There has been a long-standing argument that the greatest grand final of all time we never got to see was the Canberra Raiders and Brisbane Broncos in the early 1990s.
It was meant to happen in 1993.
The Broncos were defending premiers going into the ’93 season with a team full of superstars.
Glenn Lazarus, Allan Langer, Kevin Walters, Steve Renouf, Willie Carne and Michael Hancock.
And the likes of Alan Cann, Terry Matterson, Kerrod Walters, Trevor Gillmeister, Peter Ryan, Andrew Gee, Chris Johns, and Julian O’Neill.
Brisbane’s roster went on and on.
History says the Broncos won back-to-back crowns.
Canberra were just as stacked.
But people forget that Brisbane finished 5th in the competition-proper in 1993 and had to win four straight finals game to win their second title.
On the other hand in the same season, Canberra was everyone’s pick to win the grand final. They were mighty. A supreme team. Better than the one that claimed the 1994 trophy against Canterbury-Bankstown.
Unfortunately for the Raiders in 1993, Ricky Stuart succumbed to a shocking ankle injury just before the finals with Canberra as red-hot favourites for the title. So good was Stuart’s form, he ended up winning the Dally M Medal and the Rothman’s Medal, anyway.
Yeah Broncos versus Raiders would have been great.
But what about the Penrith Panthers?
Phil Gould’s Panthers were the toast of the town in 1991 when they downed the Raiders in the grand final.
If you want to talk sliding doors, the Panthers are the greatest hypothetical of the 1990s.
People remember the ’91 decider fondly and rightly so.
A perfect day for the upstarts from Sydney’s West.
Underneath arguably the greatest football jersey and strip the game will ever see, Phil Gould coaching, Greg Alexander as the poster boy, the tough bloke Mark Geyer… the kid Brad Fittler.
It was meant to be.
Dreams do come true.
But it just didn’t happen for the Panthers after that for different reasons.
On the 11th of April, 1992, as the defending champs, Penrith went to Lang Park to face the Broncos.
The Panthers smashed Brisbane 24-10 with tries from Ben Alexander, his brother Greg who also kicked four goals for the visitors.
A year later in the corresponding game, Panthers battled to a 34-8 loss.
In a perfect world, Phil Gould and Fittler are there forever.
Alexander doesn’t leave for Auckland.
Geyer gets the chance to develop his forward skills and bring in the next generation of Panthers through.
So should we be talking about Canberra versus Brisbane in the early 1990’s or should be talking about the Raiders or Broncos versus the Panthers?
If you want to talk about what might have been – Penrith could have been the greatest team of the 1990s and beaten both the Raiders and Broncos throughout the decade.
Sliding frustrating doors.