1987 NSWRL season

1987 NSWRL season
1987 NSWRL season
Teams 13
Premiers Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah (5th title)
Minor premiers Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah (6th title)
Matches played 162
Points scored 5294 (total)
32.679 (per match)
Attendance 1,658,354 (total)
10,237 (per match)
Top point scorer(s) Balmain colours.svg Ross Conlon (196)
Top try scorer(s) Canterbury colours.svg Terry Lamb (16)

The 1987 New South Wales Rugby League premiership was the eightieth season of professional rugby league football in Australia. Thirteen clubs competed for the J J Giltinan shield and Winfield Cup during the season, which culminated in a grand final between the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and the Canberra Raiders. This season, NSWRL teams also competed for the 1987 National Panasonic Cup.


Season summary

This was to be the last season that the moniker "New South Wales Rugby League" would be actually correct, as the following season two teams from Queensland would be introduced, heralding a new era of interstate club participation in the Winfield Cup premiership (although the name wouldn't be changed to the Australian Rugby League until 1995). This would also ultimately lead to the decline of the already-diminishing Brisbane Rugby League premiership of Queensland.

Twenty-six regular season rounds were played from February till August, resulting in a top five of Manly, Easts, Canberra, Balmain and Souths who battled it out in the finals.

Parramatta's captain and halfback Peter Sterling made a clean sweep of the 1987 season's major awards, winning the Rothmans Medal and Dally M Award as well as being named Rugby League Week's player of the year.[1]

Western Suburbs moved their homeground to Campbelltown (Orana Park) this season.


The lineup of clubs remained unchanged from the previous year, with thirteen contesting the premiership, including five Sydney-based foundation teams, another six from Sydney, one from greater New South Wales and one from the Australian Capital Territory.

Balmain home jersey 1963.svg
Balmain Tigers
80th season
Ground: Leichhardt Oval
Coach: Bill Anderson
Captain: Wayne Pearce
Canberra Raiders home jersey 1982.svg
Canberra Raiders
6th season
Ground: Seiffert Oval
Coach: Don Furner & Wayne Bennett
Captain: Dean Lance
Canterbury home jersey 1966.svg
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
53rd season
Ground: Belmore Oval
Coach: Warren Ryan
Captain: Steve Mortimer
Cronulla home jersey 1970.svg
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
21st season
Ground: Caltex Field
Coach: Jack Gibson
Captain: David Hatch
Eastern Suburbs home jersey 1953.svg
Eastern Suburbs Roosters
80th season
Ground: Henson Park
Coach: Arthur Beetson
Captain: Hugh McGahan
Illawarra Steelers home jersey 1982.svg
Illawarra Steelers
6th season
Ground: Wollongong Stadium
Coach: Brian Smith
Captain: Perry Haddock
Manly Sea Eagles home jersey 1965.svg
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
41st season
Ground: Brookvale Oval
Coach: Bob Fulton
Captain: Paul Vautin
North Sydney Bears home jersey 1979.svg
North Sydney Bears
80th season
Ground: North Sydney Oval
Coach: Frank Stanton
Captain: Mark Graham
Parramatta Eels home jersey 1986.svg
Parramatta Eels
41st season
Ground: Parramatta Stadium
Coach: John Monie
Captain: Peter Sterling
Penrith Panthers home jersey 1983.svg
Penrith Panthers
21st season
Ground: Penrith Stadium
Coach: Tim Sheens
Captain: Royce Simmons
South Sydney home jersey 1980.svg
South Sydney Rabbitohs
80th season
Ground: Redfern Oval
Coach: George Piggins
Captain: Mario Fenech
St. George home jersey 1945.svg
St. George Dragons
67th season
Ground: Sydney Cricket Ground
Coach: Roy Masters
Captain: Craig Young
Western Suburbs home jersey 1977.svg
Western Suburbs Magpies
80th season
Ground: Orana Park
Coach Steve Ghosn
Captain: Ian Schubert


Team Pld W D L B PF PA PD Pts
1 Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah 24 18 1 5 2 553 356 +197 41
2 Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Eastern Suburbs 24 15 1 8 2 390 353 +37 35
3 Canberra colours.svg Canberra 24 15 0 9 2 441 325 +116 34
4 Balmain colours.svg Balmain 24 14 1 9 2 469 349 +120 33
5 South Sydney colours.svg South Sydney 24 13 1 10 2 310 342 -32 31
6 Canterbury colours.svg Canterbury-Bankstown 24 13 0 11 2 353 316 +37 30
7 Parramatta colours.svg Parramatta 24 12 0 12 2 417 411 +6 28
8 Cronulla colours.svg Cronulla-Sutherland 24 11 1 12 2 390 433 -43 27
9 St. George colours.svg St. George 24 10 2 12 2 394 409 -15 26
10 North Sydney colours.svg North Sydney 24 11 0 13 2 368 401 -33 26
11 Illawarra colours.svg Illawarra 24 8 0 16 2 372 449 -77 20
12 Panthers colours.svg Penrith 24 6 1 17 2 274 399 -125 17
13 Western Suburbs colours.svg Western Suburbs 24 5 2 17 2 339 527 -188 16


Home Score Away Match Information
Date and Time Venue Referee Crowd
Qualifying Finals
Balmain colours.svg Balmain Tigers 12-15 South Sydney colours.svg South Sydney Rabbitohs 5 September 1987 Sydney Cricket Ground Greg McCallum 22,134
Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Eastern Suburbs Roosters 25-16 Canberra colours.svg Canberra Raiders 6 September 1987 Sydney Cricket Ground Mick Stone 15,852
Semi Finals
Canberra colours.svg Canberra Raiders 46-12 South Sydney colours.svg South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 September 1987 Sydney Cricket Ground Mick Stone 24,744
Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 10-6 Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Eastern Suburbs Roosters 13 September 1987 Sydney Cricket Ground Greg McCallum 36,399
Preliminary Final
Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Eastern Suburbs Roosters 24-32 Canberra colours.svg Canberra Raiders 20 September 1987 Sydney Cricket Ground Mick Stone 26,790
Grand Final
Manly Sea Eagles colours.svg Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 18-8 Canberra colours.svg Canberra Raiders 27 September 1987 Sydney Cricket Ground Mick Stone 50,201

Grand Final

Manly dominated the 1987 season with a 12-match winning sequence between May and July and Bob Fulton's elusive goal of coaching a side to Grand Final victory began to look a possibility. The path to glory had been four years in the making. In 1983 Fulton had returned to the club as coach, the second year running that they lost to Parramatta and he set about pursuing a stable of players needed to win a premiership.

The sole survivors of the 1983 loss to Parramatta were Noel Cleal and club captain, Paul Vautin. Cleal had by now developed into one of the most menacing forwards in the game and although Vautin had been largely overlooked by the Australian selectors, his leadership of the Sea-Eagles was an integral factor in the club's success. In 1984 young halfback Des Hasler who had spent several seasons warming the bench at Penrith trialled with the club, became a mainstay of the Manly side and achieved Test selection the following year. 1986 Rothmans medallist, winger-turned-hooker, Mal Cochrane a reliable goalkicker and a deceptive open runner was also an asset to the side. The forwards were led by 1986 Kangaroo Tour prop Phil Daley and English import, Castleford's Kevin Ward who was flown back out to Australia specifically for the grand final. Manly's masterstroke was the signing of former rugby union international Michael O'Connor from St. George who was regarded as one of the most gifted attacking backs in the game.

Their opponents were to be the Canberra Raiders who, after 5 years of competition, had reached their first Grand Final. 50,201 fans were on hand to watch the last rugby league grand final played at the SCG and the first to involve a club from outside the Sydney area. Network 10 televised a memorable pre-match entertainment involving a symbolic building of a huge model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge by representatives of the Navy's apprentices.

Match report

Manly-Warringah Position Canberra
Dale Shearer FB Gary Belcher
David Ronson WG Chris Kinna
Darrell Williams CE Mal Meninga
Michael O'Connor CE Peter Jackson
Stuart Davis WG Matthew Corkery
Cliff Lyons FE Chris O'Sullivan
Des Hasler HB Ivan Henjak
Paul Vautin (c) LK Dean Lance (c)
Ron Gibbs SR Ashley Gilbert
Noel Cleal SR Gary Coyne
Kevin Ward PR Sam Backo
Mal Cochrane HK Steve Walters
Phil Daley PR Brent Todd
Mark Pocock Reserve Kevin Walters
Paul Shaw Reserve Terry Regan
Bob Fulton Coach Don Furner and
Wayne Bennett

From the outset Manly's Cliff Lyons attempted to find gaps out wide in Canberra's defence and kept the Raiders hemmed in on their own side of half-way with his astute kicking. Lyons stepped inside the Raiders' defence and after a seventy-metre burst found Noel Cleal stampeding on to the ball but Cleal's final pass to Des Hasler was ruled forward. Another promising Manly raid broke down when Lyons' reverse pass to O'Connor was put to ground.

In the 27th minute Lyons eventually broke through on his third threatening attempt. Scurrying from a scrum win on the Canberra quarter-line, Lyons brushed off the tackle of Chris O'Sullivan and stepped inside Gary Belcher to score.

The Sea Eagles led 6-0 at half-time, with a crushing ball-and-all tackle by Belcher on Dale Shearer at the Canberra tryline preventing the lead being greater.

From the restart kick-off Belcher fielded the ball in his in-goal but was penalised for shepherding behind Chris O'Sullivan as he ran the ball out. It was a gift penalty for Michael O'Connor to take Manly to an 8-0 lead.

The Sea Eagles kept the pressure on Canberra by charging down two attempted clearing kicks by a tiring Mal Meninga. Only occasionally did the Raiders break through. After a run by Peter Jackson, Manly's Phil Daley was penalised for a high tackle and Meninga's goal finally put Canberra on the scoreboard.

Fatigue and the heat began to take a toll. Meninga was replaced after 15 minutes of the second half and Manly's Gibbs, Cleal and Cochrane all went down hurt at different stages as the pace of the match slowed. Soon after a successful penalty goal from O'Connor, a Dale Shearer crossfield kick was grounded over the line by O'Connor in the Paddington corner. The Manly centre seemed to have been in front of Shearer's kick but the converted try cemented Manly's lead, 16-2.

A brief hope of a fightback loomed after an ingeniously constructed "trojan horse" move by Canberra. Chris O'Sullivan went down "injured" after being tackled and then miraculously popped up in the next passage of play to take the inside pass from Ivan Henjak and score. Gary Belcher converted to narrow the scores to 16-8.

Ron Gibbs' return from the head-bin helped snap the Sea Eagles out of their complacency. Daley's tackle on Canberra replacement Terry Regan and Dale Shearer's try-saving tackle on Ashley Gilbert three minutes from full-time ended any chance of a Canberra fightback. Paul Vautin led the charge back up-field with Hasler being bundled into the corner post after a run-around movement with O'Connor.

Right on full-time, O'Connor landed his fifth goal after the Raiders were penalised in front of their own posts. The 18-8 scoreline was a fair indication of Manly's supremacy on the day and a just result considering the Sea Eagles' consistency throughout the year. Manly became the first non-Canterbury-Bankstown or Parramatta club to win the grand final since St. George in 1979.

For Manly coach and treasured son Bob Fulton, premiership glory in a nine-year coaching career was finally achieved. For the dual Canberra coaches it marked a milestone. It was a sad ending to the long coaching career of Don Furner, the man who brought Canberra into the competition. For his partner Wayne Bennett, the tactician behind the side, it was a disappointing exit but another door was about to open on his own stellar coaching career with Brisbane and Queensland.

Manly Sea Eagles 18 (Tries: O'Connor, Lyons. Goals: O'Connor 5)

Canberra Raiders 8 (Tries: O'Sullivan. Goals: Meninga, Belcher).

Clive Churchill Medal Winner: Cliff Lyons.

Manly vs Wigan

Having won the premiership, the Manly side travelled to England to play British Champions Wigan on the 7th of October. This was only the second match of its kind, since the first time the Australian and British premiers faced off in 1976. 36,895 spectators turned out at Central Park, Wigan to see the Sea Eagles go down 8 to 2.


  1. ^ Toby Creswell and Samantha Trenoweth (2006). 1001 Australians You Should Know. Australia: Pluto Press. pp. 714. ISBN 1864033614, 9781864033618. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QqtinbjO0oEC&vq=rugby&source=gbs_navlinks_s. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.