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Glynn and Phil Henderson: Two iconic grand final tackles shared, 19 years apart

Father-son referees Glynn and Phil Henderson share a special bond and some special moments in NRL grand final history.

Portrait of Glynn and Phil Henderson

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Glynn and Phil Henderson: Two iconic grand final tackles shared, 19 years apart

Sports are often defined by iconic moments and rugby league is no exception. While the spotlight often falls on tries that demonstrate athleticism, sometimes it’s unbelievable tackles that prove to be memorable moments in a match.

One example was the 2003 NRL grand final between the Sydney Roosters and the Penrith Panthers. It was the first grand final since 1996 that featured two Sydney teams – a classic ‘east versus west’ clash.

The Roosters were defending premiers and came into the game as favourites. With the score locked at 6-6 16 minutes into the second half, Sydney winger Todd Byrne received the ball on his 40-metre line and ran into open space on the left side of the field.

Penrith second-rower Scott Sattler chased Byrne from the opposite side of the field. Just 20 metres from the line he tackled the flying Roosters winger into touch, saving a certain try and etching the moment into rugby league folklore. Touch judge Glynn Henderson was right on the spot to raise his flag.

Fast forward 19 years to another iconic moment, in the 2022 NRL grand final between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels. Parramatta flyer Bailey Simonsson was in open space down the left wing when Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards produced an inspirational try-saving cover tackle that evoked comparisons with Scott Sattler’s effort on Todd Byrne 19 years earlier.

This time, the touch judge right there in the heart of the action was Phil Henderson, whose father Glynn was running touch on the left wing 19 years previously for the iconic Scott Sattler tackle.

Phil says: “In the back of my head, I thought this was pretty similar to dad's tackle – a cover tackle coming across and over the sideline in the grand final. I remember standing there with my flag in the air, and the touch judge on the other side actually said – and it's on the tape – ‘That's a Henderson moment’.”

Glynn, who was at the ground watching the match live, agrees: “Well, I said that to my mates while I was sitting in the stand!”

‘Henderson moment’ shared as touch judges

Officiating at a grand final is an extremely unique honour for any referee and Glynn and Phil reflect on the eerily similar ‘Henderson moment’ they shared.

“It is unique,” says Phil. “Every year since 2003, when the grand final rolls around, people start replaying that Scott Sattler tackle, which is such an iconic moment. I'd always get a text message or a forward of an article from dad, saying something like, ‘Look, I'm still famous, I'm still relevant, blah, blah, blah’,” he laughs.

“My response is always, ‘I'm not sure it's actually you because you're so far behind and out of focus,” he jokes. “To be honest, it was part of the pressure that I felt coming through in my career. He's part of history and now I get to be part of that as well,” he adds.

Thinking back to his moment in history, Glynn says, “Being selected to be touch judge for the grand final was an absolute highlight of my career and a great honour. I had to sprint to get there for Scott Sattler’s tackle. A lot of things you do on the line are instinct and, having played, I didn't see the ball go out, but I knew he had it, so the flag went up. 

“It was an absolutely fantastic tackle. I've reviewed it a few times. That was 20 years ago, and I reckon they'll probably still show it for another 20,” he says. “Scott Sattler signed a photograph of it and it's up in the poolroom at home.”

Phil recalls the lead up to his encounter with NRL grand final history: “I think the same as dad. It's definitely my career highlight. I've been lucky enough to do a couple of State of Origins as well but there's three of them each year and there's only one grand final. 

“When I got the phone call the week leading in, I broke down when I got off the phone. It took a long time to get into that position, so it was a great feeling,” he says.

“Moving onto the play, I remember Parramatta were a couple of tries behind at the time and they were chasing points to try and get back in the game. It was a cross field kick that came out to Bailey Simonsson, and I thought ‘he's going to run a long way here’, so I got on my bike.

“I didn't see Dylan Edwards till late, but when I did, I thought he's probably going to tackle him into touch here. And eventually he did,” he explains.

Passion for the game led to refereeing careers

Glynn remembers his early days as a rugby league player and how he got into refereeing: “I first started playing when I was in primary school for Liverpool, G Grade. I only had one year there and my claim to fame was one intercept and that was it for that year. 

“My dad was a schoolteacher and we moved to Leeton and that's where I really got on playing football. I made the Riverina under five stone 7s that year. That was a pretty good start and I made some good mates.

“My parents moved to Canberra a couple of years later, and I ended up playing 127 A-grade games with the Woden Valley Rams. I finished up with a grand final in reserve grade in 1985. And, when I came off, one of the local referees said, ‘classes start on Monday’. And that was the start of my refereeing career,” he says.

“That referee had sent me off a couple of years earlier. And the story at judiciary went: ‘We're going to go easy on you, Glynn, if you become a referee when you retire’,” he laughs. “He was waiting for me when I came off after the reserve grade grand final in '85, and my refereeing career went from there.”

Phil followed his father into the Woden Valley Rams, where he started off playing under 6s. “I pretty much played every game up to under 14s,” he says, “and my decorated career consisted of two tries in my whole 10-year playing career.”

Dad a big influence

“I knew that playing wasn't going to be for me, but I was very passionate about the game. I used to go to all the Canberra Raiders games as a kid, from when I can remember. By the time I was old enough to referee, dad was already into the NRL and touch judging lines there, so I thought I'd become a referee and see what I could do. I began refereeing at about age 14 and reffed in the local comp, starting with the kids.

“I drove backwards and forwards to Sydney for about 15 years as I moved up the grades, so it was a lot of trips on the Hume Highway before I eventually got a full-time contract with the NRL a few years ago and the family and I moved closer to Sydney.

“It’s been a successful career so far,” he adds. “Hopefully there's more to come. I love it. I've made some lifelong friends. I'd call them my best mates.”

Phil adds that his dad is a big part of why he’s so passionate about the game. “Now, we share two very similar moments on the same field, with the NRL Premiership, while we were on the line. We're going to share that forever. I'm proud of that, and it's pretty special,” he explains.

Glynn thinks about Phil following in his footsteps as a top-level rugby league referee: “It was a proud moment when he made his NRL debut,” he says. “The whole family's proud of Phil. It was a fantastic effort, especially coming from Canberra. 

“To Phil's credit, he moved closer to Sydney. He could see the distances that I had to travel, and he's got a very supportive family close to Sydney. Yeah, I’m very proud,” he concludes.