When grown men wept, Steelers prayed and nobody was there: Six of rugby league’s most dramatic late tries


We have just had the 2023 grand final decided in suitably late-try-scoring fashion and, well, who does not like a list of random stuff and nostalgic videos to tide you over in the offseason?

But it struck me that we already have a well-established hierarchy of dramatic late tries. In no particular order, the holy sextet is: Mark Coyne, Mal Meninga, Darren Albert, Royce Simmons, Steve Jackson and Kyle Feldt – though you might plump for Darren Lockyer and, maybe now, Nathan Cleary.

So rather than rehash that well-worn list, I have chosen six less obvious, perhaps even forgotten – but no less dramatic late shows – and please feel free to nominate yours in the comments.

1. ‘Grown men wept’: Ron Roberts, Australia 5 vs Great Britain 2, Third Ashes Test 1950

Naturally, this one has faded in the collective memory given the passage of time and the departure of those who were present.

But for many years after, Australia’s victory was fondly remembered, so much so that in 1986 Roberts’ try finished top of a Rugby League Week poll about the greatest moments in the game’s history.

Australia had not held the Ashes in 30 years, and they were not strongly favoured to win them back when Great Britain toured in 1950.

The Kangaroos fought hard but could not breach the Lions’ defence in the first test, but then a backline reshuffle worked wonders up at the Gabba and suddenly things were looking up.

The Third Test was played at the SCG in conditions just as deplorable as the famous mud bath grand final of ’63, and they limited the teams to a penalty goal each in the opening 70 minutes.

Then, with seemingly nothing on, Mick Crocker went to dummy half and spotted an opportunity on the right; halves Keith Holman and Frank Stanmore engineered some space, and lanky St George winger Ron Roberts dashed away for the winning try.

According to Alan Whiticker and Ian Collis, “grown men wept… emotional fans broke plates of glass in the Members Stand in an effort to get to their heroes, chanting ‘we want Churchill’.

One of the game’s founding fathers, JJ Giltinan did make it into the sheds to savour the long-awaited moment just a few months before he died aged 84.

2. A comedy of errors: Ken Hirst, Wakefield Trinity 10 vs Leeds 11, Challenge Cup Final 1968

Of course, a dramatic late try does not necessarily mean a winning try, even if this one should have been.

The Challenge Cup Final of ’68 was also played in terrible conditions, though one could argue that a miserably wet day in the late English spring is not unusual at all.

It was a hard slog, and with barely one minute remaining, Leeds fullback Bev Risman had put his team up 11-7 and looked seemingly to clinch the Cup, only for quite an extraordinary sequence of events to unfold from the restart.

Wakefield winger Ken Hirst scored a great and largely forgotten opportunist’s try after Trinity’s kick-off bounced awkwardly.

He toed ahead a loose ball and saw his path to the line open as Leeds players slipped on the treacherous surface.

The Cup should have been Wakefield’s from there but goal-kicking prop Don Fox butchered a mere formality right in front of the posts, as his side lost by a single point – but it did not mean the try was any less remarkable.

3. Endings and beginnings: Mick Reardon, Souths 13 vs Redcliffe 9, BRL Grand Final 1981

After years in the doldrums, the Souths Magpies reemerged as a Brisbane Rugby League force in the late 1970s, not coincidentally at about the same time a chap called Mal Meninga got started.

They played six grand finals in seven seasons, winning just two of them, so it was not quite a dynasty, but it was the start of something.

The career of Meninga and a few others for a start, then the career of a young, hirsute coach called Wayne Bennett, and of course, the rivalry with Wynnum-Manly and Wally Lewis that was arguably the biggest draw of the BRL’s glory years.

The 1981 season was the breakthrough for Souths, their first premiership in 28 years, although the drought looked like it would endure when Redcliffe took a 9-6 lead early in the second half.

Meninga’s penalty narrowed the margin and then Souths had one last chance after a 79th-minute penalty put them on the attack, and Reardon crossed.

But for all Souths’ joy, it was a sad end to the career of the great Arthur Beetson who had come home to Redcliffe after a glorious career and 16 years after he had inspired them to their first premiership in 1965.

4. ‘The try they’ve been begging and praying for’: Rod Wishart, Illawarra 20 vs Newcastle 14, Round 22 1994

This try has stuck in my memory for the best part of 30 years largely because of the reaction of the cloth-capped older gentleman with his hands clasped together in a mixture of prayer and celebration on the hill at Wollongong – it was apt.

The Steelers had to win their last round game at home to Newcastle in 1994 if they were any hope of playing finals and then hope a hapless Balmain outfit could beat the defending Premier Brisbane, in Brisbane the following afternoon.

Wishart’s try gave them hope, caused Stanley Steeler to fall over in excitement and punished an absurdly extravagant piece of impatience from Robbie O’Davis. What’s not to like?

5. The other ‘miracle’: Tonie Carroll, Queensland 24 vs NSW 23, State of Origin one 1998

No such list would be complete something from the Queensland oeuvre, so here goes.

Tonie Carroll’s last-minute effort is not quite in the same class as Mark Coyne’s ‘miracle’, a rollicking single-play team spectacular, but it is in the same genre, and it was a brilliant team try in itself.

From Kevin Walters orchestrating the kick-chase to get them out from the deep, to the spine working their way into attacking ball, to the men in motion around Jason Smith and Walters when the ball came back the other way, one of whom, Tonie Caroll, ran a great line off Walters’ hip for the try.

It was hastily cobbled together and instinctive, but also somehow beautifully coherent. While Queensland still needed the conversion to win, there was no Foxian mishap from the boot of Lockyer.

6. If a late try is scored but nobody’s there: Jack Welsby, St Helens 8 vs Wigan 4, Super League Grand Final 2020

That time back in mid-2020 when it seemed there might not be a footy season, which was alarming for most fans, in a more concerning time for the world.

Living in ‘bubbles’ away from the comforts of home and loved ones, I imagine elite athletes occasionally reminded themselves that they were among a select few for whom competition and livelihood went on.

Still, it must have been strange to emerge into an empty cavern in Hull given the occasion and sense of anticipation, even if they knew in advance.

After an 80-minute armwrestle, with Saints and Wigan locked together, everybody’s favourite transfer rumour, Jack Welsby dutifully chased Tommy Makinson’s field goal attempt and ended up touching down for a pretty good dramatic late try, even if it was accompanied by canned noise.

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