Rugby League

Wet and wild ride with 1989 Canberra Raiders

It's about an hour after the greatest grand final ever and there's no shortage of material to write about.

I've even managed to duck into the Balmain dressing room at the Sydney Football Stadium thinking I've missed the boat, but the only blokes left are the Tigers' gear steward and coach Warren Ryan.

Canberra raiders celebrate the 1989 grand final win.
Canberra raiders celebrate the 1989 grand final win. Photo: Getty Images

Ryan's sitting on a massage table drinking a can of beer, staring at the wall. I've never met him, but I'm imagining his reaction when I approach and say, "Hi Warren, I am Brad Turner from The Canberra Times". 

I brace myself, stick out my hand, Ryan shakes it and then offers me a beer with the other.

Promotion ahead of the 1989 grand final.
Promotion ahead of the 1989 grand final. 

He gives me a 10 minute interview and doesn't baulk at the big question - why on earth did you drag your best two forwards, Paul Sironen and Steve Roach, from the field in regular time?

You've no doubt heard that answer by now. He wanted to shore up the defence. He could have been a genius if it had worked, but it backfired when the game went into extra time.


It seems strange that after the extraordinary action of the 1989 grand final between the Canberra Raiders and Balmain Tigers, a thing that still sticks with me is what an absolute gentleman Ryan was in that moment.

Scooting back to Raiders party central across the hall, I continued my search for the interview I really needed.

Clive Churchill medallist Brad Clyde with Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
Clive Churchill medallist Brad Clyde with Prime Minister Bob Hawke. 

Where the hell was Jacko? Big Steve Jackson, probably the most genial front-rower in the history of the game who had just created history by scoring the grand final try to end all grand final tries.

He was a hard bloke to pin down, as about seven Tigers had discovered in extra time. No one knows where he is.

Canberra Times journalist Brad Turner hands out 'We Did It' posters after the Raiders win the 1989 grand final.
Canberra Times journalist Brad Turner hands out 'We Did It' posters after the Raiders win the 1989 grand final. 

I notice a door just off one end of the change room and, sure enough, Jacko is sitting on a table. A trainer is cutting off his strapping. He looked like a dishevelled mummy, barely any skin that wasn't covered by bandages and tape.

This unlikely hero had spent the best part of the past three seasons in rehab for one injury or another, and it showed.

John 'Chicka' Ferguson scoring the try to send the 1989 grand final into extra-time.
John 'Chicka' Ferguson scoring the try to send the 1989 grand final into extra-time. 

As I grab his hand and congratulate him, Jacko almost seems oblivious to his heroic part in the win.

I ask if he realises he will now be a part of grand final folklore; that he will be asked about "that try" again and again for the rest of his life. His grandkids will ask him about it, I tell him, and he doesn't even have kids then.

Mal Meninga with the premiership trophy.
Mal Meninga with the premiership trophy. 

"You reckon?" he says, smiling.

I remind Jacko he actually got across the try line twice, the first time when he nearly squashed  poor old (and his actual age was a mystery) "Chicka" Ferguson as he was scoring the try that took the game into extra time.

Tigers coach Warren Ryan, consoles captain Wayne Pearce.
Tigers coach Warren Ryan, consoles captain Wayne Pearce. 

Jacko was right behind him like a rugby player in a ruck giving Chicka a bit of extra help, if you can call having a 110 kilogram bloke fall on you after you have grounded the ball help.

Jacko looks concerned, says he better apologise to Chicka. I tell him not to bother.

But that's Jacko, a hell of a nice bloke in a team full of nice blokes.

Before I leave, I grab a clean towel because I'm still pretty wet. Laurie Daley has tipped a container of water over me in the dressing room. I was also filthy, having been bear-hugged on the field after the game by Gary Coyne and Dean Lance.

The dirt never did come out of that new white shirt. Nowadays, I regret trying to wash it and then throwing it out.

I'd done my own lap of honour on the field, handing out WE DID IT posters that The Canberra Times had prepared in case.

But as I'm waiting outside the Raiders change room with assembled media, the door opens. "Hey, Brad's out there ... get him in here," someone says, as I'm dragged in by the arm.

The team's going through its various chants and victory songs, and I definitely don't mean the Green Machine anthem. Laurie's the bandleader, no longer the quiet country kid from Junee.

Champagne and beer is going everywhere. Prime Minister Bob Hawke is there, he knows a fair bit about how to have a good time, but  he's quick on his feet when Laurie spots the water containers. A lot quicker than me.

Escaping the chaos, I've still got to leg-it like Chicka to hail a taxi and make it to the airport before my flight back to Canberra takes off.

Just as I hail one down, a bloke steals it from me. I'm about to blow up, when I realise it's one of my non-sporting idols, Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel.

It was that sort of day.

What a game, what a year, what a team. Will this year's decider still be talked about a quarter of a century later? 

Brad Turner was rugby league writer for The Canberra Times from 1988-90. He is a lecturer in journalism at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.