Group 10 1990s grand finals: When Blayney were at their grizzly best

BEAR NECESSITIES: Blayney's Geoff Blinkhorn, celebrating Blayney centre Henry Turua, Blayney's Richard Hobby and Bathurst Penguins second rower Robert Walford.
BEAR NECESSITIES: Blayney's Geoff Blinkhorn, celebrating Blayney centre Henry Turua, Blayney's Richard Hobby and Bathurst Penguins second rower Robert Walford.

The 1990s was a decade of change in Group 10, as Charlestons and Railway departed and the Lithgow Shamrocks disbanded.

However, Charlestons and Bathurst Rugby Leagues Club agreed on an amalgamation package that led to the birth of the Bathurst Penguins, who played in red, black and white.

The decade also featured the rise of the mighty Blayney Bears, who won four premierships in the 1990s and were denied in another two. The Bears' title in 1998 is the club's last premiership to date.

1990: Blayney Bears 29-10 Lithgow Workmen's Club

The roar around King George Oval was unmistakable as the Blayney Bears, at their grizzly best, celebrated their second Group 10 premiership after a crushing 29-10 win over Lithgow Workmen's Club.

Off to a slow start, Blayney then asserted their authority on the match late in the first half, scoring three quick tries which virtually put paid to a gallant Workies.

Blayney were inspired by tough up-front performances from captain-coach Geoff Blinkhorn, John Vanderstock, Kevin Dickie and Kerry Hemsley, whose continual charges at Workies broke the Lithgow side's heart.

Blayney's last premiership had been in 1977, when they defeated Cowra in a thriller.

A huge crowd paid $13,361 at the gate to see a free-flowing match.

Blinkhorn later paid tribute to the club and its officials.

"There is a lot of people to thank on an occasion like this," he said, grinning from ear to ear with the premiership trophy.

"Thirteen players, the town and club officials. No town in the group supports football to this extent and to [club president] John Davis, people don't realise what he does for Blayney."

1991: Lithgow Workmen's Club 22-13 Bathurst Penguins

After 10 grand final defeats since winning their last premiership in 1960, Lithgow Workmen's Club's long wait came to an end as they defeated Bathurst Penguins in the decider.

A sensational 12-minute scoring blitz secured an epic match at Orange's Wade Park.

The game was a replay after the original match finished in a 16-all draw.

Converted tries in the 37th, 41st and 49th minutes provided the springboard for a 22-13 triumph for Workies after Penguins skipped away to a 13-2 lead.

Workmen's Club fullback Ross Dowsett played a leading role with two tries and he summed up the feeling in the club when he said it was a load off the players' minds to have finally broken through.

"It's a relief, that's what it is," he said, having played in the beaten Workies grand final sides in 1989 and 1990.

One of the smoothest runners with the ball, Dowsett lifted Workies back into the game when he charged on to a Scott Hamment pass to score three minutes before half-time and reduce the deficit to 13-8.

A minute into the second half, Dowsett scored one of his specials after a 70-metre run that mesmerised the Penguins defence.

After looking down and out after a flat first half, Workies surged to the lead for the first time and then applied the screws.

1992: Cowra Magpies 16-6 Bathurst Penguins

A powerhouse display by Cowra's forward pack engineered the team's first Group 10 premiership in nine years, when they out played Bathurst Penguins 16-6 at West Cowra Oval.

In one of the best attended grand finals in recent years, patrons paid $13,708 through the gate to watch a match slogged out in the forwards.

Tough second rower Mark Elliott and prop forward Kraig Riley never took a backward step throughout the entire 80 minutes, while they were ably assisted by the remainder of the Cowra pack.

Although the Magpie forwards spearheaded their victory, it was brilliant fullback Ray Langfield who turned the game his side's way.

Langfield, who would later trial with Parramatta, caused the Penguins defence all sorts of headaches.

Cowra Magpies celebrate their 1992 premiership win over Bathurst Penguins.

Cowra Magpies celebrate their 1992 premiership win over Bathurst Penguins.

The brilliant 23-year-old continually made inroads into the Penguins defensive line-up when fielding the ball deep inside his own territory while he played major roles in their first two tries.

Other Cowra backs to impress were captain-coach Greg Clements and centre Richie McGovern.

Clements had a good kicking game while he more than kept Penguins' elusive five-eighth Keith Blackett in check.

Clements also made a bold decision in electing to run into a stiff breeze in the first half.

"We talked about it and it was my decision to run into the wind during the first half," Clements said.

"I thought if we could hold Penguins to a reasonable score at the break we would run away with the match in the second half with the wind behind us."

COWRA MAGPIES 16 (Rush, Williams, McGovern tries; Riley 2 goals) defeated BATHURST PENGUINS 6 (Walford try; Blackett goal)

1993: Blayney Bears 54-28 Cowra Magpies

The Bears' dream team turned Cowra's title defence into a nightmare as Blayney smashed the hopeless Magpies 54-28 in the decider.

Blayney delivered what they promised well before a ball had been kicked in this year's Group 10 season, when they won the pre-season Bathurst knockout.

Red-hot favourites, the Bears ran in nine tries but had to withstand a Cowra revival in the second half.

It was the Bears' second first grade premiership in the space of four years, having won in 1990.

Prop Soane Finau was outstanding for Blayney and was named man of the match for his performances.

1994: Bathurst Penguins 16-12 Blayney Bears

It may have taken 100 minutes, but Bathurst Penguins finally registered their first Group 10 premiership in the top grade when they defeated Blayney 16-12 in extra-time at King George Oval.

Blayney were behind 12-0 midway through the second half, but fought back to level at 12-all with Penguins at the end of 80 minutes.

Penguins, who were the better side during the first 80 minutes, finished the stronger of the two teams and took the lead after 12 minutes of extra-time when blockbusting winger Darren Smith ran 50 metres to score in the corner after some early lead-up work by Rod Simpson.

The victory rid Penguins of the bridesmaid tag they had earned after losing two grand finals since they entered the competition in 1990.

Penguins' solid defence paved the way for victory in what was described as one of the best grand finals seen in Group 10 for several years.

The match featured a number of hard hits in defence by both sides, who were prepared to throw the ball around on occasions.

Penguins fullback Merv Taylor brought off one of the best hits in defence when he drove his opposite number, Asa Amone, back some 10 metres in a ball-and-all tackle.

The only scuffle of the game, which included several players from both sides, occurred 12 minutes into the game, with Blayney receiving the penalty.

Bears second-rower Mark Elliott was the only player sin-binned, after a high tackle on Penguins half Ken McNamara six minutes into the second half.

1995: Cowra Magpies 19-16 Bathurst Penguins

Cowra captain-coach Paul Martin finished his playing career on a high note, silencing his critics as the Magpies scored a 19-16 victory over minor premiers Bathurst Penguins.

A huge crowd flocked to Carrington Park for the match; the gate takings of $17,000 were the highest since the 1987 decider.

The match was well worthy of a grand final billing - the lead fluctuated throughout the entire 80 minutes, keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats right until the final siren.

Both sides finished the game with three tries apiece, the only difference being the boot of Cowra's Abby Roberts, who was successful with two conversions: one penalty goal and a field goal.

Martin, who had plenty of knockers throughout the 1995 season, had the last laugh when he came on late as a replacement in the second half.

The winger was under a cloud in the week leading up to the match with a bout of the flu, which had ruled him out of Cowra's victory over Blayney in the preliminary final the previous week.

Martin said he had nothing against the people who had criticised his performances on and off the field with Cowra.

"That's football," he said. "You can't let little things like that worry you; it's the end result that counts.

"We all get on well at the club; it's just a few people that have had their say. They are entitled to, but I've had the last laugh."

COWRA MAGPIES 19 (McGovers, D Muray, A Murray tries; Roberts three goals, field goal) defeated BATHURST PENGUINS (Kennedy, Upfield, McNamara tries; Kennedy 2 goals)

Blayney Bears post-game after their 1996 premiership success.

Blayney Bears post-game after their 1996 premiership success.

1996: Blayney Bears 34-23 Cowra Magpies

A miraculous second-half comeback, in which they piled on 18 points in as many minutes, earned the Blayney Bears the Group 10 premiership.

The Bears claimed the trophy after scoring a 34-23 win over a disappointing Magpies outfit at Cowra, an 18-minute burst after half-time allowing them to forge ahead 28-19 after they were behind 19-10 at the break.

Blayney coach John Davis embraces outgoing Bears veteran Steve Mooney after the 1996 decider.

Blayney coach John Davis embraces outgoing Bears veteran Steve Mooney after the 1996 decider.

"We knew if we kept annoying them in the second half they would start to doubt their own ability," an elated Bears coach John Davis said after the game.

"Once we were in front, we gained momentum and they dropped a notch."

Cowra took control of the match in the opening 30 minutes to lead 13-0 after tries to Bert Gordon and Dean Murray and a smart field goal by Albert Murray, but then the wheels fell off.

The signs of having only played two games in a month began to show in Cowra's game, with the Bears overpowering them late in the second term and the result appearing inevitable.

"What more could we do?" Cowra captain-coach Scott Donnelly asked. "Blayney have been waiting all year to click and they chose today to do it."

BLAYNEY BEARS 34 (Kaufusi 2, Walsh 2, Roberts 2, Mooney tries; Mooney 5 goals) defeated COWRA MAGPIES 23 (Gordon, Glass, D Murray, Chilstone tries; D Murray 3 goals, A Murray field goal)

1997: Bathurst Penguins 12-9 Orange Hawks

Bathurst Penguins' supporters were facing a long afternoon at Wade Park after their under 18s and first division sides were defeated in the grand finals until the premier league upset of the season in extra-time brought them to their feet.

Penguins' first grade squad defied all odds to come away with a remarkable 12-9 victory over Orange Hawks, a win which will go down in the history books as one of the most fiercely contested season deciders.

With the scores locked at 8-all at the final whistle, it was impossible to pick which side would come through as 1997 champions. It took a strength-sapping extra 20 minutes to separate the teams.

A beaming Penguins captain-coach Dave Scott lifted the premiership trophy following the game, much to the delight of the red, black and white faithful.

1998: Blayney Bears 29-18 Lithgow Workmen's Club

Former Balmain centre James Grant was the toast of Blayney after scoring a hat-trick of tries in the Bears' 29-18 win over Lithgow Workmen's Club at King George Oval.

Grant's man-of-the-match performance, before a crowd that paid $15,704 at the gate, snuffed out Workies' hopes of becoming the first side to win the Group 10 premiership from fifth spot.

Ahead 18-0 after 19 minutes through two tries to Grant and lock Jamie Kelso, Blayney seemingly had the match in their keeping before Workies dug deep to reduce the deficit to 18-12 six minutes into the second half.

Halfback Steve Mooney added a field goal 10 minutes later to give the Bears a seven-point buffer before possibly the turning point of the match.

If Grant's try-scoring heroics were instrumental in the Bears' fourth premiership in nine seasons, so too was his tackle on runaway Magpie Michael Erickson.

Had Erickson scored, Workies would have closed within three with the kick to come.

At the time, the Workmen's Club were on a roll and looking dangerous against a Bears side seemingly still in hibernation.

"We said at half-time they'd never give up and we did it tough," Grant said post-game.

"We were very tired. It's very hard with the week-off."

1999: Orange Hawks 30-16 Blayney Bears

"This one's for you!"

They were the words the Orange Hawks' faithful had waited 45 years to hear as the club was finally able to celebrate a Group 10 premiership in a convincing 30-16 grand final victory over Blayney at King George Oval.

Not since 1955 - when Emmco, the club from which Hawks evolved, won its inaugural and only title - had Hawks fans tasted premiership glory. As soon as winger and man-of-the-match Wise Cutter crossed for his third try of the first half, it was evident the drought was finally coming to an end.

"To the winners and the people of Orange who have supported us for so long, through so many lean times, near misses, everything, this one's for you," Hawks captain-coach Paul Upfield declared amid a backdrop of emotional celebrations.

It was a deserved victory for Hawks, who had dominated the competition throughout the year before suffering their one and only defeat in a magnificent major semi-final clash with the Bears two weeks prior to the decider.

Cutter's third try on the stroke of half-time proved a telling blow as Hawks claimed a 16-10 lead at the break before producing a dominant second half display to shut the Bears out of the game.

ORANGE HAWKS (Cutter 3, Ekepati 2, Carrick tries; Corcoran 2, Manning goals) defeated BLAYNEY (Kaufusi, Gordon, heron tries; Kennedy, Longham goals)

The 1990s grand final results in summary:

  • 1990: Blayney Bears 29, Lithgow Workmen's Club 10
  • 1991: Lithgow Workmen's Club 22, Bathurst Penguins (replay, match originally finished in 16-all draw)
  • 1992: Cowra Magpies 16, Bathurst Penguins 6
  • 1993: Blayney Bears 54, Cowra Magpies 28
  • 1994: Bathurst Penguins 16, Blayney Bears 12 (after extra-time)
  • 1995: Cowra Magpies 19, Bathurst Penguins 16
  • 1996: Blayney Bears 34, Cowra Magpies 23
  • 1997: Bathurst Penguins 12, Orange Hawks 9 (after extra-time)
  • 1998: Blayney Bears 29, Lithgow Workmen's Club 18
  • 1999: Orange Hawks 30, Blayney Bears 16

The Western Advocate has been looking back at the classic and iconic rugby league grand finals in the region.

Next week is the 2000s, which saw the Mudgee Dragons claim four premierships and Bathurst Panthers and Lithgow Workmen's Club battle it out in three classic grand finals in as many years. 

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