The Golden Boot: The Missing Years – 1991

1991 is perhaps best known for the abdication of The King, Wally Lewis, the first-ever winner of the Golden Boot.

Richard de la Riviere looks at the stand out performers of 1991 to decide who would have made the Golden Boot shortlist that year.

1991 was the first year that Open Rugby’s Golden Boot wasn’t awarded since its inauguration. Australia captain Mal Meninga had picked up the award in early 1990 for his 1989 effort and it had been decided in the early stages of 1991 that Garry Schofield was to collect the award for his colossal Test match efforts in 1990. As we reported last month, backing for the Boot was withdrawn and Schofield wasn’t formally recognised as the winner – until now, that is. But there are still eight years to fill, and it is time to examine the players who could have come into contention for the game’s ultimate individual prize in 1991.

MANY British fans will remember the events from 1990 and 1992 that saw the Lions push the Australians so close in two Ashes series and a World Cup Final. But what of 1991? In truth, there isn’t much international action that sticks in the memory but, as ever, the domestic scene in both countries provided an abundance of highlights.

In England, Wigan cantered to another League and Cup double, sealing the title with an incredible unbeaten eight games in just 20 days. They then enjoyed the satisfaction of beating St Helens 13-8 in the Challenge Cup Final.

Yorkshire beat Lancashire 17-12 in the Rodstock War of the Roses. Warrington, inspired by Billy McGinty, won the Regal Trophy with a 12-2 win over Bradford while Hull FC, under the stewardship of Noel ‘Crusher’ Cleal, went on to win the Premiership Final at Old Trafford against Widnes. And later in the year, Wigan were crowned world champions at Liverpool FC’s Anfield with an easier-than-expected victory over the Penrith Panthers, with Kiwi international Frano Botica named man of the match.

Elsewhere, a future Golden Boot winner was beginning to make a name for himself. A 16-year-old called Andrew Farrell captained his England age group to victory over the French Cadets while his future teammates Barrie McDermott and Terry O’Connor toured New Zealand with the BARLA Young Lions. 1991 also saw Scarborough Pirates join the professional ranks with Len Casey coaching them, while Fulham and Ryedale York toured Russia, the London Monarchs American Football team signed Ellery Hanley in a huge publicity stunt (seemingly he was happy to talk to some sports journalists) and the professional game in England voted to move from two divisions to three.

In Australia, there was only one team on everyone’s lips. Having lost the 1990 decider to Canberra Raiders, Penrith stormed back to win the Minor Premiership by six points before going on to beat the Raiders 19-12 in the Grand Final. In the losing team, Brad Clyde won the Clive Churchill Medal as the game’s outstanding player but the Panthers had a number of top performers in their Premiership year, not least Greg Alexander, Mark Geyer, Brad Izzard and a young Brad Fittler, who began the year suffering the mother of all rollockings from coach Phil Gould for turning up to pre-season training overweight, unshaven and on a motorbike, clearly still in party mode from being a non-Test player on the 1990 Kangaroos Tour. Royce Simmons scored a matchwinning brace in the Grand Final, the final act of an excellent playing career, and declared his desire to have a beer with every single Panthers fan.

But 1991 is perhaps best known for the abdication of The King, Wally Lewis, the first-ever winner of the Golden Boot. Lewis, by now plying his trade with the Gold Coast after his fallout with Brisbane Broncos had dominated most of the 1990 headlines, called it a day, bowing out of his beloved State of Origin as a winner, leading Queensland to a nailbiting 2-1 series win over New South Wales. Each of the three games was won by only two points, with the Maroons clinging on for dear life at the end of the deciding game in Brisbane. It was their eighth success in just 12 years of Origin football.

With Great Britain only playing France and Papua New Guinea in 1991, it is likely that our retrospective Golden Boot winner will come from down under, especially with Australia and New Zealand producing such an absorbing Test series. But some British players will still look back to 20 years past with some fondness. Denis Betts, for instance, won the Lance Todd trophy after helping a patched-up Wigan side to Challenge Cup glory. He also picked up Open Rugby’s shortlived Ernest Ward Memorial Trophy as this country’s best international player and, along with Andy Platt, he was named in the official World XIII. Martin Offiah scored seven tries in two games against the French, while Garry Schofield scored in all three of Britain’s matches, with six tries in total and also picked up the Man of Steel, for his performances throughout the 1990-91 season.

While Lewis grabbed the headlines in Australia for more Origin exploits, his international exit was far from kind. He was dumped unceremoniously from the Australia team after a shock 24-8 first-Test defeat at the hands of New Zealand, with three-quarters Jarrod McCracken and Richie Blackmore excelling and Clayton Friend scoring a breathtaking try after coming off the substitutes’ bench. But with Peter Jackson filling Lewis’s boots in the second and third Tests, Australia clinched the series with thumping 44-0 and 40-12 wins. As the scorelines suggest, Australia were far too good all over the park in both games with numerous players hitting top form.

The contenders (in alphabetical order)

Denis Betts
Denis Betts

Denis Betts

The young Wigan second-rower enjoyed a stellar year in 1991, winning the Lance Todd Trophy with a magnificent display in a low-scoring Challenge Cup Final as Wigan defeated local rivals St Helens under the Twin Towers. He also scored 19 tries for his club, a highly credible figure for a forward and played in all five of Wigan’s final league matches in just nine crazy days. He went on to be crowned the winner of the Ernest Ward Memorial Trophy which was awarded by Open Rugby magazine to the best British Test player of the year and the World XIII panel voted him the best second-rower in the game.

Bradley Clyde
Bradley Clyde

Bradley Clyde

Clyde was the epitomy of the all-action loose forward who excelled in every facet of the game. He enjoyed an excellent 1991, coming up with crucial plays on a number of occasions. Clyde scored twice in Australia’s winning series against New Zealand and scored a further three tries on the Kangaroos’ tour of Papua New Guinea. At the back end of the Winfield Cup campaign, he set up a crucial try for Mal Meninga in victory over Norths that took them to the Grand Final, and also scored himself. He went on to set up Matthew Wood’s second try in the decider with an excellent burst and pass, a contribution which helped him win the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the field, although he couldn’t prevent a Raiders loss.

Laurie Daley
Laurie Daley

Laurie Daley

Daley enjoyed a magnificent 1991, polling more World XIII votes than any other player, easily winning the stand-off slot over Garry Schofield and coming fourth in the centres category. His Canberra form was excellent throughout the year but he excelled on the representative scene. He scored a fantastic last-minute try in the first State of Origin match when he kicked the ball to one side of Michael Hancock before running around the other side to score. He also scored three times in the last two Tests for Australia against New Zealand as the green and golds overcame a first-Test loss to win the series in style.

Andrew Ettingshausen
Andrew Ettingshausen

Andrew Ettingshausen

Ettingshausen almost caused the World XIII organisers a huge headache in 1991 by polling so many votes that he nearly made the team twice! He pipped Queensland’s Gary Belcher to be crowned the world’s best fullback and only lost out to New Zealand’s Jarrod McCracken by 30 votes to 29 in the race to take the second centre spot alongside Mal Meninga. ET showed his class throughout the season, scoring an explosive try to open the scoring in the City v Country before adding another later in the half as his City side prevailed 22-12. He played a key role in Australia’s Test series comeback against New Zealand with, in particular, a sparkling display in the deciding Test which saw him score a try in Australia’s 40-12 win.

Mark Geyer
Mark Geyer

Mark Geyer

The most famous moment of Geyer’s career came in 1991, and it wasn’t him setting up Royce Simmons’ Premiership clinching try in the closing stages of the Grand Final. It came in State of Origin Two as he was involved in a number of skirmishes with the Maroons including a memorable piece of argy-bargy with Wally Lewis – one of Origin’s most defining images. But aside from his physicality, Geyer was an excellent runner and offloader of the ball and more than played his part for club, state and country in 1991, the finest year of his career. He was deservedly chosen in the World XIII.

Steve Walters
Steve Walters

Steve Walters

The eldest of the trio of Walters brothers was a brilliant hooker who for many years reigned supreme as the finest number nine in the world of Rugby League. In 1991, he excelled at all levels, helping Canberra to their fourth Grand Final in five years, winning the State of Origin series with Queensland, picking up the official Man of the Match award in game two in the process, and he scored a couple of Test tries for Australia against New Zealand. He was voted into the World XIII with ease, beating off the challenge from his younger brother Kerrod.

Summary of 1991:

International Rugby League:
France 10-54 Great Britain
Great Britain 60-4 France
New Zealand 60-0 France
New Zealand 32-10 France
Australia 8-24 New Zealand
Australia 44-0 New Zealand
Australia 40-12 New Zealand
Papua New Guinea 2-58 Australia
Papua New Guinea 6-40 Australia
Wales 68-0 Papua New Guinea
Great Britain 56-4 Papua New Guinea
France 28-14 Papua New Guinea

Other Representative Rugby League:

State of Origin:

Game 1: Queensland 6-4 New South Wales
Game 2: New South Wales 14-12 Queensland
Game 3: Queensland 14-12 New South Wales

War of the Roses:
Yorkshire 17-12 Lancashire

Club Rugby League:

Stones Bitter Championship: 1st Wigan, 2nd Widnes, 3rd Hull
World Club Challenge – Wigan 21-4 Penrith Panthers
Challenge Cup Final: Wigan 13-8 St Helens
Regal Trophy Final: Warrington 12-2 Bradford
Premiership Final: Hull 14-4 Widnes
Winfied Cup Grand Final: Penrith Panthers 19-12 Canberra Raiders

Individual Awards:

Rothmans Medal: Ewan McGrady
Dally M Medal: Mick Potter
Clive Churchill Medal: Bradley Clyde
Man of Steel: Garry Schofield
Lance Todd Trophy: Denis Betts

The World XIII:

1 Andrew Ettingshausen (Australia)
2 Willie Carne (Australia)
3 Mal Meninga (Australia)
4 Jarrod McCracken (New Zealand)
5 Rod Wishart (Australia)
6 Laurie Daley (Australia)
7 Allan Langer (Australia)
8 Martin Bella (Australia)
9 Steve Walters (Australia)
10 Andy Platt (Australia)
11 Denis Betts (Great Britain)
12 Mark Geyer (Australia)
13 Bradley Clyde (Australia)