Balmain 1989: 20 years on the Grand Final still hurts
I loved this team and still do but, like most things we love at one time or another, it my broke heart.
Neville Wran was wrong when he said Balmain boys don’t cry: they cry a lot when you’re seven and the Tigers lose the Grand Final.
While writing this I’ve come to the spooky realisation that today is exactly the 20 year anniversary of that fateful afternoon on September 24 1989: Balmain Tigers vs Canberra Raiders NSW RL Grand Final.
This was a team made up of Rugby League legends the likes of which simply do not exist anymore.
Captained by Wayne “Junior” Pearce this team had a forward pack that didn’t so much attack as they did fly at you like a meteor storm that has no understanding of the damage it was going to cause some poor planet.
This included legendary hooker “Backdoor” Benny Elias, Steve “Blocker” Roach and Paul “Siro” Sironen. Sironen would still work as a cop while playing football.
The backline had, as the cliché goes, had the perfect mix of youth and experience with New Zealand international Gary Freeman at halfback, one of the best full-backs ever to play in Garry Jack and a young, brash and heavily mulleted Tim Brasher.
Coming off a loss to Canterbury in the 1988 final, the Tigers in 89 had beaten minor premiers Souths and second place Penrith to get to the final: 89 had to be the year of the Tiger.
This was the same year my family moved to Canberra from Sydney and I had successfully lobbied to have my primary school’s end of term “Raiders’ Day” have its name changed to “Football Day”.
Wearing my Tigers jersey to school I pointed out that some kids were in fact Balmain fans: there was me, my brother, my sister and the silent kid in kindergarten who was more of an intense brooding type of Tigers fan.
At the beginning of that Sunday afternoon Balmain were looking unbeatable. They flew off to a 12-2 lead at half time, including an amazing try from Siro and a try saver from Jack. It was in the bag.
Canberra’s supercoach Tim Sheens (who later redeemed himself by coaching the Tigers to the 2005 premiership) put a rocket underneath the Raiders at half time, pointing out that they were in fact the better attacking team.
With a their own superstars, including Mal Meninga and a young Ricky Stewart and Bradley Clyde, the Raiders attacked in the second half and the Tigers under Warren Ryan tried to defend rather than fighting back.
Ryan, one of the most respected coaches of his era, committed what would prove a shocking tactical error by taking both Sironen and Roach off thus making them ineligible to come on again in the event of extra time.
With Balmain being just 90 seconds away from their first Premiership in 20 years, Raiders winger John “chicka” Ferguson weaved through a pack of five Balmain defenders to force the game into extra time at 14 all* (corrected).
In the 20 minutes of extra time hooker Benny Elias tried for a field goal but hit the cross-bar - one of those strange horror moments in sport that seem to unfold in slow motion.
The Raiders managed to get one field goal (only after Elias charged one attempt down) and then with just a couple of minutes to go no-name replacement forward Steve Jackson scored a try by beating two tackles and pulling three Tigers over the line with him.
It was one of greatest moments in football history and the Tigers were on the wrong end of it.
This game is widely regarded as the best Grand Final ever, Tom Keneally was even inspired to write an account of it in “A Movie Script That Came To Life”.
None of this is much consolation to a crying seven year old though, who keeps asking his father the non-rhetorical question: “how did we lose?”
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Up to the minute Twitter chatter
@mooks83 sophisticated response. Think the kids parents saw it differently
More class from 9's footy show, lampooning a baby that allegedly looks like Sterlo with a pic swiped from Facebook http://t.co/BGoYP6Pn68
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