1991 NSWRL season
|1991 New South Wales Rugby League|
|Premiers||Penrith (1st title)|
|Minor premiers||Penrith (1st title)|
|Top points scorer(s)||Daryl Halligan (196)|
|Player of the year||Ewan McGrady (Rothmans Medal)|
|Top try-scorer(s)||Alan McIndoe (19)|
The 1991 NSWRL season was the eighty-fourth season of professional rugby league football in Australia. This year the New South Wales Rugby League experimented with a draft system for the first time. Sixteen clubs competed for the J J Giltinan Shield and Winfield Cup premiership during the season, which culminated in a replay of the previous year's grand final between the Canberra Raiders and the Penrith Panthers.
The 1991 New South Wales Rugby League season started with controversy. For the first time a draft system which had been developed was put into operation. The draft allowed teams to recruit players on a roster system based on where the club finished the previous year. It ran in reverse order with the wooden spooners getting first choice and the premiers last. The draft lasted just the one season before being defeated in the courts by players and coaches opposed to its limitations. The controversy started after Terry Hill, who had agreed to join the Warren Ryan coached Western Suburbs, was drafted to play for Easts. Hill appealed his drafting, though his appeal was initially overturned and he eventually agreed to a three-year contract with the Roosters. However, by the end of 1991 the High Court had overturned the draft system and in 1992 Hill was given a release and he was able to move on to Wests.
In 22 rounds of regular season football which lasted from March till August, eventual premiers Penrith won 17 games, drew one and lost only four. The Panthers finished on 35 premiership points and took their first minor premiership ahead of Manly and Norths (both 29 points), Canberra on 28 with Wests sneaking in on 27 points after beating Canterbury 19–14 in a play off.
On 24 July it was revealed that the Canberra Raiders had substantially breached their $1.5 million salary cap for 1991.
The record for attendance at a match at Campbelltown Stadium was set this season with a crowd figure of 21,527 for a game between Western Suburbs and St. George. Also this season the NSWRL took a match between St. George and Balmain to the Adelaide Oval and it was met with success as 28,884 spectators (the highest non-finals attendance of the season) turned out for the game on a cold and wet Friday night in June. The game was taken to Adelaide not only for the NSWRL to expand into traditional Australian Rules Football strongholds, but also as the Dragons long time major sponsor Penfolds is an Adelaide-based company.
The 1991 season's Rothmans Medal was awarded to Canterbury-Bankstown's Ewan McGrady, who was also named as Rugby League Week's player of the year. The Dally M Award was won by St. George's Michael Potter, the first fullback to do so.
The number of teams competing remained unchanged for the third consecutive year, with sixteen clubs contesting the premiership, including five inner Sydney-based foundation teams, another six from greater Sydney, two from greater New South Wales, two from Queensland, and one from the Australian Capital Territory.
1991 again saw the NSWRL use Tina Turner's 1989 version of "The Best" in their advertising. The league's ad agency Hertz Walpole had sufficient extra footage from her 1990 visit to Sydney to add fresh images of Tina to other recent shots of the 1990 finals series and 1991 pre-season training images.
The finished 1991 ad in its full length version shows Tina performing the song in the glamorous surroundings of Boomerang, a palatial harbour-side Sydney mansion. She climbs the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a spectacular final helicopter pull-back shot shows her belting out the anthem from the apex of the bridge. In those days before public access via the commercial BridgeClimb operation this image was as fantastic notionally as it was visually.
|Date and Time||Venue||Referee||Crowd|
|Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs||14–19||Western Suburbs Magpies||27 August 1991||Parramatta Stadium||Bill Harrigan||17,022|
|Preliminary Semi Finals|
|Canberra Raiders||22–8||Western Suburbs Magpies||31 August 1991||Sydney Football Stadium||Eddie Ward||24,792|
|Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||16–28||North Sydney Bears||1 September 1991||Sydney Football Stadium||Bill Harrigan||32,878|
|Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||26–34||Canberra Raiders||7 September 1991||Sydney Football Stadium||Bill Harrigan||34,707|
|Penrith Panthers||16–14||North Sydney Bears||8 September 1991||Sydney Football Stadium||Eddie Ward||38,635|
|North Sydney Bears||14–30||Canberra Raiders||15 September 1991||Sydney Football Stadium||Bill Harrigan||39,665|
|Penrith Panthers||19-12||Canberra Raiders||22 September 1991||Sydney Football Stadium||Bill Harrigan||41,815|
|Qualifying/Elimination Final||Major/Minor Semi Final||Preliminary Final||Grand Final|
On the sunny afternoon of Sunday, the 22nd of September the Sydney Football Stadium was packed to capacity with a crowd of 41,815 for the re-play of the previous season's grand final, and Canberra's third in a row. The day also featured a tribute to the original 'Gladiators', Norm Provan and Arthur Summons on the Winfield Cup trophy's 10th anniversary (in the 50th Grand Final played) as well as a rendition of the national anthem by Anthony Warlow. The game was broadcast live on television throughout Australia by Channel Ten with match commentary by Graeme Hughes, Bill Anderson and Wayne Pearce.
|1 Greg Barwick||FB||1 Gary Belcher|
|2 Graham Mackay||WG||2 Paul Martin|
|3 Brad Fittler||CE||3 Mal Meninga (c)|
|4 Col Bentley||CE||4 Mark Bell|
|5 Paul Smith||WG||5 Matthew Wood|
|6 Steve Carter||5/8th||6 Laurie Daley|
|7 Greg Alexander (c)||HB||7 Ricky Stuart|
|8 Paul Clarke||PR||8 Brent Todd|
|9 Royce Simmons||HK||9 Steve Walters|
|10 Paul Dunn||PR||10 Glenn Lazarus|
|11 Mark Geyer||SR||11 David Barnhill|
|12 Barry Walker||SR||12 Gary Coyne|
|13 Col van der Voort||LF||13 Bradley Clyde|
|15 Brad Izzard||Int.||16 Scott Gale|
|16 John Cartwright||Int.||40 Darren Fritz|
|Phil Gould||Coach||Tim Sheens|
Referee Bill Harrigan blew time on and the Panthers kicked off. Around seven minutes later when Penrith had made their way into good field position, their hooker Royce Simmons received the ball about ten metres from the try-line and ran it, stepping and spinning his way past several defenders to score a great individual try, his first of the season. Panthers captain Greg Alexander kicked the conversion for his side to lead 6-0. Shortly after that Canberra's half-back Ricky Stuart got the ball a few metres into Penrith's half and kicked over to the open left corner of the field where his winger, Matthew Wood was racing through to grab the bouncing ball and dive over in the corner to score. Meninga's conversion attempt missed so the Panthers held their lead at 6-4. The scores were levelled a few minutes later though when Alexander appeared to be trying to put his knees into Meninga as he tackled him, drawing a penalty, which the Raiders captain successfully kicked to make it 6-6. Meninga later opted to take the kick when awarded another penalty inside Penrith's half, but missed. Soon after that Canberra had the ball on the right wing around half way and swung it through the hands out to the left where their lock forward Bradley Clyde made a break and passed it on to Wood to again cross in the corner for his second try. Meninga's kick was wide again so the Raiders were leading 6-10.
The contest continued to be played from end to end of the field. In the final minutes of the first half, during one of Canberra's attacking raids they got another penalty and Matthew Wood took the kick, getting another two points for his side to lead 6-12 going into the break. The Raiders lead could have easily been 18-6 had Penrith winger Graham Mackay not pulled off a great try-saving tackle only metres from the line on his opposite number Paul Martin close to half-time. The half-time score replicated the position of the two teams at the same point in the previous year's decider.
Early in the second half Canberra were penalised for stripping in their own half of the field and Alexander took the kick at goal but missed. Then as the Raiders were trying to work the ball away from their goal-line, they knocked on, with Panthers' winger Paul Smith getting the ball and diving over in the corner. However referee Bill Harrigan called the play back after touch judge Martin Weekes reported that Canberra's Mark Bell had been taken out with a swinging arm. Penrith forward Mark Geyer's reaction to the ruling prompted Harrigan to send him to the sin bin for ten minutes. Later the Panthers appeared certain to score from close range through Brad Izzard but the Raiders' lone defender Laurie Daley stripped the ball in a one-on-one tackle.
Penrith's unsuccessful scoring opportunities continued until finally, after working the ball up to the opposition's half, they kept it alive on the third tackle till Brad Izzard broke free from over twenty metres out and ran to the try-line to touch down behind the uprights. The scores were brought level at 12 all when Alexander kicked the extra two points. With just under seven minutes of the match remaining, and again having worked the ball into Canberra's half of the field, the Panthers on the fifth tackle passed it to Greg Alexander just past the forty-metre line to kick a field goal, getting his side a one-point lead at 13-12. Penrith continued to enjoy the majority of possession and field position, and when the Raiders attempted a short line drop-out Geyer got the bouncing ball in open space, passing it to 33-year-old Royce Simmons who scored in the corner, getting Penrith their first premiership in the last match of his career. Alexander kicked the conversion from the sideline so the final score was 19-12.
Penrith Panthers 19
Tries: Simmons 2, Izzard
Goals: Alexander 3/3
Field Goal: Alexander
Canberra Raiders 12
Tries: Wood 2
Goals: Meninga 1/2, Wood 1/1
Although MMI's unofficial man-of-the-match award went to Royce Simmons, the Governor of New South Wales Peter Sinclair awarded the Clive Churchill Medal to the losing side's Bradley Clyde, the second successive year that he won the prestigious award. The Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke then presented Penrith captain Greg Alexander with the Winfield Cup trophy as well as the J. J. Giltinan Shield. It was the Penrith Panthers' first premiership and their young coach, Phil Gould has rated his team's second half in this game as an example of a perfect half of football. After failing to follow their first half game plan and squandering an early lead, in the second half the Panthers played to a formula of taking the ball up for full sets of six tackles, with Alexander then expertly kicking for the corners and the whole side pinning Canberra down at their own end with committed defence.
World Club Challenge
Having won the premiership, the Panthers travelled to England to face the British Champions, Wigan Warriors in the 1991 World Club Challenge on the 9th of October at Anfield, Liverpool. Penrith were defeated 4 to 21 in front of 20,152 spectators.
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