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1990 grand final rewind: Canberra's 'forgotten' win over Penrith

In the latest instalment in a series of fresh looks back at the grand finals of yesteryear, NRL.com revisits the 1990 decider between the upstart Penrith Panthers and the Canberra Raiders defending their title.

NRL.com has gone into the vault to find footage of the grand finals from the pre-NRL era dating back to 1966 and will be showcasing these games, including a full replay, a mini version, match highlights and great moments from these memorable encounters.

In many ways, the 1990 grand final is the "forgotten" premiership triumph of the three that Canberra won over their six-year golden era.

The Raiders' extra-time classic the previous year is regarded as one of the greatest matches in rugby league history while their 1994 triumph will forever be remembered as a fitting farewell for club stalwart Mal Meninga, with the future Immortal scoring a try in the emphatic win over Canterbury.

The 1990 clash was also the lesser of the two back-to-back grand finals played between Canberra and Penrith, with the Panthers' dramatic breakthrough win the following season also one of the more memorable deciders in Australian premiership history.

The 1990 decider was an even contest throughout although Canberra always seemed to have the upper hand - they scored first when retiring winger John Ferguson accepted a long pass of around 30 metres from halfback Stuart and jinked back in off his left flank, similar to his grand final try the previous year.

Full Match Replay: Panthers v Raiders - Grand Final, 1990

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Stuart then broke free to send Laurie Daley over for a 12-0 lead and the Panthers' dream of victory in their maiden grand final was turning into a nightmare.

They halved the deficit late in the first half when captain Greg Alexander put centre Brad Fittler over and they were just two behind early in the second half when winger Paul Smith scored in the corner.

Canberra delivered a heavy blow to Penrith's hopes when substitute winger Matthew Wood scored a late try and despite Alexander pegging the gap back to four in the dying stages, the Green Machine held on to become the first team since the 1985 Bulldogs to defend their title.

Extended Highlights: Panthers v Raiders

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Play of the day

Leading 12-10 late in the match, Panthers forward Joe Vitanza lost the ball in a tackle, Canberra prop Glenn Lazarus regained possession and passed to Daley, who then backed up a Meninga break to find fresh reserve Matthew Wood in support to sprint away for the match-winner.

Raiders seal the win with classic try

Best player

Stuart was the maestro orchestrating everything Canberra did that day at the Sydney Football Stadium.

He set up their two first tries and his kicking game continually put Penrith back on their haunches. His extra-long passes to his outside backs constantly delivered them silver service to launch attacking raids.

Stuart breaks through to set up Daley

The quote

"They're in for a great year next year," Raiders captain Mal Meninga giving Penrith plaudits during his acceptance speech - little did he know it would be his team being beaten by the Panthers next year in the decider.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Raiders

The what-if moment

Greg Alexander was a very good goal kicker for the era but he had an off day with the boot - he missed three of four shots, which proved costly in what turned out to be a four-point defeat.

Panthers forward Mark Geyer is inconsolable after the 1990 grand final loss.
Panthers forward Mark Geyer is inconsolable after the 1990 grand final loss. ©NRL Photos

Unsung hero

Chris O'Sullivan was one of three Raiders stalwarts to retire after this game, along with Ferguson and back-rower Dean Lance. He later returned to the club in 1992 for a brief stint after a playing sojourn in England.

He was Canberra's five-eighth for the 1987, '89 and '90 grand finals, in the latter two matches keeping none other than Daley, a future Hall of Famer, in the centres.

O'Sullivan kicked the field goal in extra time which put the Raiders in front the previous year against Balmain and again delivered a wholehearted effort in the 1990 grand final, the perfect complementary partner alongside Stuart as the chief playmaker.

Canberra winger John Ferguson with a celebratory Raiders milk and Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
Canberra winger John Ferguson with a celebratory Raiders milk and Prime Minister Bob Hawke. ©NRL Photos

The following year

The two teams headed back to the grand final in 1991 - the Raiders did it the hard way, finishing the season in fourth place before winning sudden-death clashes over Wests, Manly and Norths.

Penrith were clear minor premiers, six points ahead of the Sea Eagles with a +233 differential, and got their revenge on the Raiders in the premiership decider with retiring hooker Royce Simmons scoring his only two tries of the year in the 19-12 victory.