From The Couch – Grand Final 2023

couch nick tedeschi

The Greatest Game Ever Played: The 2023 Grand Final was the greatest game of Rugby League ever played which, in turn, makes it the greatest game of football any code has ever seen. It was a truly remarkable match, one for the ages. Few Grand Finals have had the hype of this one – and it not only lived up to expectations but surpassed them.

It was magic from beginning to end, almost like a dream it was so magnificent and so truly unbelievable. It was a match that was as fast as any Origin match imaginable. The hits were brutal. The defence desperate. The turns Hollywood-esque. The history something else. 

Penrith would have been incredibly disappointed going into halftime just 8-0 up considering how much they dominated the opening half so were no doubt filthy at conceding a late try to set up an 8-6 halftime score. They would have backed their defence to hold firm though and choke out the likely swing in momentum. It did not. In an 11-minute burst, Ezra Mam scored a hat-trick, the Broncos led 24-8 and it was all but over, particularly when the incredibly selfish Jarome Luai left the field. Penrith were shot. 

And then 25 minutes for the ages. Nathan Cleary inspired a stunning comeback, setting up two tries and then scoring the matchwinner. Moses Leota, James Fisher-Harris and Stephen Crichton were magnificent. 

The Panthers have now become the first team in four decades to win three straight premierships. They pulled off the greatest comeback in Grand Final history. Nathan Cleary us now being talked about as one of the all-time greats. 

The Broncos must mull in the misery of it all now. That is now two Grand Finals they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They will be devastated by the blown lead and there will be questions asked of some of their biggest names. 

What a game. What a sport. 

Grand Final Player Ratings: The fearless Grand Final player ratings noting that when a range is between 0 and 10 it does not mean that every score should be between 5 and 9. 


  1. Dylan Edwards – 8.5
  2. Sunia Turuva – 7
  3. Izack Tago – 3.5
  4. Stephen Crichton – 8
  5. Brian To’o – 6
  6. Jarome Luai – 1
  7. Nathan Cleary – 10
  8. Moses Leota – 9
  9. Mitch Kenny – 2.5
  10. James Fisher-Harris – 8.5
  11. Scott Sorensen – 6
  12. Liam Martin – 7
  13. Isaah Yeo – 7
  14. Jack Cogger – 6.5
  15. Lindsay Smith – 1
  16. Spencer Leniu – 4.5
  17. Luke Garner – 6


  1. Reece Walsh – 2.5
  2. Jesse Arthars  – 7.5
  3. Kotoni Staggs – 6
  4. Herbie Farnworth – 8
  5. Selwyn Cobbo -4
  6. Ezra Mam – 9
  7. Adam Renolds – 5.5
  8. Thomas Flegler – 8
  9. Billy Walters – 4
  10. Payne Haas – 8.5
  11. Kurt Capewell – 4
  12. Jordan Riki – 3
  13. Patrick Carrigan – 7.5
  14. Tyson Smoothy – 5 
  15. Brendan Piakura – 1
  16. Kobe Hetherington – 3.5
  17. Keenan Palasia- 7

The NRL Has Its Man in the Middle: The wave of support and public acknowledgment for the officiating on Sunday night should show the NRL that bitching about the refereeing of certain officials is not just ref bashing but an actual attempt to get the best referees to referee the game the way it should be. Adam Gee did just that. He was handed the most important game of the year – and what turned out to be the greatest game ever – and was given kudos from everyone including the losing captain, commentators and fans. Gee was only given the game because the two insiders fucked up so badly but he has secured the big games for the next five years. He undertook the attitude that the players would decide the match. He kept order without needing to blow the pea out of the whistle. He did not make any huge errors and he was consistent from the opening whistle til the end. It was a fine performance from the best whistleblower in the game. 

Tamika Upton, You Star: There has not been a more perfect 12 months in Rugby League. Star Knights fullback Tamika Upton operates in a sphere of her own and it is reflective in her silverware cabinet. In the last 12 months she has added two premiership rings, two Karyn Murphy Medals and a Dally M Medal. In a competition that does not lack for talent, she stands above all. She single-handedly carried the Knights to the premiership with a magnificent display that saw her set up two tries and then score the final two tries of the match. 

The Dally Ms Are An Embarrassment: Peter V’Landys fancies himself as an all-powerful dictator and the smartest person in any room so if this is true he had best change the Dally M Medal from next year or the game will continue to suffer the humiliation of a completely embarrassing awards night. The NRL is the best and biggest game in Australia yet it has the most farcical, unwatchable, pathetic awards night imaginable. The big innovation this year was moving each game from three weeks to six weeks, adding further confusion. The NRL is hurting not only its reputation with the laughable Dally M awards night but costing itself plenty with Brownlow night the biggest betting turnover event of the year in AFL, dwarfing the Grand Final. The solution is not difficult. Give a 3-2-1 every game. Keep it secret. Have those employed by the NRL in The Bunker to give the votes. Allow a betting frenzy. It is seriously not that hard. 

Fittler Walks: The NSWRL are a complete mess and will lose to Queensland for a long time as long as this administration is going head to head with one led by Ben Ikin but they stumbled into some serious luck when Brad Fittler withdrew from being considered for the coaching gig next season. Fittler had to go but the NSWRL would not make the hard decision. Instead they low-balled Fittler and made the gig part-time. Some of Fittler’s in-game decision-making and selections defied belief. He had to go. It was embarrassing that the NSWRL didn’t make the hard call. Now they have to find the right person for the job. 

Willie M Team of the Year: We saw the Dally M Team of the Year named last week. This week the far more important team – the Willie M Team of the Year:

1.Hayze Perham (Bul)
2. Mat Feagai (Dra)
3.Paul Alamoti (Bul)
4.Moses Suli (Dra)
5.Taane Milne (Sou)
6.Matt Moylan (Cro)
7.Chad Townsend (NQ)
8.Tevita Pangai Jnr (Bul)
9.Josh Hodgson (Par)
10.Coen Hess (NQ)
11.Corey Waddell (Bul)
12.Jeremiah Nanai (NQ)
13.Josh Aloiai (Man)
14.Ryan Sutton (Bul)
15.Josh Schuster (Man)
16.Adam Elliott (New)
17.Moses Mbye (Dra)

Coach: Cameron Ciraldo (Bul)

2023 Field Goal Update – 41: The NRL season finished with 41 field goals with no Grand Final field goal for the fourth straight season. Nathan Cleary led the way with six followed by Chad Townsend with five and Adam Reynolds with four. 

Fun Fact #1: Luke Garner went from winning a wooden spoon last year to a premiership in 2023. Api Koroisau went from winning a premiership to a wooden spoon. 

Fun Fact #2: Ezra Mam and Jaime Chapman both scored hat-tricks in their respective Grand Finals – and their teams lost. 

Fun Fact #3: Stephen Crichton became just the second player in the history of the code to score in four straight Grand Finals. 

Betting Market of the Week: The most unexpected element from Sunday night’s decider:

$41.00: Reece Walsh going to water
$5.00: Penrith’s record comeback
$3.00: Mitch Kenny scoring the opening try
$2.50: Universal praise for the refereeing
$1.50: The size of faux-Tina Turner’s wig

Rumour Mill: Newcastle are set to replace Dom Young with Panthers speedster Tom Jenkins. Connor Tracey has been sounded out about a potential move to Canterbury. 

The Coaching Crosshairs: In what seems to be a cruel joke at best and self-harm at worst, Canterbury have signed Jason Taylor to become an assistant in 2024. It is unclear what attracted Cameron Ciraldo and Phil Gould the most: his 61-78-1 record as a head coach, his failure to last more than three seasons in a job, his failure to post a winning season since Parramatta in 2006, the fact he got arrested for urinating in a cup and then throwing it in the air over unexpecting members of the general public, the fact he got punched in the face at his own team’s Mad Monday by his own player or the fact he drove a club legend out of his last NRL club. At least it solidifies Canterbury’s favouritism to win the NSW Cup next season with Mick Potter demoted/promoted to the gig despite being the only coach in the last seven seasons to get anything out of the joint.  

Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: The NSWRL took a long time to get there and they forced Brad Fittler to make the call not to be considered but the Blues are finally moving on from the coach who selected Tevita Pangai Jnr, ruined Nicho Hynes and played Damien Cook at centre. Unfortunately the natural instincts for bad decisions came immediately to the fore with the Blues apparently trying to coax Laurie Daley to return to the chair. Daley famously stifled the NSW attack and refused to drop anyone. He also thinks the NRL should buy rugby union and that AFL is bigger than Rugby League. So let that sink in. 

Watch It: For the last 34 years, the 1989 Grand Final has almost unanimously held the mantle of the greatest game ever played. No longer. The 2023 Grand Final is now the greatest game ever played. So enjoy the 1989 decider for the first time as not the greatest football game of any code ever played. Watch it here.

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Nick has spent more than 15 years working in wagering around the world and is a regular NRL columnist for The Guardian.