Almanac Rugby League – Spooky stuff at the Royal in Tumut

Liam Hauser

 

Canberra versus Penrith rugby league clashes always bring back a distinct memory for me, even though I am a Queenslander and support the Brisbane Broncos. The first Grand Final I ever saw was in 1991 when Penrith downed Canberra 19-12 as Royce Simmons had a fairytale finish to his career. As an eight-year-old, I began following rugby league that year as my dad regularly watched Winfield Cup matches on TV. The year after Penrith’s first title, the Broncos won their first title in only their fifth year. Despite the 1992 Broncos premiership, 1991 will always stick in my mind as the year I became a rugby league follower, not to mention that year’s Grand Final.

 

My parents, sister and yours truly were in our second year on the Redcliffe peninsula in 1991, and 20 years on now I’m living in the NSW town of Tumut. I’m a sports reporter at the local newspaper, I live an independent life, and sometimes go to a pub to watch NRL games. Nearly 20 years after Royce Simmons’ fairytale finish, I go to the Royal Hotel to watch the Panthers vie with the Raiders, with hosts Canberra wanting to send Alan Tongue out a winner in his last match on home soil. I want the Panthers to win because I tipped them. I’m comfortably leading the tipping comp at the local newspaper, but I have only two of four tips correct so far in this round after getting a full card last weekend.

 

I supported Canberra in the 1991 Grand Final, as the Raiders had Queenslanders Gary Belcher, Mal Meninga, Gary Coyne and Steve Walters, while Penrith had the likes of Simmons, Greg Alexander and Mark Geyer, or “MG” as he was known. Now if I hear the term “MG”, the first thing that comes to mind is the 1960s American instrumental R&B/soul group Booker T and the MGs. I have a “Very Best of” compilation, with the hit “Green Onions” one of my favourite songs of all time. Even more amazing is that the publican of the Royal, “Chappy”, who was born in the 1970s, bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the members from Booker T and the MGs. Chappy isn’t at the Royal this night, but I’ve shown him the CD cover before and he finds the resemblance a bit spooky. I show the CD case to people at the Royal, and there’s plenty of laughter as people see the resemblance. One of the staff members scans the CD cover and replaces the words “Booker T” with “Chapman”, so that it reads “The Very Best of Chapman and the MGs.”

 

I find myself with a Raiders fan, a Canterbury Bulldogs supporter, a St George Illawarra Dragons follower and a North Sydney Bears supporter at the Royal Hotel as I prepare to watch the Penrith versus Canberra match. “Bring back the Bears,” calls out the Bears fan.

 

The Penrith versus Canberra game gets underway, and the Panthers strike in the fourth minute to give me hope that I’ll get the tip right and move a step closer to winning the tipping comp. The Panthers attack from their half, and centre Brad Tighe breaks away before halfback Luke Walsh runs in a try which he converts. Penrith up 6-0, as was the case in the 1991 grand final. I already start to wonder how many similarities there will be tonight compared with the 1991 grand final.

 

Canberra applies pressure after a Penrith error but the Panthers hold, before again making a few mistakes in quick succession. The Raiders capitalise as Josh McCrone takes on the line and breaks through for a converted try. Canberra level at 6-all, as the Raiders did in the 1991 decider, although an unconverted try and a penalty goal were Canberra’s opening points in the 1991 decider, followed by another unconverted try and a penalty goal.

 

Josh Dugan gets hurt again, before Canberra centre Joel Thompson is penalised for a high tackle that leads to a brawl. “Get up you sook, we’re not playing f…ing union,” the Canberra fan next to me calls out. Speaking of rugby union, Australia has just beaten New Zealand 25-20 in a Tri-Nations match. That match is also screened at the Royal Hotel, but I only occasionally check the score as I’m not overly interested.

 

Back to the league. The Raiders score back-to-back tries as Alan Tongue grounds the ball after a bomb is knocked back. Tongue scores his 31st career try after his first was also against Penrith, in 2000. Another conversion takes Canberra to a 12-6 lead at half-time, as was the case in the 1991 grand final. The same score also took place at half-time in the 1990 grand final in which Canberra beat Penrith 18-14.

 

Back in 1991, the Panthers had the run of play in the second half but remained 12-6 down until about 10 minutes left when Geyer’s superb pass set up an equalising converted try for Brad Izzard. Going forward 20 years, and the Panthers score a converted try from a bomb in just the third minute of the second half. Canberra winger Reece Robinson spills it under pressure and Tighe does the rest. The pattern of scoring is very much like the 1991 decider, now 12-all. If the pattern is to continue, we need a Penrith field goal followed by a converted try.

 

The Panthers get a penalty but the kick doesn’t find the sideline: always a cardinal sin in rugby league. Trent Waterhouse has a knee injury and comes off as Penrith looks shaky. Canberra replacement Dane Tilse bustles for the line and is held up. The momentum suddenly changes in the 52nd minute as Penrith replacement Blake Austin slices through. A pass is knocked down before Walsh sends winger David Simmons over. A conversion from the left sideline, from an identical angle to Greg Alexander’s conversion that wrapped up the 1991 grand final, puts Penrith in front 18-12. The scoring pattern from the 1991 grand final is over. But one more point to Penrith tonight would enable the same score to occur. What a coincidence that would be! I want to see it happen.

 

But now the Panthers falter again with some fundamental errors. Tighe saves a certain try but his botched intercept presents Canberra a scrum feed. The teams exchange errors, Penrith gets a piggyback penalty and then my favourite player in this match, Queensland State of Origin legend Petero Civoniceva, aggravates a knee injury. The Raiders threaten again but two bad passes are thrown with a try beckoning. Penrith gets into Canberra territory when the ball goes back to Walsh who kicks a field goal! The Panthers lead 19-12! Now I don’t want any score for the final 11 minutes.

 

The Raiders come back hard as the Panthers again make a couple of mistakes, and a slight fumble from Canberra in a play-the-ball is undetected before Penrith fullback Lachlan Coote spills a grubber. Raiders prop Brett White is held up, and then with two minutes left, some messy play unfolds after a Canberra grubber-kick before Michael Picker forces the ball for a possible try. The video referee seems to take an eternity before awarding a try, which unfortunately means my wish for a repeat of the 1991 grand final scoreline is dashed. A quick conversion has Penrith leading 19-18, and the Panthers kick off with 54 seconds left.

 

The Panthers hold on to win and I’m relieved to get the tip right, although a little disappointed that the score didn’t remain 19-12. There were nonetheless plenty of similarities from one of my earliest rugby league memories: the 1991 Grand Final. Whilst Royce Simmons finished a winner in 1991, Tongue couldn’t quite finish on a high (albeit in a different situation) when the 1991 Grand Final clubs clash 20 years on, despite putting in a mighty performance.

 

But wait, there’s more. Just as I’m about to leave the hotel, Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” is played on the jukebox. That song might not have been played at the 1991 Grand Final, but again it takes me back to the early 1990s.

 

Penrith 19 (Tries: D Simmons, B Tighe, L Walsh. Goals: Walsh 3. Field goals: Walsh)

Canberra 18 (Tries: J McCrone, M Picker, A Tongue. Goals: J Croker 3)

Venue: Canberra Stadium.

Crowd: 10,085.

Votes: Points: 3 – Luke Walsh (Penrith), 2 – Alan Tongue (Canberra), 1 – Brad Tighe (Penrith).

Milestone: Alan Tongue’s last game at Canberra Stadium before retirement.

About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 35 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.

Comments

  1. Ah Tumut, spent some good times working around the district in the late 00’s – beautiful landscape when not in drought.

    Good to be reminded of the ’91 Grand Final, a beauty, especially for Panthers fans. Pity the Raiders couldn’t have done it for Tongue though, a mighty clubman.

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