This is the fifth article in a series where I’ll name who I think were the best players to play in a grand-final in each decade, focusing this time on the turbulent 1990s.
The criteria I have used are:
• The player must have actually played in at least one grand-final, including Super League, in the decade in question.
• A player is only considered for selection in one decade, even if he played in grand-finals in more than one decade.
• The player’s form in the decade is taken into account.
The winds of change certainly blew hard and long in the 1990s. The competition was expanded to 20 teams in 1995 when the North Queensland Cowboys, the Auckland Warriors, the Western Reds and the South Queensland Crushers all joined.
Then, just two years later, the rugby league world was split into two with the advent of the Super League. Eight teams switched allegiances from the ARL to the Super League, and were joined in the new competition by two new clubs – the Hunter Mariners and the Adelaide Rams, leaving a total of 22 teams across the two competitions.
Confused? Hang on, there’s more to come.
Fast forward twelve months to 1998 and the Super League split is over, with the united competition now known as the NRL. Melbourne have been added as a new team, while the South Queensland Crushers, the Western Reds and the Hunter Mariners have all disappeared as if they never existed, leaving a 20-team competition.
Then,1999 saw it reduced to 17-team competition, following the merger of the St George Dragons with the Illawarra Steelers into the St George Illawarra Dragons, together with the departure of both Adelaide and the Gold Coast.
In the 1990s, out of the total of 24 teams who played in the decade, including in the Super League, only nine made it as far as the grand-final:
• Brisbane dominated the decade with four grand-final wins from as many starts.
• Canberra won twice and were runners-up once.
• Both Canterbury and Manly won once and lost twice.
• Penrith were winners once and lost once.
• Both Newcastle and Melbourne won a grand-final each.
• St George/St George Illawarra were runners-up four times.
• Cronulla were runners up once.
There were some wonderful players running around in the 1990s, and the players unfortunately left out of this list are some of the best ever. Anyway, here’s my pick of the best of the best who made it to the biggest game of the year. All references to grand finals played relate only to grand-finals in this decade
Fullback: Darren Lockyer (Brisbane)
Lockyer played in winning grand-finals in both Super League and the ARL and established himself as the number one fullback in the game. Julian O’Neill from Brisbane and Manly’s Matthew Ridge also had great success in the 90s.
Wings: Michael Hancock and Wendell Sailor (Both from Brisbane)
Both of these wingers were a nightmare for defenders. Hancock won three grand-finals from as many starts and Sailor won two from two. Speedsters Ricky Walford and Nathan Blacklock from the Dragons, Newcastle’s Darren Albert, and the Canberra pair of Ken Nagas and Noa Nadruku also had some memorable moments.
Centres: Steve Renouf (Brisbane) and Andrew Ettingshausen (Cronulla)
Steve Renouf was in a class of his own in the 90s and scored four tries in his four grand-final wins. Ettingshausen wasn’t far behind him, but appeared in only one grand-final when he lead his team out in the 1997 decider. Mark Coyne from the Dragons was also a contender.
Five Eighth: Laurie Daley (Canberra)
Just as effective at either centre or five eighth, Daley starred in three grand-finals for Canberra, winning two. Kevin Walters from the Broncos, Canterbury’s Terry Lamb and Manly’s Cliff Lyons were unlucky to miss out.
Halfback: Allan Langer (Brisbane)
Won four grand finals from as many starts, was captain in three and was the chief architect of the Broncos’ success throughout the 1990s. He wasn’t the only top notch halfback running around though, and players like Greg Alexander from Penrith, Ricky Stuart from Canberra, Geoff Toovey from Manly and Andrew Johns from Newcastle were all lighting it up.
Lock Forward : Bradley Clyde (Canberra)
Clyde played in two grand-finals, winning once, and was one of the best backrowers to ever play the game. Terry Matterson from the Broncos, Nik Kosef from Manly and Jim Dymock from the Bulldogs were also impressive.
Second Row : Steve Menzies (Manly) and Gorden Tallis (St George Illawarra and Brisbane)
Menzies played in three grand-finals, winning one, and was one of the best ball runners the game has ever seen, and knew the way to the try line like no one else.
Tallis, an absolute weapon on the field, played in one losing grand final for the Dragons, before switching to the Broncos to win two premierships. Other contenders for the second row were David Barnhill (Canberra and St George Illawarra), Mark Geyer (Penrith), David Furner and Jason Croker (both from Canberra) and Adam Muir (Newcastle).
Front Row : Glenn Lazarus (Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne) and Shane Webcke (Brisbane)
Incredibly, Lazarus won grand-finals for three different clubs – Canberra (1), Brisbane (2) and Melbourne (1) – in the 90s and was also runner-up with Canberra in 1991. Webcke wasn’t far behind Lazarus as a player and won two grand-finals after making his first grade debut in 1995. Canterbury’s pair of Dean Pay and Darren Britt also impressed.
Hooker : Steve Walters (Canberra)
Walters was the best in the game in the early 90’s and appeared in three grand-finals, winning two. He also had strong competition for his spot in this team from younger brother Kerrod from Brisbane and Penrith’s Royce Simmons.
Brad Mackay (St George) who played in three losing grand-finals for the Dragons, and knew his way around the interchange bench. Mark Carroll (Manly) who played in three deciders, winning one, and a fearsome front rower. The equally fearsome Paul Harragon (Newcastle) who lead his team to victory in their only grand-final in the 90s. Trevor Gillmeister (Brisbane), a devastating defender who won two grand-finals from as many starts.