Cooper Cronk sits on the sideliens with his broken shoulder blade after the 2018 NRL grand final. Picture: NRL Media
Cooper Cronk sits on the sideliens with his broken shoulder blade after the 2018 NRL grand final. Picture: NRL Media

The five toughest performances in grand finals

Gorden Tallis raised some eyebrows at Monday's The Courier-Mail NRL launch luncheon when he told the audience he wasn't overly impressed with Cooper Cronk's "iron man" performance in last year's grand final.

Cronk, of course, earned almost universal praise from the games' followers after going into the match with a broken shoulder blade.

Gordie wasn't amongst them.

 

Cooper Cronk sits on the sideliens with his broken shoulder blade after the 2018 NRL grand final. Picture: NRL Media
Cooper Cronk sits on the sideliens with his broken shoulder blade after the 2018 NRL grand final. Picture: NRL Media

 

"I thought he made too much of it," he said. "If you're really tough you don't talk about it, you just get on with it."

So who does The Raging Bull rate as the toughest player he ever played with or against?

"Geoff Toovey. Little blokes like him, Alfie Langer, Preston Campbell … to play our game the way they did, they were the real tough ones.

"They were five foot five and 75 kilos; I was 107 kilos and six foot three. If I was their size I would never have had the careers that they had."

Cronk, of course, is no giant himself, but Gordie made the point that "his mates looked after him" in the grand final and he couldn't get over the fact that Cronk left the field with only a few minutes to play.

"You want to be there at the end," he said. "That's what you play for."

Too harsh? Maybe, so how does Cronk's 2018 heroics compare to those of rugby league's other legendary grand final hard-men?

 

Coach Clive Churchill and captain John Sattler leave the field after the Rabbitohs won the 1970 grand final.
Coach Clive Churchill and captain John Sattler leave the field after the Rabbitohs won the 1970 grand final.

 

1. John Sattler, 1970

Recognised as the toughest performance in rugby league history and rightly so.

Rabbitohs' captain Sattler had his jaw broken in three places by a punch from Manly's John Bucknell three minutes into the game.

Well aware of the damage he had suffered and in excruciating pain, he channelled the South Sydney mantra, "never show the opposition (or words to that effect) you're hurt" and played on, making 20 tackles and handling the ball 23 times, as he inspired his team-mates to a famous 23-12 victory.

 

Sam Burgess’ face was an absolute mess by the time the 2014 grand final was over. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Sam Burgess’ face was an absolute mess by the time the 2014 grand final was over. Picture: Gregg Porteous

 

2. Sam Burgess, 2014

Another South Sydney win, another unforgettable example of grit and guts.

Burgess broke his cheekbone and eye socket in a head clash with Bulldogs captain James Graham in the very first hit up of the match.

Asked by sideline TV reporter Brad Fittler at halftime how the cheek was he answered succinctly "it's f----ed, it's gone" but was out there until to the end as the Rabbitohs ended a 43-years premiership drought 30-6.

 

Andrew, Gary, and Matthew Johns do a lap of honour after Newcastle won the 1997 grand final.
Andrew, Gary, and Matthew Johns do a lap of honour after Newcastle won the 1997 grand final.

 

3. Andrew Johns, 1997

The Newcastle playmaker went into the preliminary final against North Sydney with broken ribs.

A pain-killing injection at half-time went wrong and punctured his lung.

Rushed to hospital after the match he was told he was no hope of playing the grand final but defied doctors' orders and threw the last-minute pass to set up Darren Albert's winning try in the 22-16 cliff-hanger.

 

Shane Webckelooks to break through a tackle with his arm heavily wrapped up. Picture: Roy Haverkamp
Shane Webckelooks to break through a tackle with his arm heavily wrapped up. Picture: Roy Haverkamp

 

4. Shane Webcke, 2000

Six weeks out from the grand final the Broncos prop broke his arm in a game against the Dragons.

Told by doctors it would take at least eight weeks to heal it appeared his season was over but Webcke would not give up.

He continued to train in secret and made his return in the preliminary final against Parramatta wearing what looked like a Sealy Posturepedic mattress wrapped around his forearm.

His 24 tackles and 14 hit-ups confirmed his place in the grand final and, despite opponents the Roosters threatening to target him, he was untroubled in the Broncos 14-6 win.

 

Geoff Toovey copped a battering in the losing 1997 grand final.
Geoff Toovey copped a battering in the losing 1997 grand final.

 

5. Geoff Toovey, 1997

Tough competition for the last spot, including Roosters pair Shaun Kenny-Dowell who played 65 minutes of the 2013 grand final after he suffered a hairline fracture of the jaw and lost a tooth, and Chris Flannery who played the 2004 decider despite a ruptured testicle, but to keep onside with Gordie Tallis, we've given it to Toovey for his punching-bag impersonation in Manly's last-gasp loss to the Knights.

After somehow returning to the field after slipping over in an attempted tackle and copping Adam Macdougall's hip to the noggin in the first half, and then being kicked in the head by Macdougall as he lay on the ground in the second, the poor bloke had to win something.