BY CURTIS WOODWARD
It is the blockbuster grand final of the 1990’s we never got. Two heavyweights of the highest order. Juggernauts. Super clubs. The Brisbane Broncos against the Canberra Raiders.
Stacked with some of the best players rugby league has ever produced, Brisbane and Canberra ruled their kingdoms – all the while expecting the inevitable. A showdown in a decider.
It never came.
The Raiders rolled into the ‘90’s as the best team in the premiership.
As Tim Sheens’ green machine licked their wounds after letting 1991 slip against the young Penrith Panthers – the Broncos plotted.
What came from 1992 onward was devastation.
Brisbane, under the leadership of Wayne Bennett and a little blonde halfback named Allan Langer, went back-to-back in ’92 and 1993.
Then Canberra flexed again in 1994.
But we never got Raiders versus Broncos.
So who would have won if they did stare each other down in the biggest match of the year?
Let’s line them up.
Broncos ’93 versus Raiders ’94.
BRISBANE’S 1993 PREMIERSHIP SIDE
Julian O’Neill, Michael Hancock, Chris Johns, Steve Renouf, Willie Carne, Kevin Walters, Allan Langer, Glenn Lazarus, Kerrod Walters, Mark Hohn, Trevor Gillmeister, Alan Cann, Terry Matterson. Bench: Andrew Gee, John Plath, Peter Ryan.
CANBERRA’S 1994 PREMIERSHIP SIDE
Brett Mullins, Ken Nagas, Mal Meninga, Ruben Wiki, Noa Nadruku, Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Quentin Pongia, Steve Walters, Paul Osborne, Jason Croker, David Furner, Bradley Clyde. Bench: Brett Hetherington, David Westley.
Sydney has put on a glorious September afternoon at the Sydney Football Stadium. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and there isn’t an empty seat in the joint. The Winfield Cup sits on the edge of the playing field – Norm Provan and Arthur Summons stare back at the players who stand nervously – side-by-side up the tunnel.
Langer gets the nod and the Broncos are onto the field.
Willie Carne stretches out like a Melbourne Cup favourite across the lush grass.
The game’s premier enforcer Glenn Lazarus takes his place on halfway, hands on hips, snorting and breathing fire. The cameras zoom in on Langer. He nonchalantly ties the rope in his shorts. They await Mal Meninga’s green army.
Then from the shadows, the biggest thighs you’ve ever seen, Meninga trots down onto the field. Studs squeezing against concrete. Canberra roll out – Meninga is followed by Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Brad Clyde.
Channel Nine’s Steve Roach gives a quick update on the weather.
Ray Warren’s dulcet tones serenade the ears of those watching at home.
The anticipation is palpable.
It was promoted as the greatest grudge match of the 1990’s and the sell-out SFS crowd wasn’t disappointed as the Brisbane Broncos and Canberra Raiders put on one of the all-time great encounters. And how could they not with both sides teeming with Internationals, State of Origin stars and the game’s greatest entertainers?
With such incredible forward packs on show, it was a case of which side would blink first as the engine rooms tried to sort each other out in the opening stages.
A brawl almost erupted within five minutes after Alan Cann tried to get the better of Steve Walters in the ruck with referee Bill Harrigan handing the first penalty of the match to the Raiders.
Canberra looked dangerous from the tap restart but couldn’t break through the Broncos. With their first attacking raid on the Brisbane line, Stuart kicked for the corner trying to find Ken Nagas, only for Michael Hancock to take Nagas ball-and-all and throw him over the sideline with the help of his teammates.
Lazarus came into his own soon after rolling the Broncos down the field and it was then his captain Langer who tested the Raiders wall with a short kick which was desperately defused by Jason Croker.
Opening points of the match would come in the 17th minute through a 34-metre penalty goal to Julian O’Neill after Canberra prop Paul Osborne was ruled offside.
But from the kick return, Mark Hohn would lose possession after a jolting hit via Raiders centre Ruben Wiki.
The Raiders pressed with Stuart and Daley shifting the ball from one side of the ruck to the other. Hooker Walters then stepped out of dummy half and went behind a flying Brett Mullins to Stuart who took the line on before finding David Furner who carried over two Broncos to give the Raiders a 4-2 lead.
Furner hit the post with the conversion to give Canberra a small lead with nine minutes to play before the break.
With the forwards tiring, Langer and his little mate in crime, Kevin Walters, went to work.
A probing run from Kerrod Walters on the back of a quick Lazarus play-the-ball found the dummy half in the back field with only Mullins to beat. Walters found a flying Steve Renouf who pinned his ears back for the corner but appeared covered by Mullins and winger Noa Nadruku. Renouf, somehow flicked the ball back inside to centre partner Chris Johns who scampered away to ground the ball underneath the sticks and give the Broncos an 8-4 lead at oranges.
Apart from the four point lead, nothing had really split these mighty teams.
The second half began with a bang as a Terry Matterson offload saw Langer cut the Raiders to ribbons with the little Queensland legend up over halfway. Again, the Broncos only had Mullins to beat with Langer kicking long for the corner, leaving a footrace between Carne and Nadruku with Nadruku punting the ball high into the crowd.
From the restart, Kevin Walters took on the line and was dragged down just short of the chalk.
Hancock pushed his way into dummy half and almost got himself over the line but was held up by some desperate Raiders defense.
Then the game truly broke open with the score still at 8-4 with just over twenty minutes to play.
With seemingly nothing happening for the Raiders, Wiki charged into the line, spinning and offloading to Daley who bolted down the centre of the SFS. In a moment of brilliance, Daley chipped over O’Neill’s head, regathered to pass in one motion for Mullins who beat the covering O’Neill and Hancock to score the equaliser.
This time, Furner made no mistakes to give the green machine a slender 10-8 advantage with less than a quarter of the match to play.
Allan Langer, however, would not be denied.
Brisbane took the ascendancy with Kevin Walters gaining back-to-back sets on the Canberra line after a perfectly weighted grubber kick planting Raiders skipper Meninga in-goal.
What came next from Langer was pure magic.
The Broncos looked destined to score in the corner with an overlap but the Raiders covered frantically. But Langer had other ideas as he spread the ball wider to Walters and then to Renouf. Canberra appeared to have Renouf covered before the ball was jolted out of a tackle with Langer regaining the Steeden. The little playmaker then came back in-field, kicking for the in-goal and getting to the ball before the Raiders to give the Broncos their second try.
O’Neill couldn’t convert.
Brisbane 12-10 with seven to play.
Then came the moment of the game as the Raiders desperately looked for a way through Wayne Bennett’s team.
Despite getting through a mountain of work, the imperious Brad Clyde had seen little footy. That would change as the time trickled away.
From just inside their own half, Steve Walters began the play by charging through two Broncos and scooping a pass out the back to Stuart. With nowhere to go, the half shot a dart-like twenty-metre bullet to Daley who beat three Broncos before shoveling an impossible pass to Mullins. The fullback still had work to do and looped a ball to Clyde who charged for the line, only to be pulled down short by the Broncos cover defense.
With the clock running out, the Raiders desperately spread the ball to the other side of the field where Daley again found himself with the ball and only one Bronco to beat. The five-eigth drew the defender to find his skipper Meninga who took Langer and Walters across the line to give Canberra the match-winning try.
FULL-TIME: RAIDERS 14 – BRONCOS 12