The memory of those sometimes game, sometimes hapless Panthers who
spent the better part of a quarter-century struggling along in their
clay-and-chalk uniforms, occasionally causing upsets but generally choking on
anything like a big game, was part-erased and part-redeemed at the Sydney
Football Stadium yesterday by the new Panthers in their new colours with the
good ethnic name Dahdah on them.
Down at half-time and under pressure, this tough, beautifully coached team
stayed cool where former Penrith teams in the same situation would have felt
entitled to succumb.
Alexander and the boys may have despaired on some levels of their beings
yesterday, but they showed not a trace of self-doubt nor wavering.
That was one of the reasons they ultimately came home ahead. They played
as if they'd been there, on that plateau of stress, dozens of times before,
instead of just once.
Their composure was sorely tried. A Smith try in the corner was
disallowed, Geyer was sent off for 10 minutes in the bin, and in the most
brilliant tackle of the game, Mal Meninga cut down Barwick in the act of
scoring. All the signals said it was time to surrender.
The Panthers didn't.
With defenders hanging from all his limbs, Geyer got a wonderful pass away
to Fittler, who slid it to the veteran Izzard, who then scored under the post
with so much support that Alexander and Carter were with him, pointing to the
centre of the in-goal as if without their instruction he might do something
silly with the ball.
A beautiful conversion by Alexander would be followed ultimately by an
agricultural but very accurate field goal from nearly 40 metres out.
Alexander had dummied, and then thought "Why not"?
That was it. All the Panthers seemed to think "Why not?" yesterday.
Canberra had plenty of sangfroid too. Their last seven victories in a row
and their power had given it to them.
All afternoon my partner, Roy Masters, had been commenting on how
confident Canberra were on their own line.
Meninga, Daley, Clyde and Belcher swapped the ball with each other in
front of their in-goal as if it were theirs by freehold title.
Then Meninga's almost arrogantly short drop-out, meant to be gathered by
his nifty winger Woods, who had scored Canberra's two tries, was instead grabbed
from the air by Geyer who swung it out to Royce Simmons, who clinched the game.
As for Royce, sometimes pugfaced boys from the bush are visited in their
last game of all by fairy godmothers, and Royce's tutelary deity even allowed
him to push the great human block of Lazarus flat on his back in the scoring of
Penrith's first try.
There is no question now, if there ever was, that Alexander is a glorious
halfback, and his placement kicks were all delivered so exactly and with such
Geyer, warts and all, and even though the Canberra dressing room was not
happy with the kind of havoc he wrought, is the leader of the pack in the
It was when he entered the dressing-room at the end of the game that there
rose from him and those already there a primitive howl of triumph.
Behind him, a little less like a homecoming Viking came the game
Cartwright, whose confidence had grown throughout the afternoon. Excellent in
attack, success had numbed the injuries he now has an entire off-season to
I'm trying to work out why the afternoon was, despite its often brilliant
football, lacking a little in drama.
Maybe the reason is related to Dame Edna's dictum that a day is pretty
flat if you can't take some joy in the misfortune of others. Dame Edna wouldn't
have enjoyed yesterday's grand final as well as she might have savoured
Balmain's despair two years back, or Penrith's desolation last year.
Though heavily injured, Canberra played the game as if they were engaged
in another day's honest work aimed at acquiring a title.
They did not seem desolated by the loss.
So while there was ecstasy on one side of the corridor, there seemed to be
calm assessment on the other.
A lot of ice was being handed round and placed on legs and elbows.
Canberra occupied that dressing-room hectically in two great grand final
victories two years in a row, and now they occupied it soberly in defeat,
without any torment in their faces. All the torment seemed to be in their
Even Fred Daley seemed less like King Lear than the calmest of leprechauns
These are two wonderful attacking teams, and both reached full cry at
various stages of the afternoon.
Everyone went home satisfied. How often can you say that after a grand