Canberra Raiders great Laurie Daley and Michael Sebo of Monash at the Raiders 1994 grand final reunion dinner. Photo: Jay Cronan
Laurie Daley says NSW's drought-breaking State of Origin win was the greatest moment of his career, but the Canberra Raiders legend put the party on hold on Friday to turn back the clock with his Green Machine teammates.
Daley, who was still coming to grips with his breakthrough win as coach, was back at Canberra Stadium to celebrate the club's 20-year reunion for its 1994 premiership triumph.
Daley and NSW ended eight years of misery earlier this week when the Blues beat Queensland 6-4 in an absorbing Origin match in Sydney.
Queensland coach and the greatest Raider of all, Mal Meninga, was supposed to be at the reunion dinner as well, but his absence because of business allowed Daley to soak up the glory.
In a room full of premiership winners and rugby league greats, Daley was the toast of the 300-strong function before the Raiders played the Canterbury Bulldogs – the same team the Green Machine beat in the 1994 grand final.
Daley won three premierships with the Raiders and State of Origin titles as a player, but said the emotion of leading the Blues to a series win trumped everything.
"I think this [Origin] win has that special feeling because it's been so long," Daley said.
"They're all special, but it's a bit like winning grand final if you've won a number of them. Winning the 1989 grand final [with the Raiders] was good, winning 1994 was good, too, but it was a different feeling.
"On Wednesday night, there were tears of joy and excitement. It was amazing to be a part of."
Daley, Brett Mullins, Steve Walters, Tim Sheens, Ken Nagas, John Lomax, Jason Croker and Paul Osborne were all there, with Bulldogs champions Steve Price, Steve Mortimer and Simon Gillies making the trip to Canberra.
In a room full of Raiders greats, Daley couldn't move without being asked for photos and signatures or being asked about the Blues' win.
Daley's premiership-winning halves partner and now Raiders coach, Ricky Stuart, briefly went back in time 20 years to chat with former teammates before switching his focus to the game.
The Raiders invited The Canberra Times onto the team bus for the ride from Woden to Canberra Stadium.
When the bus got close, Mullins put his hand up to take over navigation before Jason Burnham chimed in with: "The last time Mullo was at the ground he scored four tries".
Teammates reminisced about their old fitness programs, which involved running between trees around Canberra.
As the bus pulled up to the stadium, Mullins turned to premiership-winning coach and got serious. "All right boys, time to start thinking about the game," Mullins said.
Sheens has coached at four different NRL clubs, and won a premiership with the Wests Tigers, but said: "The memories here still stand out."
"It seems right that Ricky is coach; he's a Raiders man. He has some work to do, but if anyone can pull it off, Rick can.
"Twenty years has gone quickly, when Brett Mullins tells me he's got an 18-year-old, it concerns me. It's amazing to catch up with everyone."
The Raiders haven't won a title since the team of 1994 greats beat the Bulldogs 36-12. They're in danger of missing the finals in back to back years for the first time in more than 20 years.
The Raiders' win in 1994 was the last game of Meninga's Canberra career.
"That is a standout from the game, we got out to an early lead so we could enjoy it," Walters said.
"I didn't have a great game personally, but as a team we played really well. At the time you wouldn't have thought the club wouldn't win a premiership in 20 years, but everyone is hoping that ends soon."