15 May 2024

30 years on from the Raiders last premiership, the untold stories keep on coming but the well is almost dry

| Tim Gavel
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Ricky Stuart watches on during his 500th NRL game as coach. Photo: Jayze Photography.

Ricky Stuart is the thread connecting the glories of the past to the hopes of today. Photo: Jayze Photography.

As the Raiders players from the 1994 grand final winning team gather in Brisbane on Friday for a reunion, the stories will no doubt flow like the Murrumbidgee in flood.

While it’s hard to imagine anything new emerging from the Raiders camp from that era, the Luke Davico revelations last week prove that there is potentially more to come.

Davico revealed that he turned up to the 1994 Grand Final under the weather and was not expecting to have any role, given that he had been playing reserve grade for much of the year.

Davico had consumed six beers on grand final day when coach Tim Sheens called on him to get suited up for his place on the bench. What followed was a mad scramble to retrieve his boots, which he hadn’t brought to the ground.

Eventually, he made his way onto the ground, warmed up with the team, sat on the bench for the entire game, and didn’t make it on the field to play. However, he ended up on stage receiving his premiership ring from Premier John Fahey.

It’s another story to add to the vault.

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The same could be said for the narrative around Paul Osborne’s call-up for the decider, despite apparent opposition from some senior players.

As Sheens tells it, when John Lomax was ruled out through suspension in the week before the grand final, senior leadership discussed a potential replacement.

With the likes of Meninga, Daley, Stuart, Clyde and Walters present, leadership was aplenty.

Sheens said he wanted to go with Osborne, who had been playing reserve grade for most of the season because his big body suited the desired style of football.

Earlier in the season, Sheens rejected Osborne’s request for an early release from his Raiders contract to play in England.

In the meeting between Sheens and key players, some of the leaders in the playing group expressed concern about Osborne’s propensity to gift possession to the opposition with forced passes, so Osborne didn’t have their total support.

The coach held firm, but that wasn’t the end of the drama.

As Sheens tells the story, the expected replacement, Brett Hetherington, wasn’t happy and stormed into the coach’s office to express his fury, highlighting that player management is a key component in the life of a coach.

History now shows that Osborne started the 1994 grand final against Canterbury wearing jumper number 46 and set up the first two tries for David Furner and Ken Nagas inside the first six minutes.

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Osborne’s moment in the sun on grand final day was over after 21 minutes when Sheens hooked him after throwing a pass out the back which went to ground.

By the time Meninga swooped on a pass from Bulldogs utility Jason Smith to score the final try of the decider in his last game for the Raiders, Osborne was already being celebrated into folklore as a grand final legend despite only playing 21 minutes.

Ricky Stuart has expressed to his current playing group the importance of creating their own history while ensuring a constant reminder of the club’s past.

Joe Tapine leads the Raiders team onto GIO Stadium to take on the Gold Coast Titans in Round 6. Photo: Jaye Grieshaber.

Joe Tapine leads the Raiders team onto GIO Stadium. Photo: Jaye Grieshaber.

The players walk-through at Canberra Stadium is emblazoned with images of the glory days.

In February this year, during the pre-season, Stuart called on Sheens to speak to the players, emphasising the hard work that resulted in three premierships and the effort required to reach that mountain again.

The timing could not have been better with a youthful squad, many of whom are just starting their NRL journey.

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Maybe the Raiders should stop trying for the romantic fairytale and stop picking ex players as their coach.

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