-half Storm comeback in 1999; 'Hair Bears' Joe Galuvao and Tony Puletua propelling the Panthers in 2003; a fearless 18-year-old Sonny Bill Williams against the Roosters in 2004; Benji Marshall's magic for the Tigers in 2005; Adam Blair storming over the Eels in 2009 and Jason Nightingale crossing for a brace in 2010.

Speedy winger Jason Williams was the first Kiwi to score a grand final try, dotting down for the Bulldogs in 1994.

In the same game, Daryl Halligan become the first New Zealander to kick a goal, though it was all in vain as the Sydney side were thrashed by Ruben Wiki's Raiders.

- Herald on Sunday

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