Forever the first: 1991 Grand Final remembered

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The front page of the Weekender on Friday, September 20 1991 said it all – ‘bound for glory’. Inside, another headline read ‘Panthers to win’.

It was a Grand Final Penrith was always destined to claim.

After going down to the Raiders in 1990, Penrith walked onto the Sydney Football Stadium pitch a much more mature looking team than the one that tasted heartbreak on the very same turf 12 months earlier.

According to Panthers legend Greg Alexander, the heartbreak of the previous year played a significant role in his side’s mindset ahead of the 1991 decider.

“I think it was all of us realising that we probably wasted a chance in 1990 and these chances don’t come along all that often,” he said.

“I’d been playing seven or eight years by the time we hit 1991. It was ‘we need to win this’ because we might not get another chance.”

Greg and Ben Alexander celebrate the 1991 Grand Final win.

So many things went against Penrith in the big one – Mark Geyer was sent to the sin bin, the Raiders scored a try off a controversial refereeing decision, and Mal Meninga was having a stellar game.

At half-time, with his side down 12-6, Penrith coach Phil Gould delivered an almighty spray to his players. Rumour has it the speech finished with the words: “Are you going to be losers?”

Alexander remembers the feeling at half-time well.

“Even though we scored the first try there was no doubt they were on top at half-time,” he said.

Celebrations after the 1991 title win. Photo: NRL Images.

“And apart from a few desperate defensive situations, they could have been more than 12-6 in front quite easily.

“At half-time, there was a concern. We didn’t walk into the sheds with our heads up… it took Royce and Gus… Royce got up and made an impassioned speech about what we needed to do and Gus had his say.

“We went out and in the second half we barely let them into our half. We were very dominant.”

Paul Dunn and Mark Geyer. Photo: NRL Images.

The second half was terrific from Penrith, but with 10 minutes to go, the scores were locked at 12-all and it was anyone’s game.

Then, the man they call Brandy stepped in.

Alexander potted a 38 metre field goal that would give Penrith a 13-12 lead and the advantage heading into the final stages of the game.

The Panthers built pressure and the rest is history – the forced line drop-out, the short restart, the Geyer run, the Simmons try – magic.

Alexander confirmed victory with a sideline conversion that gave the Panthers an unassailable 19-12 lead.

“They worked really hard for that – right from the Grand Final day the previous year,” Gould told the Weekender years later.

“It was a wonderful day for the club, it was a wonderful day for the city and it really put Penrith on the map.”

Back at Panthers Leagues Club, the party was epic.

A huge blow-up Panther had guarded the club for much of the week, welcoming fans on Grand Final day who watched the match on 55 screens throughout the club. A Grand Final Disco was held at Reactor One.

One of the big talking points out of the Grand Final was the awarding of the Clive Churchill Medal to Canberra’s Bradley Clyde. Royce Simmons would tell the Weekender years later who he believed should have been handed the prestigious prize that day.

“Greg Alexander was the player of the match. His kicking game was outstanding and his leadership was fantastic,” Simmons said.

Penrith celebrate their victory in the 1991 Grand Final. Photo: NRL Images.

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