If you want to learn about the gamut of NRL grand final emotions, talk to Craig "Postie" Innes. The former All Black and Manly centre still has nightmares about September 28, 1997.

Twenty years ago, Innes featured in one of the great grand finals, a decider between Manly and Newcastle. Unfortunately for Innes, he finished on the losing side, a point that still rankles.

The Knights were appearing in their first grand final and the Sea Eagles were favourites to defend the title won the year before.

"We had put 30 points on them two weeks earlier," Innes told the Herald on Sunday. "We didn't play badly but we had opportunities to put them away in the second half and we didn't take them. You take your hat off to Newcastle but we should have had two in a row. We caused the damage to ourselves. I still think about it now ... I don't know if you ever get over losing a grand final."


Manly had enjoyed a dominant campaign, winning the minor premiership for the second season in a row and losing only five games.

The Sea Eagles were a hardened outfit, with Matthew Ridge, John Hopoate, Mark Carroll and Cliff Lyons, as well as the famously competitive Geoff Toovey.

"He was probably the angriest man I have ever played with but also the toughest," said Innes. "He refused to take a backwards step to anyone and was a great man to have beside you."

Innes' build-up to the game wasn't ideal - he didn't train all week after straining his back - but took his place at centre. Manly started well and had a comfortable 16-8 halftime lead. But they lost their composure in the last quarter, and the Knights drew level with five minutes to play.

"Going into the last few minutes everybody was out on their feet. It had been that kind of game. We turned the ball over in our own half and they launched an attack. A few plays later, Andrew Johns scooted from dummy half and that was the game."

The Manly dressing room was a den of despair after the match.

"It had been one of the classic grand finals but that didn't mean much. Everyone was just staring at the wall ... there was nothing to say. It knocked the stuffing out of you."

If that was the pain of the big day, a year earlier, Innes had experienced the pleasure. Innes had played in plenty of high profile contests - including 17 All Black tests and two Challenge Cup finals with Leeds - but felt the nerves ahead of the big day.

"We couldn't wait for Sunday to come round," said Innes. "We wanted to get into it."

Manly were dominant for most of the match against the St George Dragons, although the game turned on a moment of controversy involving Ridge, after he regathered a short kickoff just before halftime.

"He was judged to be not held, kept running, and we scored from the next play. But it felt like we were in control for most of the match."

Manly prevailed 20-8, with Innes scoring a grand final try (he also scored the following year) and the celebrations were long and loud.

"They went on for a while, well into the next day. I had a radio interview back to New Zealand and I fell asleep, even started snoring. Obviously I'm not proud of that but to win that trophy was an amazing feeling.

"It was a mix of jubilation and relief and it ranks right up there with one of the best moments of my career."