Australian Rugby League season 1997

Australian Rugby League season 1997

:"This article details the Australian Rugby League half of 1997's split competition. For the Super League half, see Super League (Australia) season 1997"Infobox rugby league season
year = 1997
competition = Australian Rugby League

imagesize = 100%
caption =
teams = 12
premiers =
count = 1st
minor premiers =
mpcount = 9th
matches = 141
points = 5370
attendance = 1496040
top points scorer = (242)
top try scorer = (22)

1997's Australian Rugby League premiership was the 90th season of professional rugby league football in Australia and the third season run by the Australian Rugby League. Twelve Australian Rugby League-loyal teams - eight from across Sydney, two from greater New South Wales and two from Queensland - competed for the Optus Cup.

eason summary

The season is most notable for being run parallel to the rival Super League competition. This was the only season when the two competitions actually ran, notwithstanding that 1995 and 1996 had been disrupted by the Super League war.

ARL chairman Ken Arthurson resigned in February 1997 in an effort to enable re-unification negotiations to succeed. It wouldn't be till after the season's end in December that the boards of every ARL club would gather at the SCG in an unprecedented meeting to consider the proposed peace deal following five months of secret negotiations between Ian Frykberg and Neil Whittaker.

In 1997 the official player of the year award, the Rothmans Medal was won by Brad Fittler. This was the last year that the award would be known as the Rothmans Medal, with the Dally M Medal becoming the only player of the year award from the following year.


Grand Final

The fairytale came true for thousands of Novocastrians when the Knights won their first ever premiership, staging a comeback from 8-16 to shatter Manly's hopes.

The long-running duel between opposing front rowers Mark Carroll and Paul Harragon erupted again in the 2nd minute when Carroll reacted to a Harragon shot on Geoff Toovey. Newcastle applied pressure early when they regained possession inside Manly's 20m and shortly after that Andrew Johns took a penalty attempt, but Manly's defence and luck stood firm and the score stayed nil-all.

Manly scored first after rookie hooker Anthony Colella won a scrum against the feed. John Hopoate exploited a weakness in Newcastle's right side defence and got between Darren Albert and Mark Hughes to score. Nevin's sideline conversion gave the Sea Eagles a 6-0 lead.

In 13th minute Manly suffered a blow when Toovey was steamrolled. He left the field concussed for Cliff Lyons to come on.

Johns went within inches of scoring for Newcastle in the 24th minute when his blindside break on the last tackle was stopped by a desperate Hopoate. Manly responded with a thrilling try in the 25th minute. The movement started 55 metres out - Hopoate making the initial break down the left-hand side with Lyons backing up to enable Craig Innes to crash over for a Manly 10-0 lead.

Newcastle's first points came through a Johns' penalty goal. Then in the 34th minute they scored their first ever Grand Final try after a clever kick from Matthew Johns was taken by Hopoate who was bundled into touch. From the scrum win, Robbie O'Davis got outside Terry Hill to score. Andrew Johns' conversion brought Newcastle within two points.

Manly hit back in the 38th minute after some magical work from Lyons. He swept onto a ball dropped by Harragon and spun around to find Shannon Nevin on the inside. The Newcastle forwards couldn't get across to cover the overlap and Nevin then converted his own try for a 16-8 half-time scoreline.

Early in the second half there was more concern for Toovey after he was stomped on by Adam MacDougall. Manly then almost put Newcastle away in the 51st minute when Steven Menzies powered through close to the line only to be stopped by Troy Fletcher scrambling well to effect a try- and match-saving tackle for the Knights. Andrew Johns booted a penalty goal in the 57th minute to claw Newcastle back to within a converted try.

In the 61st minute Adam Muir dropped a pass from Andrew Johns a metre from Manly's line but it was a sign that the Knights were back in the game. Manly on the other hand, began to play conservatively to their own ultimate cost. They received a penalty after another Harragon high tackle and elected to kick at goal 32 metres out with a swirling breeze. Nevin missed and Darren Albert returned the kick with a 40 metre run.

Manly applied pressure for the next ten minutes but came away empty handed. Colella and then Nik Kosef both dropped balls inside Newcastle's 30m line while trying to off-load. A 69th minute last tackle raid ten metres out by Manly also fell short when a field-goal might have sealed the game.

Having withstood the pressure, Newcastle then lifted. Following a long break by Fletcher, Andrew Johns received the ball from his brother. He stood in a tackle, handed to O'Davis, who spun and planted the ball on the line. Johns' conversion levelled the scores 16-16 with five minutes remaining.

The match is ulimately best remembered for its classic grandstand finish, when Darren Albert broke the 16-16 deadlock seven seconds from fulltime. The effervescent Andrew Johns unexpectedly went down a narrow blind-side before slipping a pass to Albert who raced over to score promtping scenes of euphoria from the Knights fans and players who had won thier inaugural title.

The win was a huge morale boost to the blue-collar Newcastle district in the same year that the area's biggest employer, the BHP steelworks had announced its closure. Seventy per cent of the winning squad were Newcastle juniors.

Newcastle Knights: 22 (O'Davis 2, Albert tries; A Johns 5 goals.)

Manly Sea Eagles: 16 (Hopoate, Innes, Nevin tries; Nevin 2 goals.)

Clive Churchill Medallist: Robbie O'Davis

Formation of the National Rugby League

With twenty-two teams playing in two competitions in 1997 crowd attendances and corporate sponsorships were spread very thinly, and many teams found themselves in financial difficulty by the end of the season. Despite having the financial backing of Optus, the Australian Rugby League decided that it was not in the best interests of the game to run two competitions and undertook moves to approach News Limited and invite the traditional clubs back into the main competition. As a consequence of the negotiations that followed, on September 23, 1997 the ARL announced that it was forming a new competition in partnership with News Limited. The National Rugby League was formed from the ARL and Super League competitions.

It was announced that the 1998 season would have 20 teams competing, 19 ARL/Super League teams and the Melbourne Storm, who were owned by News Limited. Clubs on both sides of the war were shut down. News decided to close the Hunter Mariners and the financially ruined Western Reds, who were $10million in debt at the end of 1997, while the ARL decided to close down the South Queensland Crushers, who were also in financial trouble. Additionally, at the end of the following season News Limited would decide to close down the Adelaide Rams and the ARL would close down the Gold Coast Chargers, even though they were one of the few clubs to make a profit during the Super League war.

See also

* Australian Rugby League

* Super League war
* Super League (Australia)

* Super League (Australia) season 1997

* History of the National Rugby League


* [ Rugby League Tables - Notes] "The World of Rugby League"
* [ Rugby League Tables - Season 1997] "The World of Rugby League"
* [ Premiership History and Statistics] "RL1908"

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