Almanac Rugby League – 2019 NRL Grand Final: Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders – there’s nothing like a bit of controversy!

The 2019 NRL Grand Final may well go down as one of the more controversial grand finals of recent times after two incidents, one at either end of the match and both favouring the Sydney Roosters, arguably had a major impact on the final result. In the end, the Roosters defeated the Canberra Raiders by 14-8 in a tight, tough and torrid affair that seldom rose to any great heights as a spectacle.


Barely moments into the game, Canberra’s Iosia Soliola charged down a Roosters kick and the ball rebounded about twenty metres towards the Roosters defensive try line with only a Canberra player in clear pursuit. However, the ball hit the Roosters’ trainer who was positioned well behind the defensive line and bounced back towards the main body of players. Had it not hit the trainer, the attacking Canberra player would have had, in all probability, a clear run to the line. A scrum was ruled and the Roosters were given the feed. Not long after, they scored through Sam Verrills who caught the Raiders’ close-in defence napping. A possible 12-point turnaround? Significant, given the final margin.


Sydney dominated the first twenty minutes of the game to take an 8-0 lead. During this period, however, they lost the reliable Mitch Aubusson to a bad leg injury. The Raiders regrouped midway through the half and dominated up until the break. They had difficulty breaching the Sydney defence until a repeat set saw Jack Wighton step through some tiring defence to get the Raiders back in the game. Half-time saw a scoreline of 8-6 in favour of the Roosters. It had been a proverbial arm wrestle with little to no expansive play.


Canberra looked the better team early in the second half and dominated field position. Roosters half-back Cooper Cronk was (correctly) sin-binned for a professional foul on Canberra’s Josh Papalii, allowing Jarrod Croker to tie the scores through the resulting penalty. However Canberra was unable to exploit their numerical advantage any further during Cronk’s absence. To their credit, the Roosters hung on grimly in defence for a prolonged period and rarely made it out of their own half. It seemed that the game was there for Canberra’s taking. The Raiders squandered a great chance to go ahead after they created an overlap on the right edge. Quick hands would have seen the Raiders score in the corner but Joey Leilua held on to the ball for too long and lost the ball forward with Jordan Rapana unmarked on his outside. It proved to be a crucial missed opportunity.


The second, more controversial incident occurred with less than ten minutes to play. With Canberra surging, an attacking kick came back into their possession off the Roosters. Referee Ben Cummins initially indicated ‘six again’ and Jack Wighton played on to take the tackle. However, Cummins had overturned his original call to instead signal ‘last tackle’ and so Wighton was obliged to surrender possession to the Roosters. Wighton was furious because the Canberra players saw (and replays showed) Cummins signal ‘six again’ and so played to that call. Obviously they did not see the change of signal or hear any call to that effect. In the ensuing set, the Roosters’ Luke Keary initiated an attack down the left edge that culminated in James Tedesco running into space to score the match-winning try. Another turnaround of at least six points after a suspect referee’s call!


From there, the Roosters held on until the final whistle to become the first back-to-back premiers of the united competition since the Brisbane Broncos in 1992-3.


The Roosters deserve credit for hanging tough in defence for a long time in the second half. Defence wins matches. Then, when a single opportunity presented itself, they had the personnel, the poise and the skill to take their chance and score. Few Roosters stood out as individuals. Boyd Cordner played his customary inspirational role and Luke Keary always looked likely to spark something dangerous in attack. In many ways, it was a battle of attrition where the effort of the whole unit was more important than that of any individual.


The loss will leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Raiders, not least because of those two controversial calls that clearly impacted on scoring situations. To be fair, however, they did muff a chance to score the winner late in the game. Jack Wighton deservedly won the Clive Churchill Medal for best afield. Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad was safe at the back and menacing when returning the ball out of defence. The forwards worked solidly and at least held their own against the big Roosters pack.


I picked the Roosters for premiers as far back as February and so tonight’s result didn’t surprise me. They are a powerful club and are coached by one of the best in the business in Trent Robinson. But you’d have to say that they were a bit fortunate to get away with this win. I’ll be interested to see how the authorities explain/defend/spin Cummins’ changed call.


That’s it for the 2019 NRL and NRLW seasons. Only about four months until the 2020 pre-season matches get underway!  Cheers.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.



About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.


  1. #sixagain was a horrific incident, most stomach churning result in a big football match I’ve seen since we failed to qualify for France ’98 against Iran.

    Refs spoiled what was a thoroughly decent Grand Final in terms of a contest.

  2. Dumb game. One team dominates but doesn’t score. Random chance and ridiculous officiating give it to the other side. Surely a club official getting in the way should be outside interference with a resulting penalty. NRL exists to make AFL look good. Why not just meet in a pub and draw straws?

  3. Since the Storm started in Melbourne, my interest in and enjoyment of rugby league has grown in leaps and bounds.
    But tonight’s grand final was indeed amateur hour.
    And don’t start me on the commentary: Gus Gould is surely the worst “special comments’ person in world sport.

  4. Congrats must go to Cooper Cronk, who has been a champion of the game.

  5. george smith says

    Rugby League gives us the close grand finals that AFL tends not to have. It also gives us periods of dominance – at one stage Manly and the Melbourne Ruperts hogged all the premierships, and there have been periods of dominance by Brisbane, Canberra, Canterbury St George and Souths.

    There have been times of exhilarating football – the 89 grand final and the Cowboys first premiership in extra time. There have been times of woeful football – the 1986 4-2 horror premiership for example.

    it cheered me up a bit last year, after my AFL team lost narrowly, to see Easts Roosters see off the dreaded Ruperts.

    But the way of the world is that Rocky turns into Apollo Creed and ruins your dreams.

    Thanks Footy Almanac, see you next year to watch Wayne Bennett and his perennial battle to the death – with Wayne Bennett…

  6. Michael Viljoen says

    When betting agencies, such as Sportsbet, are offering to repay the bets of those who put their money on the Raiders, you know that something rather horrendous has just taken place.

    Betting agencies also repaid fans who bet on New Zealand after their “loss” in this year’s World Cup ODI Final. That was a bizarre, once in lifetime, oddity. For after 51 overs, there was the clear sense that New Zealand was not really in any deficit. That this Grand Final has been put on a par with that strange occurrence shows what a momentous stuff up this referee decision really was.

    Add this to the trainer getting in the way and totally blowing away a scoring chance in the first few minutes, if I was a Raider fan, it would be enough to give the game away.

  7. Michael Viljoen says

    As we say down South of the border, “It could only happen in Sydney!”

  8. Dave Brown says

    My passing interest in league passes as far as the Raiders. At the end of the day they were fiercely unlucky. It is staggering that the NRL does not have a rule to deal with interference (intentional or otherwise) by a team’s officials. That the best they could do was classify it as a “neutral” event leading to a scrum feed, new set, and try to the Roosters was audacious in its complete and utter inadequacy. In the end it would appear the umpires eventually came to the right conclusion on the “six again” call – once again perhaps the rules are inadequate to deal with correcting an incorrect call in such circumstances. Perhaps Canberra’s biggest piece of misfortune was what appeared to be an injury to Papalii as he bent over grasping his chest following each run. Can’t help but feel he would have crashed over the line at least once were he not struggling.

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