Monday 20 September 2021

Rugby League History: Ellery Hanley's magical run with the Balmain Tigers in 1988

Published September 20, 2021 
In July 1988, 27 year old Englishman Ellery Hanley joined a Balmain Tigers team sitting in 7th spot after 19 Rounds of the NSWRL Premiership.
The Tigers had an impressive 13-6 record but were grouped with 3 other teams on 26 points (Canberra, Manly and Brisbane but they were all only 2 points from the Top 3 teams on 28 points) and had the least impressive differential (+53) of all 7 teams in the running for the Final Five with 3 games left.
So the Tigers, despite producing fine campaign with 13 wins already, were up against it with games left against Manly 5th, Penrith 2nd and Brisbane 6th to close out the regular season... and they needed a spark.
Enter Ellery.
Hanley had been touring Australia in June/July with the Great Britain side that had lost the Ashes Series 2-1, and he had just played for the Rest of the World against Australia (losing 22-10) on July 27th when he signed a deal with play with Balmain the following weekend.
Losing his debut on July 31st to Manly 8-4 at Brookvale Oval in Round 20, Hanley then propelled Balmain to the Grand Final with 6 straight wins against contending teams over the next two months - with every single game a win or go home scenario for the Tigers.
1988 NSWRL Premiership Regular Season 
✅ ▪️ Round 21 - Balmain 16 def. Penrith 14 at Leichhardt (this pitted 7th v 2nd and despite the win Balmain stayed in 7th). 
✅ ▪️ Round 22 - Balmain 20 def. Brisbane 10 at Leichhardt (7th v 6th but this result eliminated Brisbane from the congested playoff scenario, and clinched a spot in the 5th place playoff for Balmain who technically ran 6th).
1988 Winfield Cup Finals Series
✅ ▪️ Playoff for 5th - Balmain 28 def. Penrith 8 at Parramatta (Penrith had been 3rd after 21 rounds but fell to 5th with back to back losses to Balmain and Manly and the Tigers sent them packing!).
✅ ▪️ Minor Preliminary Semi Final - Balmain 16 def. Manly 6 at SFS (Manly were defending Premiers and had finished 4th on differential).
✅ ▪️ Minor Semi Final - Balmain 14 def. Canberra 6 at SFS (Canberra were Grand Finalists in 1987 and had actually finished on 30 points like Balmain but a superior differential handed them 3rd spot, but they'd been beaten by Canterbury in extra time of the Major Prelim the weekend before).
✅ ▪️ Preliminary Final - Balmain 9 def. Cronulla 2 at SFS (Cronulla had won the Minor Premiership but had been beaten 26-8 by Canterbury in the Major Semi the weekend before).
And in the space of 6 weeks - the Balmain Tigers on the back of Hanley had reached the 1988 Winfield Cup Grand Final and would face the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
Sadly for Balmain and the dynamic Hanley, who had scored a try in every Finals match Balmain had played to this point, he was knocked out in the 1st half of the decider against Canterbury (not so subtly by Terry Lamb well after he off-loaded the ball for those unfamiliar with the incident).
Without their talisman healthy, the Tigers' fairytale run at a Winfield Cup ended in a 24-12 defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs in the first Grand Final at the Sydney Football Stadium. 
Although the Premiership had eluded them, the Tigers had captured support from legions of non-Balmain Rugby League fans with their incredible run to the biggest game of the 1988 season.
Hanley would return to the NSWRL Premiership in 1989 but this time with the Western Suburbs Magpies after they offered a massive short term deal to him and fellow Englishmen Garry Schofield and Kelvin Skerrett.
Despite not staying a Tiger, Hanley had firmly entrenched himself into the hearts of the black and gold faithful with his magical run of match-winning form in August and September of 1988.
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