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The Sydney Morning Herald

HOW ROYCE ROLLED THE RAIDERS

Author: JOHN MACDONALD
Date: 22/09/1991
Words: 1280
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 46
If you wanted four moments to symbolise and summarise what Penrith's 19-12 grand-final win over Canberra meant yesterday, perhaps they were these.

After full-time, tearaway second-rower and Penrith tearaway through and through Mark Geyer burst into tears.

He is and always will be a local lad. Last year there were tears of devastation but he roused himself to salute the team's supporters and the district.

This year that salute again immediately followed the tears.

Second-rower John Cartwright went to the fence to embrace his mother. He is and always will be a local lad.

That action bespoke the working-class community which is now a winner.

When the Churchill Medal was about to be announced, the chant went up: "Royce, Royce."

Royce Simmons didn't get the medal. Canberra's Brad Clyde did for the second time, although this observer's opinion is that Canberra captain Mal Meninga should have.

It didn't and doesn't matter.

Royce Simmons is everyone's hero; the two-try hero who enjoyed the greatest fairytale end of them all.

He is the embodiment, the heart and soul of Penrith.

Announcer Tim Webster got it right when he asked: was there anyone in NSW who didn't want to be Simmons yesterday?

Almost right. Would anyone, however vicariously, want to take the most minute piece of what Simmons so deserves?

And the last moment.

Merv Cartwright, father of John, Penrith's first secretary and specifically a St Marys and more generally a Penrith man forever, beamed in the dressing room and said: "It's the queen city of the west, don't you worry about that. It's warm now and it's going to get a lot warmer," in reference to the celebrations.

Cartwright's craggy face and sturdy body could only belong to the west. He spoke for everyone.

When everyone remembers this grand final, receding memory might give it a greatness it didn't really possess.

Penrith have played far better, and it took 77 1/2 minutes for overwhelming weight of possession and sheer inexorable physicality to get them home against a Canberra who gave one of the greatest and most courageous goal-line defences imaginable.

An historical reference to the 300 Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae might not be too far over the top as the wounded, magnificently led by Meninga, repelled wave after wave before succumbing near the death.

A grand final not technically perfect but gripping and historic, certainly

Fittingly, Penrith's two heroes for the day were Simmons and captain Greg Alexander, their heroes in any year.

It was Simmons who was on hand when Canberra replacement Scott Gale's short goal-line drop-out in search of possession and a breakaway only found a rampaging Geyer, who when tackled had the hooker there to sprint 10m to the corner.

"I could sense danger (if Canberra got the ball when the drop-out was taken)," Simmons said. "I knew I couldn't catch the bastards and thought I might be able to hunt them back inside.

"I've thought about the game non-stop for the past two weeks. I've had hardly any sleep, couldn't eat. I've been that nervous, scared, but you mostly play better when scared."

Simmons's first words after the siren said it all: "It's a bloody dream. I hope to have a schooner with every one of you tonight."

In truth it wasn't one of Alexander's greatest games, but he responded with the pressure field goal under the greatest imaginable pressure; a 39m beauty which put Penrith ahead 13-12 with seven minutes left.

"I was starting to think we'd never get over the line," Alexander said of the innumerable opportunities lost before he potted the kick. "Our blokes were done at half-time but Gus (coach Phil Gould) lifted us."

Coach Gould now has the astonishing record of three grand finals and two premierships in four years of first-grade coaching.

Geyer said Penrith had initially ignored the Gould game plan of "play it up the guts", but had lifted their game.

"There's so much maturity this year," he said. "The rest is history. I'm going to get drunk for two weeks. I'm ready to rock 'n' roll."

Simmons and Colin Van Der Voort played very strongly, Paul Clarke with his usual honesty, Cartwright made his mark when he arrived and Brad Fittler was very involved, but Penrith couldn't be said to have any great players-an indication of their performance.

The ferocious Geyer was probably the key, terrorising Canberra while sailing close to the wind.

Meninga and Clyde, second-rowers Gary Coyne and David Barnhill, wonderful defence and reading of a game by Laurie Daley on one leg, were everything expected, but Canberra were never going to score breakaway tries on starvation rations against an aggressive Penrith who wouldn't allow easy metres.

Penrith and Simmons got the dream start after seven minutes in what seemed Canberra's customary habit of conceding early points. Simmons dummied on the 10m line, stepped inside Gary Belcher's ineffective tackle and crashed through Glenn Lazarus for Alexander to convert after hitting the upright.

Canberra hit straight back four minutes later when Stuart's weighted, angled kick bounced for Matthew Wood wide out. A Meninga penalty made it 6-6 and then after 27 minutes it looked ominous.

Canberra took the play one side, then swung it the other way.

Meninga sent Clyde pouring into a gap from 40m and Wood was on the end of it.

They'd had limited chances but led 12-6 at half-time. Too professional. Penrith had had plenty of chances in Canberra's quarter but the execution wasn't there.

It wasn't for a long time in the second half, but Penrith's physicality and superior kicking had Canberra pinned in their quarter, constantly trying to belt it out before Penrith belted them back.

A try to winger Graham Mackay was disallowed for an infringement and Geyer received 10 minutes in the sin-bin.

A magnificent Meninga tackle turned Penrith fullback Greg Barwick up on the line.

Brad Izzard dummied with two men unmarked outside, prepared to put the ball down, but Daley jolted it free.

Could they ever get the ball over the line? They did when Barwick ran a kick back, Geyer threw a pass over his head, Fittler sped through and Izzard atoned under the posts.

Alexander got it over the posts, and Simmons got it down again to take Penrith and himself into history. He previously hadn't scored a try all season.

As Alexander lifted the trophy, he summed up generally: "This is for the people of Penrith. They've waited a long time."

Then the specific. In the dressing room his teammates sang: "Royce Simmons walks on water." Perhaps not, but thousands would glady shoulder him across the Nepean.

PENRITH 19 (R Simmons 2, B Izzard tries; G Alexander 3 goals, field goal)bt CANBERRA 12 (M Wood 2 tries; M Meninga, M Wood goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 41,815. Referee: B Harrigan.

 
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