Just how do you decide who is the greatest player to have ever turned out for a club?
There are your favourite players, players with the most games, most tries, most points, those who’ve been involved in the most premiership wins, and players who have had long and successful representative careers.
I guess all those criteria must be considered in deciding just who might be worthy of the title of “the greatest”, and in the end it’s going to come down to a subjective choice, and the choice will be easier for some clubs when compared to others, but at least it should be a fun exercise.
So, just who is the greatest Panther of all time?
Something like 620 players have worn the Panthers’ jersey since they joined the league in 1967 and there have been some magnificent players amongst them, so choosing the all-time greatest won’t be easy.
Recent multiple premiership winners including Nathan Cleary, James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo and Dylan Edwards all deserve some consideration, but they are only part-way through their careers and have much more to achieve, so surely it’s too early for them to be named the best of the best?
What about former Penrith greats in 249-gamer Steve Carter, who spent 14 years at the club; or prolific try-scorer Rhys Wesser whose 113 tries remains a club record since he left at the end of 2008; or the Panthers’ top point-scorer in the silky centre Ryan Girdler, who also represented both Australia and NSW with distinction? Prolific, yes, record holders, yes, but perhaps not the greatest.
Then there were the great clubmen like John Cartwright, Colin Van der Voort, Tim Sheens, Tony Puletua, Craig Gower, Brad Izzard and Luke Lewis who gave everything they had for the jersey, and let’s not forget Penrith legend and hooker Royce Simmons, who played over 240 games in the Panther jersey and led them to their first Grand Final in 1990.
All wonderful players and great servants of the club, but could any of them claim to be the greatest?
There were some high-profile imports in Queensland and Australian legend Petero Civoniceva, and the English internationals Bill Ashurst and Mike Stephenson.
They all brought something special to the club while they were there, but were hardly around long enough to win the ultimate accolade, and perhaps the same could be said about superstar and local junior Brad Fittler, who debuted at 17 and starred in the Panthers first premiership victory two years later? Does the fact that the best of his career came later with the Roosters rule him out?
All these players will have their supporters as being Penrith’s greatest of all time, but I believe that none can match the claims of Greg Alexander.
Alexander played over 230 games for the club across 14 seasons, and probably only spoiled his near-perfect Panthers copybook with his two-year sojourn with the Warriors in 1995 and 1996.
‘Brandy’ made his first grade debut for the Panthers in 1984 at barely 19 years of age, and by season’s end was named Dally M Rookie of the Year. He went one better in 1985, finishing with the Dally M Medal, making him the first and, so far, only Penrith player to win the medal, and was selected to tour with the Kangaroos in 1986 at just 21.
Then, in 1989, Alexander really put the Panthers on the map when he became their first junior to play Test football, and only hot competition from the likes of Peter Sterling, Des Hasler, Ricky Stuart and Allan Langer throughout his career stopped him playing more than six Tests for his country and seven games for NSW.
Alexander had great acceleration, speed to burn and possessed all the skills, and was one of those players who always seemed to be two plays ahead of the opposition. He could set up tries and score them himself, finishing with 100 four-pointers for the Panthers.
He was also a deadly goal-kicker, and an excellent tactical kicker and a field goal exponent, and he saved many a try with his cover defence.
Above all, Greg Alexander was a leader, and he captained the club to their historic first premiership when they defeated Canberra 19-12 in the 1991 Grand Final, finally bringing credibility to the often-maligned “chocolate soldiers” from the foot of the mountains.
In that game he showed his class to lead his side back from a 12-6 half-time deficit against a star-studded and very experienced opposition, controlling the decider with his astute kicking game, landing a field goal from 40 metres out with just seven minutes to go to snatch a vital one-point lead, and then landing a conversion from the sideline just minutes later to put the game out of the Raiders’ reach.
Greg Alexander – the greatest Panther of them all.