The popular chewy lolly Minties, originating in Australia in the 1920s, became synonymous with promotional cartoons and later television ads depicting mishaps or unfortunate events, accompanied by the immortal slogan “It’s moments like these you need Minties”. During the 1980s and 1990s, many of these ads featured a montage of calamitous sporting moments, similar to the gaffes illustrated in this chapter. But it is doubtful a bag of Minties would have consoled these unfortunate individuals.
Perhaps the most infamous finals performance of all time belongs to flamboyant South Sydney three-quarter Steve Mavin. After enjoying a fine rookie season in 1987 in the centres, Mavin was switched to the wing late in the year and experienced a minor-semi nightmare on the flank against Canberra. The Raiders terrorised Mavin with a pinpoint kicking game and scored three tries down his wing after just 16 minutes, at which point he was hooked by coach George Piggins. A distraught Mavin had left the ground by the time Canberra finished the scoring blitz at 46-12. Mavin went on to chalk up over a century of first grade games with Souths and Canterbury, but his career is unfortunately measured against one ill-fated September afternoon at the SCG.
Commentary – Rex Mossop: “Mavin’s world has fallen about him at the moment. Have a look at him, the poor lad.”
A dropped ball in a grand final has somewhat unfairly tainted Parramatta winger Neville Glover’s career – it is the predominant memory his name evokes despite the fact he scored 59 tries in 130 first grade games and represented Australia in 1978. With the Eels in search of their maiden premiership and trailing Manly 11-10 in the 1976 decider, an unmarked Glover spilled a pass – with the tryline and grand final hero status beckoning – that would have put his side in front. Sea Eagles sharpshooter Graham Eadie kicked a fourth penalty two minutes late to clinch a 13-10 win.
Speedy winger Max Mannix played 24 games for the Bulldogs and Steelers, but his name is synonymous with one unfortunate blunder. A mid-season 1984 match between heavyweights Canterbury and St. George was evenly poised at 8-4 in favour of the Bulldogs when Canterbury fullback Mick Potter sliced through. Potter’s pass found Mannix – playing in his second first grade game – who set off on a thrilling 60-metre run to the tryline, outpacing the cover defence. But as Mannix dived and stretched out his arms to score, the ball flew out of his hands. Luckily for the rookie, the Bulldogs clung to their four-point lead, but footage of the incident is invariably wheeled out when memorable gaffes are mentioned.
Commentary – Ray Warren: “And it’s a try... oh he’s dropped it! Oh how embarrassing!”
Mercurial tryscoring South Sydney winger Nathan Merritt missed out on a four-pointer in the opening round of 2010 against archrivals the Roosters in embarrassing circumstances. After retrieving a kick in his own in-goal, Merritt broke through the first line of defence and set sail for the tryline with only open pasture in front of him. Few players in the NRL would have been capable of reining in the Rabbitohs flyer and the closest chaser was a determined Nate Myles, a back-rower. Nevertheless, Merritt looked up at the giant screen to check his progress and the ball popped out of his grasp, denying him a 101-metre try. Merritt still managed to score both of Souths’ tries in a 36-10 loss, but his howler was replayed countless times in the days the followed – and is likely to be for many seasons to come.
Commentary – Ray Warren: “Oh it’s not Max Mannix is it?”
Roosters tyro Martin Kennedy trumped Merritt for the most cringe-worthy bungle of 2010 just a fortnight later. Trailing 22-0 early in their Round 3 clash with the Bulldogs, the Bondi boys finally got on the board just before the half-hour mark. But any hopes of a miracle comeback were dashed from the ensuing kick-off. Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce collected the ball on his own tryline and popped a regulation pass to his charging front-rower Kennedy, but the young Queenslander tripped and the ball ricocheted off his head. Canterbury pivot Ben Roberts scooped up the loose ball and shifted it to centre Josh Morris, who evaded three defenders – including Kennedy – to dot down for the third of his four tries in a 60-14 walloping.
Commentary – Phil Gould: “If it wasn’t so tragic it would be funny.”
With Cronulla comfortably leading the Hunter Mariners during a 1997 Super League fixture, Sharks centre sensation Russell Richardson looked set to put the icing on the cake with a length-of-the-field runaway try. But after doing all the hard work, Richardson’s lackadaisical approach to planting the football resulted in the youngster dropping it over the line to seal his place in the rugby league hall of infamy.
Valuable Roosters custodian Luke Phillips produced one of the most lamentable howlers witnessed in an NRL finals match. With his side trailing Parramatta 10-8 just after halftime in the 2000 qualifying final, Phillips spilled a deep kick by the Eels. But instead of cleaning up the loose ball, he ran past the ball in exasperation, expecting a scrum to be packed. Eels centre David Vaealiki played to the whistle and toed the ball through to score an easy try, setting the underdogs on the path to a 32-8 boilover. Phillips bounced back to play a brilliant hand in the Roosters’ grand final loss to Brisbane three weeks later, and won a premiership with the club in 2002.
A bold attempt to push for a late victory backfired horribly for 19-year old Canberra halfback Brett Finch against the Knights in 2001. The enthralling Round 8 clash was locked at 20-all in the dying stages and the Raiders were awarded a restart on their own 20-metre line. Finch opted to kick the ball downfield towards the sideline – bouncing the ball into touch would give his side a scrum feed in handy field position, and the opportunity to work the ball into position for a last-minute field goal attempt. But the youngster put the ball into touch on the full – by less than a metre – giving the Knights a gift penalty in front of Canberra’s posts. Andrew Johns duly slotted the penalty goal for a 22-20 victory, leaving an inconsolable Finch slumped on the Canberra Stadium turf.
One of the closest-fought finals matches of the NRL era to date was played out between Canberra and New Zealand in 2003. The Raiders and Warriors had struggled for 20 minutes of the second half to break a 16-all deadlock and save their respective seasons, and with five minutes to go it seemed certain the Green Machine were headed for a preliminary final. Canberra half Mark McLinden threaded through a grubber and robust centre Jason Bulgarelli only had to claim the bouncing ball which sat up for him on the Warriors’ tryline. But just as a preliminary final berth beckoned, the ball rebounded out of Bulgarelli’s hands. New Zealand worked the ball to the other end of the park for Stacey Jones to kick the Warriors to a famous victory with a late field goal.
Despite performing admirably for NSW in two series (2002 and 2006), courageous fullback Brett Hodgson’s career in the Blue jumper is chiefly remembered for his role as the fall guy in two indelible Origin moments. After being rag-dolled over the touchline by Gorden Tallis in the drawn third match of the 2002 series, Hodgson fired a misdirected pass out of dummy-half near his own line with NSW ahead 14-10 in the late stages of the 2006 decider. Queensland skipper Darren Lockyer swooped on the loose ball to score under the posts and clinch the match and series 16-14 – starting in motion an unprecedented five-series winning streak for the Maroons. Tallis’ tackle and Lockyer’s try are two of the most replayed sequences every year at Origin time.
Phil Duke and Phil Sigsworth
NSW debutant winger Duke (see One Game Wonders) and fullback Sigsworth (see Unique Achievements) conjured one of Origin’s most infamous gaffes in the deciding match of the 1982 series. With Queensland holding a slender 5-3 lead, Sigsworth popped a dicey pass to an unsuspecting Duke behind his own tryline when confronted by a menacing Queensland chasing party. Duke fumbled the ill-conceived pass, allowing Wally Lewis to pounce on the ball for the series-winning try. Sigsworth went on to achieve further infamy as the last player to be sent off in a grand final (for Canterbury in 1986), while Duke, one of only three players chosen for NSW while playing for a country club, is now synonymous with the in-goal bungle. Duke was awarded the Blues’ only try earlier in the match but, ironically, video replays showed he had stepped into touch and fumbled the ball over the line.
Commentary – Rex Mossop: “That’s a terrifying bit of football from a NSW point of view.”
Evoking memories of Duke and Sigsworth, Justin Hodges endured the most notorious debut in Origin history in 2002 with two misdirected in-goal passes that led to NSW tries (see Unforgettable Debuts).
Commentary – Ray Warren: “And will Hodges pass this time? I don’t think...oh...I can’t believe it! He’s had another go at it!”
Canterbury legend Terry Lamb kicked the most poorly-timed field goal of all time late in a 1992 clash with Newcastle. He struck the ball sweetly from 40 metres out and it went straight down the middle – the only problem was the Bulldogs were two points behind at the time. A sheepish (no pun intended) Lamb admitted after the match he thought the scores were tied, with his clanger allowing the Knights to hang on for a 12-11 win.
Veteran Brisbane prop and Queensland Origin stalwart Andrew Gee cost the Broncos at least one competition point on a technicality in a 1996 match against the Roosters. The two sides had staged a Monday night classic and, with the scores locked at 10-all in the final minute, Gee took a 20-metre tap after the ball had rolled dead. But he incorrectly brought his foot up to meet the ball in his hands (instead of executing a mandatory tap with the ball on the ground), drawing a penalty in front of the posts. Sydney City centre Ivan Cleary slotted the simple goal after the fulltime siren to secure a 12-10 victory over the shattered Broncos. The rule regarding tap restarts has since been changed – an amendment that is surely of scant consolation to Gee and the Broncos.
Wade McKinnon’s Try
Parramatta held a tenuous 16-14 lead against St. George in a 2005 regular season grudge match when Dragons skipper Trent Barrett kicked downfield from near halfway. Barrett over-reacted to a perceived late and high shot from PJ Marsh, grabbing the Eels hooker by the throat before unleashing several punches, attracting a swarm of players from both sides. Meanwhile, Parramatta fullback Wade McKinnon fielded the kick and evaded the few defenders not involved in the melee to score a bizarre 80-metre try untouched. The video referee concluded that Marsh did not hit Barrett high and the try was subsequently awarded. The evenly poised match suddenly swung Parramatta’s way and the home side eventually ran out 40-14 winners, while Barrett copped a one-match suspension for striking.
A late-comer to rugby league, South Sydney winger Adam O’Neill quickly gained a reputation as a fiery customer. The son of former Test cricketer Norm O’Neill, he did not play the game until his late teens, but made enough of an impact at Souths to represent City Firsts and the President’s XIII in 1988. But his short fuse cost the Rabbitohs a match later that season. With Souths tied 12-all with Cronulla at the SFS in the dying minutes, O’Neill was held on his own 20-metre line before reacting wildly to the tackle of Cronulla prop Craig Dimond. O’Neill was penalised and Sharks winger Sean Watson calmly slotted the penalty goal after fulltime to win the match.
Commentary – Rex Mossop: “Now there is a stupid action.”
Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston had the opportunity to clinch a much-needed win for the floundering club against Cronulla in Round 16, 2010. North Queensland had given up an 18-0 lead for the match to head into golden point with the scores tied 19-all at fulltime. Thurston, who earlier in the season kicked his first 25 shots at goal, duffed a simple 30-metre penalty shot from in front during the extra period that would have ended the game. Cronulla captain Trent Barrett subsequently slotted a field goal, consigning the home side to a heartbreaking loss.
Commentary – Mark Braybrook: “Thurston to win the game...he has missed it! Can you believe it?”
The Panthers made the leap from perennial cellar-dwellers to finals contenders in 1984, but were left to rue a lost opportunity against eventual premiers Canterbury that could have earned them a maiden finals appearance. Nearing the end of a thrilling Round 20 contest, rookie Greg Alexander pegged Penrith back to 22-20 behind with a determined try. Penrith fullback Mark Levy had the chance to draw the match with a conversion attempt slightly to the left of the posts, but he shanked the simple shot into the right-hand upright. The one competition point that went begging would have been enough to put the Panthers into a play-off for fifth spot.
Commentary – Ray Warren: “Oh he’s missed it! Oh my goodness, how could you do it?”
Most of the content in these pages focuses on the Australian game, but a section containing tragic goalkicking misses would not be complete without mentioning versatile Great Britain international, and Featherstone and Wakefield great Don Fox. In the 1968 ‘Watersplash’ Challenge Cup Final against Leeds, Wakefield scored a try under the posts with the last play of the game to trail 11-10. Fox was left with the simplest of conversion attempts to win English club football’s biggest prize, but infamously skewed it wide in the slippery conditions. Legendary English commentator Eddie Waring summed up the thoughts of millions with his reaction: “He’s a poor lad.” In a cruel irony, Fox had already been adjudged the winner of the Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match – little consolation for the devastated goalkicker.