Mullets and Winfield Cup banners were de rigueur back in 1990, and so was one man.
Fans were still jiving to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’, in what was the Winfield Cup’s brilliant marketing legacy. Canberra, the 1989 premiers, donned their lime green jerseys for what seemed like another simple early-season game against Eastern Suburbs in Round 5.
Canberra captain Meninga had only scored two tries the previous season. But, the Raiders were coming off a maiden premiership win. The cocky Roosters featured no less than Matt Burke – he of Bledisloe Cup fame – and coached by club great Russell Fairfax, who also played rugby union, and co-captained by modern greats Paul Vautin and Hugh McGahan.
‘Big Mal’ was determined to make an early impact in front of a partisan Bruce Stadium crowd. Building pressure inside the Roosters’ 20-metre line, second-rower Dean Lance ran into the defence and Meninga, who was backing up, accepted the pass and scored his first try.
Meninga’s second touchdown was fairly simple, running from his centre position to score in the corner. He banged over the conversion from near the sideline to show how in-tune he was that day.
— NRL (@NRL) April 16, 2015
John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson showed how much pace he had with a runaway effort from his own goal-line soon afterwards. He drew in the fullback and gave Laurie Daley an easy four-pointer. Meninga added the extras.
When you think of Meninga’s strengths as a footballer, images of brute strength, power and leadership come to mind.
But his next two tries showed a mixture of deft skill and great pace.
Daley ran on to the ball with some space in front of him, with four Roosters defenders anxiously waiting for a bit of ‘Loz’ magic. He delivered, but this time with his boot. Daley punched through a rolling grubber for you-know-who: a rampaging Mal. Look at him go! Like an ox with a V8 attached, Meninga knew the old adage of the shortest point to the target is a straight line.
He overtook pacey fullback Gary Belcher and dived on the ball. Once again, he converted from wide out.
Now for the skill. Mal had shoulders like boulders, but what’s that you say, I’ve never seen him kick in general play?
Why then mister, you are about to be enlightened!
After another attacking raid, the Raiders had possession in the Roosters’ half. Meninga, he of great vision and sizable eyebrows, put through a chip kick, much to the surprise of three Roosters defenders. It bobbled over into space, where Meninga, who again showed his great pace, regathered and split two hapless defenders to score another try. His fourth.
The Raiders captain saved his final act until the dying moments. He received the football from halfback Ricky Stuart, around 35 metres out. Meninga looked up to see four Roosters doing their best John Wayne impression in front of him. But of course, Big Mal didn’t care, did he?
Meninga ran to the left, stopped, shrugged off three easily – get off you pests! – and motored through to score his fifth try. Five tries! He converted under the sticks to make it a personal haul of five tries, nine goals, 38 points.
Meninga’s tally in the 66-4 demolition equalled incomparable Easts centre Dave Brown for the second-highest points haul in a first-grade match (Brown also holds the all-time record, a ridiculous 45 points!).
Putting his club-record tryscoring feat in perspective, just six players have scored five in a match in the 27 years since.