To get into the NRL Retro Round spirit, Commentary Box Sports’ rugby league team have hand-picked their favourite premiership clash from the 1990s.
Round 18, 1993 – Balmain Tigers 32-32 Canberra Raiders
The Sunday afternoon clash in the capital was going to script after an hour’s play – high-flying Canberra had built a 32-12 lead over lowly Balmain. A 65th-minute try to fiery Tigers centre Jacin Sinclair appeared little more than a consolation effort, but it was instead the beginning of a phenomenal 10-minute turnaround that ranks among the greatest escapes in premiership history. Four-pointers to Morvin Edwards, Michael Brown and Graham Lyons followed in quick succession, the last of those cutting the deficit to just two points. Part-time goalkicker Tim Brasher – who only relieved David Bayssari of the job late in the match – had a sideline conversion to draw the game. The NSW fullback’s booming attempt hit an upright before dropping between the posts. A routine outing a Bruce Stadium had produced an extraordinary spectacle, but one team went home considerably more satisfied than the other following the shock 32-all result.
Round 16, 1998 – Auckland Warriors 24-21 Melbourne Storm
A wildly fluctuating contest concluded with one of premiership football’s most incredible after-the siren victories. Melbourne halfback Brett Kimmorley appeared to wrap up a tense contest for the competition front-runners at Olympic Park with a field goal two minutes from fulltime, giving the home side a 21-18 advantage over lowly Auckland. But on the last play of the game, the Warriors swung the ball from one sideline to the other, before Stacey Jones launched a bomb after the siren sounded. Despite a horde of Storm players waiting at the kick’s destination, the Warriors managed to bat the ball back, and centre Nigel Vagana fired it out for an unmarked Tony Tatupu to score. After an agonising wait for the video referee’s decision as he dissected the myriad fumbles and rebounds in the movement, the try was awarded, handing victory to Auckland—a rare highlight in a dismal season for the club.
Round 1, 1994 – Newcastle Knights 43-14 South Sydney Rabbitohs
In one of the game’s most famous ‘A Star is Born’ performances, Andrew Johns – who came off the bench in three first grade games for the Knights in 1993 – made his starting debut in the opening round of 1994 and projected his eventual elevation to the highest echelon of the game’s greats. Partnering brother Matthew in the halves, Johns scored 23 points – from two tries, seven goals and a field goal – in a 43-14 thrashing of South Sydney, smashing the club record for points in a match and the premiership record for most points in a starting debut.
Fifth-place Playoff, 1991 – Western Suburbs Magpies 19-14 Canterbury Bulldogs
A controversial finish only added to the drama of the premiership’s last-ever playoff in a cracking contest between Wests and Canterbury. In what was a grudge match following the defection of four Bulldogs stars to the Magpies under ex-Canterbury coach Warren Ryan, the rivals scored twice each but an 11-point haul from Jason Taylor proved the difference. Canterbury’s English import Jonathan Davies was streaking away on the last play of the game when Bill Harrigan blew fulltime as the crowd ran onto Parramatta Stadium.
Round 18, 1996 – Sydney City Roosters 20-20 Parramatta Eels
The steadily rising clubs played out a sensational 20-all draw in 1996, with Parramatta’s eight-point lead evaporating after co-captain Dean Pay was sin-binned with 13 minutes to go. The Roosters scored two unconverted tries in his absence, before Eels halfback-cum-winger Chris Lawler’s towering 49-metre field goal attempt just before the siren sounded fell just under the bar.
Round 14, 1990 – Brisbane Broncos 22-20 Canberra Raiders
In what then shaped as a grand final preview, a sell-out Lang Park crowd witnessed a top-shelf clash between competition front-runners Brisbane and Canberra. The Broncos raced out to an 18-2 lead after 22 minutes with Kevin Walters – who had returned to Brisbane after being part of Canberra’s ’89 premiership triumph – playing an integral role, before the Raiders clawed back with three tries to lead 20-18 midway through the second half on the back of a titanic performance by captain Mal Meninga. But the home side rallied and snatched a 22-20 victory via a brilliant 50-metre try to rookie fullback Paul Hauff, giving Brisbane the outright premiership lead.