The Greatest ANZAC Day Moments in NRL History


April 25, 2022, marks 107 years since the landing of troops, predominantly from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), at Gallipoli Peninsula less than nine months after the beginning of the First World War.

An estimated 1,000 ANZAC troops lost their lives fighting Turkish forces that day, while the Department of Veteran Affairs records the number of dead from the campaign, which lasted until January 1916, at 8,709 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders.

Since 1916 Anzac Day has been celebrated on April 25 to broadly commemorate all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”.

It is a day close to the hearts and inherent to the national identities of both countries – and for rugby league, it is also a solemn day steeped in tradition.

Relive some of rugby league’s greatest Anzac Day moments.

The First Anzac Day Games (1927)

The NSWRL premiership first staged games on Anzac Day in 1927, when a full round of four matches was played on a Monday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Earl Park, Wentworth Park and North Sydney Oval.

The Round 2 fixtures unfolded just two days after the opening round, with University beating Norths 21-9, Wests outlasting Glebe 12-4 courtesy of a Dave Hey hat-trick, Balmain edging Newtown 14-13 and future Immortal Frank Burge getting amongst the tries in St George’s 23-7 win over Easts.

First grade matches were played annually on April 25 thereafter – even if it fell on a weekday.

Rugby league was played on an Anzac Day Sunday for the first time in 1965, while often a full midweek round would be played on Anzac Day, with all clubs backing up to play three matches in the space of eight days.

Wests Roll Eight-Time Champs (1963)

Western Suburbs lost 13 their previous 14 – including three grand final defeats – against all-conquering St George heading into the clubs’ Anzac Day game at the SCG in 1963.

But the Magpies set a course for the minor premiership with a tense 8-5 upset of the Dragons on the back of Test fullback Don Parish’s four goals.

Wests went on to beat the Saints twice more in 1963, before losing a highly controversial grand final to their nemesis.

Peter Kelly’s Early Shower (1986)

The Canterbury-South Sydney clash at the SCG in 1986 produced one of the most memorable, and infamous, incidents ever witnessed in an Anzac Day game.

Folklore has it that the bugler was still finding his seat after playing ‘The Last Post’ when Bulldogs enforcer Peter Kelly was sent off for ironing out Rabbitohs winger Ross Harrington in the first tackle of the match.

Despite playing all but a dozen seconds one man short, the two-time premiers surged to a convincing 26-2 victory over high-flying Souths in front of a 25,178-strong crowd.

City Pip Country in 10-Try Thriller (1990)

The first of three City Origin v Country Origin matches to be played on Anzac Day was staged in 1990 – and it ranks as arguably the greatest in the oft-maligned, now-defunct fixture’s history.

The rivals put on a stunning exhibition of attacking football, with the 10 tries including several mind-blowing long-range efforts – most notably one finished off by City hooker and captain Ben Elias that passed through 13 sets of hands.

Country winger Ricky Walford scored his second try in the dying stages but could not convert from the sideline, handing City a 28-26 victory.

Test Footy, Super League Style (1997)

The inaugural Anzac Test was staged on April 25th, 1997, doubling as the first full international under the Super League banner.

The use of ‘ANZAC’ was controversial, firstly for the connotations of comparing professional sportsmen to soldiers, but also because of Super League’s perceived casting aside of tradition in general during its bitter war with the ARL that split the game in two.

But the rebel organisation donated a substantial sum of money to the RSL, while ex-serviceman and long-serving President of the Victorian RSL Bruce Ruxton, AM, OBE, appeared in television advertisements promoting the Test.

The Laurie Daley-led Super League Australia beat a New Zealand side captained by Stephen Kearney 34-22 in an entertaining showdown at Sydney Football Stadium, with David Furner and Wendell Sailor scoring two tries apiece.

Head Games (2005)

Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra commenced their Anzac Day tradition in 2002, with the Roosters holding on for a 24-20 win.

St George prevailed by the same scoreline in 2003, while a 50-metre Brad Fittler try inspired an 11-8 Tricolours victory in 2004.

The run of cliff-hangers peaked in 2005. The Roosters saw their 18-6 lead whittled away but were in front by four points with less than four minutes on the clock.

Young Saints half Mathew Head almost singlehandedly won the game, however, gambling on a chip-and-regather that saw Matt Cooper finish off a 60-metre try.

Head then drilled the sideline conversion to steal a 26-24 win.

Stunning Stalemate As Storm And Warriors Start New Custom (2009)

The inaugural Anzac Day game between the Storm and Warriors in 2009 set the tone for some epic April 25 clashes between the archrivals over the ensuing decade.

The Storm led 14-6 midway through the second half at Olympic Park, but Manu Vatuvei’s second try and a four-pointer to Patrick Ah Van levelled the scores.

Neither side could land the decisive field goal in difficult conditions.

In a chaotic finish, Lance Hohaia put one between the sticks with 30 seconds of extra-time left, but it was sent upstairs and disallowed due to a Stacey Jones fumble in the lead-up.

Creagh-zy Finish (2012)

After a run of Anzac Day blowouts, St George Illawarra and Sydney Roosters put together a modern-day classic in 2012.

The Dragons trailed 18-10 with 15 minutes to go and 24-16 with five minutes left before conjuring a miracle.

Matt Prior scored an incredible try directly from a short kick-off to set up a grandstand finish and Ben Creagh plunged over for the winning try off a Mick Weyman offload with 53 seconds left – clinching a spectacular 28-24 result.

Magic Johnson Steers Warriors To Boilover (2014)

The Warriors arrived in Melbourne on Anzac Day 2014 with a 2-5 record just a fortnight after coach Matt Elliott’s sacking.

But caretaker Andrew McFadden enjoyed his first NRL win courtesy of the $3.10 underdogs’ gutsy 16-10 victory over the Storm.

Playing in his third NRL game, 19-year-old winger David Fusitu’a scored a spectacular opening try and laid on the match-winner for the mercurial Shaun Johnson midway through the second half.

The win was the Warriors’ fifth in their past 11 games in Melbourne (with one drawn), but the perennial underachievers’ supposed hoodoo over the heavyweights has been well and truly extinguished.

The Warriors have not won at AAMI Park since and are currently on an 11-match losing streak against the Storm.

Super Saturday (2015)

The NRL commemorated the centenary of the ANZAC forces’ Gallipoli landings with an unprecedented football marathon in 2015, staging five Round 8 matches back-to-back over 10 hours in five cities.

The Warriors kicked off proceedings against Gold Coast in Auckland, with the Titans prevailing 32-28 in a thriller before Newcastle was edged out 26-24 on its home track by North Queensland in the second clash.

The traditional Roosters-Dragons encounter witnessed wild weather at Allianz Stadium, forcing the teams from the field midway through the first half amid extraordinary scenes; when they returned, the Saints ground out a stirring 14-12 triumph.

The extravaganza continued with bottom-placed Manly toppled the ladder-leading Storm 12-10 in Melbourne and finished with Brisbane holding off Parramatta 28-16 at Suncorp Stadium.

The NRL was accused of attempting to commercialise Anzac Day in some quarters, but the five-city festival of football honoured the occasion in tasteful fashion and the day was an unequivocal success.

Pearce’s Golden Point (2017)

The Roosters and Dragons played out the closest match of their Anzac Day series in 2017.

The competition-leading Saints scored the only try of the first half and levelled the scores at 12-all via a heroic 78th-minute try to Nene MacDonald.

Man-of-the-match Mitchell Pearce, who earlier scored a vital try, stepped up in the fourth minute of golden point to nail a 30-metre field goal.

Gallant Warriors Done At The Death (2019)

The Warriors had little going for them heading into the 2019 Anzac Day game at AAMI Park, winning just two of their first six matches and having key men Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Blake Green ruled out.

The $7 outsiders were forced to play Tohu Harris at five-eighth yet produced one of the most valiant displays in their history.

With Peta Hiku on fire at fullback and debutant centre Patrick Herbert tackling everything in sight, the Warriors clung to a 12-10 lead with five minutes to go.

But a bogus penalty allowed the Storm to square the scoreboard before Brodie Croft put the match-winning field goal through off the post for a jammy 13-12 win.

Beneath the various camouflaged jerseys and armed services-themed strips, rugby league’s heart beats with ANZAC pride and spirit.

The game is ingrained in the tradition of Anzac Day as much as dawn service, beers at the RSL and two-up.

But the results on Anzac Day take a backseat to remembering and commemorating those who have fought so bravely and gave their lives in the name of their country.

Lest we forget.