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40 years on: The 1980 premiership

A new decade brought with it, new hope for Rugby League's future. Many wonder at the difference home ground advantage makes to performance – 1980 offers an interesting insight. For the first 10 matches, while Belmore was under construction, Canterbury had just one match at home.

Remarkably, in that time the club won five matches. They then won the first six at Belmore. In fact, from the time they were able to use Belmore as their permanent home again, they lost only two matches, one to Wests and the other to Easts.

Canterbury's early season form was hardly that of a Grand Final winner. They suffered three of their worst defeats in that early period when their training habits were disrupted, and Belmore was out of action. Cronulla thrashed them 35-9, while Easts won 20-5 and Wests 24-8. For all the flair and creativity surrounding the team, only once did they score more than 30 points in a match, and that was in the first clash against Newtown – a walloping 38-17 victory.

Four clubs scored more points than Canterbury, yet Easts weren’t one of them. Easts had a better for and against, and therefore earned the minor premiership.

When they reached the finals, it was as if the Bulldogs had turned the clock back 12 months. As soon as they got a sniff of the Sydney Cricket Ground, and the big match atmosphere, they were off and running. Some teams are never able to carry their season's form into big matches. They are like plodding two-mile racehorses. They have one pace and are steady at best. Ask them to lift their rating and there is little response. That was not the case with Canterbury – their creativity and flair overflowed.

The front cover of the Sun Herald the day after Canterbury's win over Easts.
The front cover of the Sun Herald the day after Canterbury's win over Easts.

Canterbury was first into the Grand Final and it was their turn to sit back and watch two clubs, this time Easts and Wests, do battle. Easts won 41-5, scoring eight tries. Yet just one week later against Canterbury, Easts could not score a single try.

Canterbury, in one of the most methodical big match victories in memory, downed Easts 18-4. Emotion ran deep as Canterbury returned to the premiership list for the first time in 38 years. There were just two tries in the match, both to Canterbury. Again, it was a smothering, tight defence that paved the way. Certainly, there were flashes of the Canterbury running game, but there appeared so much method in their endeavours. All the more satisfying for Canterbury was the reserve grade Grand Final victory, the first time Canterbury had won two premierships in the one year.

As Canterbury dominated the match territorially in the second half, Gearin kicked three penalty goals to take the Bulldogs to a 13-4 lead. There were moments of worry – just three all told - when Easts got away down the sideline. But each time the flying Steve Mortimer cut their legs from under them in cover. All the while Canterbury provided examples of their dash... nothing too fancy, the occasional break by Greg Brentnall, a dash or two by Steve and Peter Mortimer, in addition to Chris Anderson's superb first half try.

But the moment that will live as long as the game is played came just five minutes from the end. Inside his own half, Graeme Hughes took a pass and stepped left looking for a gap. Brentnall looked up, and as he found a clearing put the ball high in the air towards Easts' try line. Gearin, who had moved infield, sprinted desperately, never taking his eyes off the ball, and in front of two despairing East runners, caught the ball on the full and plunged over. It was one of the great Grand Final tries, and an emotional time as the truth came home that Canterbury had won their final act through being creative and spontaneous.

Steve Gearin scores a famous try in the Grand Final.
Steve Gearin scores a famous try in the Grand Final.

Glossop jumped from his sideline chair and threw his arms in the air as Canterbury committeemen hugged each other, and as some cried tears of joy and relief. Glossop sat back in his chair and watched his players. They kept looking at him as if to say: “The game is over, we've done our bit... we've just scored the try, what else do we have to do. Ring the bell.”

Grand Final Moment: Steve Gearin 1980 Try