NRL Grand Final: History, Stats & Records

Millions of rugby league fans gather around TV screens each year to watch the country’s top two teams battle for glory in the NRL Grand Final.

More than 80,000 passionate supporters normally pack into the ANZ Stadium in Sydney to watch the action unfold, while the TV audience is north of 6 million. They watch the world’s finest players compete in a career-defining event that can either result in pure jubilation or utter dejection.

The NRL Grand Final has taken place on an annual basis since 1908, although it has existed under a variety of guises during that time. Viewers have witnessed countless moments of collective and individual brilliance over the years, experiencing equal measures of joy, heartbreak, fear and exhilaration.

Read on to learn more about the history of the NRL Grand Final, the most impressive records that have been set over the years, and the key stats it has yielded.


NRL Grand Final History

The inaugural Grand Final took place all the way back in 1908. South Sydney Rabbitohs beat Eastern Suburbs 14-12 at the Royal Agricultural Society Showground to clinch the New South Wales Rugby League premiership. Souths successfully defended their crown the following year, when Balmain refused to take part in the game. They were upset that the final was being played as a prelude to a Kangaroos v Wallabies match, so they did not show up. South Sydney kicked off to no opposition and were declared premiers.

Souths failed in their bid to make it three in a row when they lost to Newtown in 1910, and then it was Easts turn to dominate, as they won it three times between 1911 and 1913. Souths finally claimed their third Grand Final victory in 1914, and Balmain won it four times in the subsequent five years.

In 1916, the Grand Final moved to the Sydney Cricket Ground, but it returned to RAS Showground Sydney in 1926. Souths were the dominant team in the late 1920s and early 1930s. From 1926 to 1953, finals were played under the Argus system. In 1954, the game to decide the premiers was explicitly referred to as the Grand Final, and that term has persisted ever since. Souths won their 15th Grand Final that year by beating Newtown, and they added a 16th when they emerged victorious against the same opposition in 1955.

St. George then embarked on an astonishing 11-year period of dominance, before Souths finally put an end to their winning run in 1967. Competition intensified during the 1970s, and then the 1980s brought about the expansion of the NSWRL premiership, with non-Sydney based teams Canberra and Illawarra joining in 1982. The Newcastle Knights and the first two Queensland teams – the Brisbane Broncos and the Gold Coast-Tweed Giants – jumped aboard in 1988.

The NSWRL evolved into the Australian Rugby League in 1995, and the Super League War began after Rupert Murdoch created a rival competition. In 1997, there were two Grand Finals, with Newcastle Knights beating Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in the ARL Grand Final, and Brisbane Broncos beating Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in the Super League Grand Final. The ARL became the NRL in 1998, when Brisbane beat Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the NRL Grand Final.

A record crowd packed into Stadium Australia in Sydney to watch the Melbourne Storm beat the newly merged St. George Illawarra Dragons in the 1999 NRL Grand Final, and the NRL consolidated into one formidable competition, which has gone from strength to strength during the ensuing decades. Sydney Cricket Ground and Sydney Football Stadium hosted it for many years, but it is now traditionally held at Stadium Australia – currently known as ANZ Stadium – although it had to be moved to Brisbane in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


NRL Grand Final Records

Most Premierships

South Sydney Rabbitohs have been crowned premiers a record 21 times. Their first triumph came in 1908 – the inaugural Grand Final – and they had 11 premierships and six runner-up finishes by 1932. They enjoyed another strong period between 1950 and 1971, adding another nine premierships to their trophy cabinet.

A long drought then ensued, and Souths were controversially excluded from the competition between 1999 and 2002 in the aftermath of the Super League War, but they brought that barren spell to an end with a 30-6 win against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2014. They had the chance to add a 22nd premiership in the 2021 NRL Grand Final, but Souths lost 14-12 to Penrith in Brisbane.


Most Finals Lost

Sydney Roosters (formerly Easts) hold the record for the most runner-up finishes in history. They lost the first two Grand Finals to Souths, and they have ended up second best on 15 occasions over the years. That trend has continued in the modern era, as they have been runners-up four times since 2000. Yet Sydney have now emerged successful in their last three NRL Grand Final appearances – in 2013, 2018 and 2019 – taking their record to 15 Grand Final wins and 15 losses. Souths are next with 14 Grand Finals losses.


Most Consecutive NRL Grand Final Wins

St. George won the Grand Final 11 times in a row between 1955 and 1966. No other team has come close to matching that record. They were only behind at half-time once during that remarkable spell of dominance. They trailed Balmain 4-2 in 1964, but they rallied after the break to clinch an 11-6 win. 

Largest Winning Margin

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles thumped the Melbourne Storm 40-0 in the 2008 NRL Grand Final. Michael Robertson was the star of the show, with three tries. That saw the Sea Eagles avenge their 34-8 defeat to the Storm in the 2007 NRL Grand Final, and it eclipsed the previous record set when Easts beat St. George 38-0 in 1975.

Most Points Scored in an NRL Grand Final

Souths hold the record for the most points scored in a Grand Final. They beat the Sea Eagles 42-14 in 1951. They had only lost one match during the regular season, and they finished ahead of the chasing pack by a record 11-point margin, so they were the clear favourites. They lived up to their billing, as they ran riot against a Manly team that was missing captain-coach Wally O’Connell. That game is also the highest scoring Grand Final in history.


Lowest Scoring Grand Final

The scoring Grand Final in history came when Balmain scraped a tense 3-0 win against Souths in 1924. The second lowest scoring Grand Final was the 4-2 win for Parramatta Eels against the Bulldogs in 1986.


Most NRL Grand Final Appearances

St. George duo Norm Provan and Brian Clay share the record for the most Grand Final appearances, with 10 apiece. They were stalwarts for the Dragons during their dominant run in the 1950s and 1960s. They were not involved in the 1955 triumph, but they led their team to victory in the subsequent 10 Grand Finals. Eddie Lumsden (St. George), Ron Coote (Souths and Easts) and Cooper Cronk (Melbourne and Sydney) are next, with nine each.


Largest Grand Final Attendance

The largest attendance in an NRL Grand Final came in 1999, when it moved to Stadium Australia as the Super League War was dying down. There were 107,999 screaming fans inside the stadium to watch the Melbourne Storm battle to a thrilling 20-18 win against the newly merged St. George Illawarra Dragons.

That is the only time that the NRL Grand Final has ever attracted more than 100,000 live spectators. The second largest crowd was 94,227 in 2000. The 2020 NRL Grand Final had to be played in front of a reduced capacity crowd of just 37,303 due to the pandemic in 2020, and only 39,322 could watch it at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in 2021. 


Most Grand Finals Refereed

Bill Harrigan refereed the Grand Final 10 times between 1989 and 2003. Darcy Lawler is next on the list, having made eight referee appearances between 1953 and 1963. There is still time for Gerard Sutton to overtake them. He refereed the NRL Grand Final in 2014 and 2015, and then took a break into 2016, but he has refereed it every year since, taking his total to seven.


NRL Grand Final Stats


35 – The Parramatta Eels are currently enduring the longest drought, having failed to win the Grand Final since joining the league in 1986. They lost the 2001 NRL Grand Final and then lost again in 2009.


5.2 – St. George won a premiership every 5.2 years before merging with Illawarra in 1999. They also made an appearance every 2.89 years, which is another record. The Dragons have won one premiership every 23 years since the merger.


55 – The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have won a premiership every 55 years, which leaves them with the lowest strike rate (1.82%).


18.75% – Souths have a strike rate of 18.75%, with 21 premierships in 112 years. St. George are ahead with a 19.23% strike rate, but that goes down significantly when you add in the St. George Illawarra era.


53 – Sydney Cricket Ground hosted 53 Grand Finals, ahead of Stadium Australia (22), Sydney Football Stadium (11), Sydney Sports Ground (11), RAS Showground (6), and one apiece for stadiums in Brisbane.


$10,000 – The average value of an NRL Grand Final winner’s ring.


50 – No team has ever conceded 50 or more points in a regular season match and gone on to win the Grand Final.


8 – Easts lead the way with a record eight tries and seven goals scored by a team in the Grand Final thanks to their heavy victory in 1975.


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