The streams of defiant, intimidating, boisterous Penrith supporters
who coursed their way to Central Station after yesterday's 19-12 win in the
grand final at the Sydney Football Stadium mirrored the mood of their team and
proved the most prophetic of all.
Wearing white T-shirts with black lettering: "No More Mr Nice Guys", the
youthful hordes had clearly captured the feeling of the Penrith community and
delivered a pre-match chilling clarion call to Panther second-rower Mark Geyer
to play like a a mobile crane with a wrecking ball in each arm.
Geyer's lethal hits on talented Canberra did much to bring the Panthers
their first premiership in 25 years.
Afterwards, Canberra coach Tim Sheens said, semi cryptically: "It was back
to the old days football." The Penrith supporters had a more direct message:
"By the end of the decade we'll have our own judiciary."
Bradley Clyde, the target of a high hit from Geyer just before half-time,
only seconds after the Australian lock had returned from the blood bin with a
head cut, said, "he pounded me".
"I didn't see him coming."
Chastising himself, Clyde said, "I should have see him and stepped.
"You don't run at him."
There was division in the referees' room later whether touch judge Mick
Howell should have entered the field immediately after the Geyer decapitation
Referees' official Barry Barnes said, "Geyer was already on one caution.
If the touch judge had come on straight away, Geyer would have been in the sheds
for the rest of the game.
"He judged it not as serious and reported the incident the next time there
was a break in play."
That's what it all came down to yesterday: judgment and timing.
Greg Alexander's pinpoint kicks in the second half allowed the Panthers to
spend the entire game in the Canberra half and the Raiders made the errors
Penrith had committed in the first half.
Alexander said, "Gus (Penrith coach Phil Gould) ripped right into us at
"Our instruction were to 'brown it'," he said in reference to the Panther
code call for a kick.
"We were to play safe and kick on the last tackle and pin Canberra in
"But just when we got in position to kick, we dropped the ball.
"At half-time Gus insisted we 'brown it'."
Alexander's 40-metre field goal with seven minutes left and the score
12-12 was the most critical score of the game.
He said, "I never intended to kick the field goal. They had two markers
and I intended to pass the ball to Greg Barwick to do a clearing kick.
"But (Ricky) Stuart, who was in marker, didn't chase as fast as I expected
and I had time to get the kick away."
Alexander's majestic rainbow sailed between the posts, matching the colour
of their jumpers and the club's pot-of-gold hopes for the future.
Never in recent times has a winning team been so joyous.
Replacement second-rower John Cartwright raced to the stands, a la Pat
Cash at Wimbledon and long jumper Mike Powell in Tokyo, and embraced his mother
Margaret and girlfriend Sue.
His father, Merv, Penrith's first secretary, burst into the dressing-room
and demanded a beer, threatening to "job Roger" if he didn't get one.
Roger, of course, is Cowan, Penrith's chief executive and the man who
replaced Cartwright in an early 70s coup.
Last night Cartwright and Cowan were unified in their common love of a
district on whose past they have made an indelible imprint.
Cartwright jun, whose second receiver runs put Canberra under so much
pressure, said, "I was only 60 per cent fit".
"On Thursday the doctor put two locals (anaesthetic injections) to kill
the pain in my back but it stuffed my leg up.
"I was just running up and down on the spot and going nowhere.
"So on Friday I got a cortisone into the spine.
"It had to be done under x-ray.
"It was my last hope because I was gone.
"But I got better with each hour over the weekend."
While Cartwright and co sang post-match Rugby songs that must have made
the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, blush inwardly, the Canberra room resembled a
Crimean War hospice.
The Canberra players exchanged the empathetic words that have marked their
brave end-of-year campaign.
"How's your knee, mate?" Laurie Daley asked of Clyde while tape was being
ripped from the right ankle of the former and ice applied to the left knee of
Half Ricky Stuart seemed unsure whether the season was over or just the
casualty station he has witnessed for eight weeks.
Commenting on his aching left hip, the target of lock Colin Van Der
Voort's tackles as the Canberra half attempted clearing kicks in the second
half, Stuart said, "I got a late tackle early ... "
Correcting himself less he diminish the value of Penrith's win, he said:
"I got a tackle early and ended up with a bad hip and a sore groin."
The deterioration in Stuart's kicking game corresponded with a period 10
minutes from full-time when Penrith did to Canberra what St George, Wests,
Manly, Norths and erosive talk of salary cap breaches could not.
Mr Hawke, who has seen Canberra's last eight matches, turned to Ken
Arthurson, chairman of the Australian Rugby League, and said: "This is the first
time I have seen them look tired.
"I reckon we are in trouble."
Almost on cue, Geyer threw a pass over his head into the unseen arms of
centre Brad Fittler who sped to the quarter line and unloaded to replacement
Brad Izzard for a 10-12 scoreline.
Alexander's kick from in front brought up the draw and set the stage for
his field-goal attempt and a Penrith win.
But nothing could usurp the joy hundreds of thousands of people everywhere
when hooker Royce Simmons, playing his last game, scored a try with only three
Simmons, who had not scored a four-pointer in '91, registered the first
and the last of the match.
His weaving run to register Penrith's first try after five minutes was an
exclamation mark on the game and his final try-scoring back-up run was an
effective full stop on Penrith's quarter century search for football
As his arm slipped between the bronzed legs of Norm Provan and Arthur
Summons on the grand final trophy, Simmons commented on the speculation that he
was a sentimental inclusion in Gould's team rather than a skilful one.
He said, "I put it in my mind to run more and not miss tackles around the
"I told myself, and the players at half-time in a fairly emotional speech,
that I had never seen a footballer drop dead from exhaustion.
"In mid-August, Gus told me he would use me in fits and starts over the
Jutting out his jaw proudly, Simmons said, "but I played 80 minutes today"
Finally, unable to resist the temptation to comment on something all
footballers and most women are permitted to lie about, he added, "and I'm 33,
not 30 as most people think".