1992 is the year the the British were agonisingly pipped on not one, but two stages by the green and golds of Australia.
In what was a spectacular year of international Rugby League, Richard de la Riviere picks out the leading contenders for the Golden Boot.
IT was the year that Great Britain stunned the Australians in Melbourne, the year that Martin Offiah ran in ten tries against Leeds, the year the Brisbane Broncos finally came of age and the year Billy McGinty ensured that the Prime Minister would never again eat a pineapple ring. 1992 was a magnificent year for Rugby League, both internationally and domestically, and our task is to judge who was the finest player in the world back then as we continue to fill in the Golden Boot’s missing years.
After Great Britain’s agonising 10-6 defeat at the hands of Australia in the 1992 World Cup Final, Harry Edgar, the editor of Open Rugby, this magazine’s predecessor, wrote that “With coach Malcolm Reilly at the helm, the British team has caught up admirably with the Australians at Test level,” before acknowledging the “level of excellence set by the players who have worn the Great Britain colours with such distinction” since 1988.
If 1990 is remembered for the Old Trafford heartbreak when Mal Meninga’s controversial last-minute try kept alive hopes of an Australian series win in the tightest Ashes series in 20 years, then 1992 is the year the the British were agonisingly pipped on not one, but two stages by the green and golds, and to get to that level there had to be an abundance of high-quality performers.
First came the Ashes at the end of the British domestic season. After Australia won the opener in Sydney by a flattering 22-6 after the visitors had dominated the first 25 minutes, Garry Schofield led his side to an astonishing 33-10 win in Melbourne to level the series at 1-1. But, not untypically, Australia edged the decider in Brisbane 16-10, in a game that they won more easily than the scoreline suggests. But when Britain led 6-4 in the closing stages of the World Cup Final, played at Wembley in front of 73,631 people, it appeared that revenge was well and truly on the cards. The hosts, however, paid the price for Shaun Edwards’ sin-binning and when Alan Hunte conceded possession on his own ’20’ and substitute Kevin Walters found a hitherto quiet Steve Renouf outwide, the game was up. Between 1972 and now, the two countries have never been as closely matched, and that wasn’t down to a poor Australian side – they had a galaxy of world-class players to select from.
There was plenty of other international action in 1992 too – Great Britain and the Kiwis tied a two-match series in New Zealand, the French were involved in five matches while Wales hosted two games that each boasted crowds of over 10,000. And Russia played three Tests, beating South Africa in two of them.
Domestically, Brisbane and Wigan stole most of the headlines. The Broncos won their maiden Australian Premiership with captain Allan Langer the stand-out player in the Grand Final win over St George while in England, no-one came close to Martin Offiah for headline grabbing. He began the year by finally completing his protracted £440,000 move from Widnes to Wigan and months later he picked up the Lance Todd Trophy as his two tries helped his side to Challenge Cup glory over Castleford. He also bagged all four tries in the final of the World Sevens in Australia as Wigan beat Brisbane 18-6 in the decider of a competition played in monsoon-like conditions. Wigan also beat Cronulla, Penrith and Manly along the way. But the Broncos gained spectacular revenge by winning the World Club Challenge 22-8 at Central Park just days after the World Cup Final with Terry Matterson, the classy loose forward, voted by journalists the game’s best player. Elsewhere, Widnes won the Regal Trophy with a resounding 24-0 win over Leeds with Cumbrian Les Holliday in great form for the Chemics. Dean Bell won the Man of Steel, but unfortunately for the Kiwis, he had long since retired from representative football. Another Kiwi, Gary Freeman, scooped the Dally M down under for his excellent form for Eastern Suburbs, while Australia scrum-half, Allan Langer, won the Rothmans Medal, which was still recognised as the highest honour.
In State of Origin, New South Wales took advantage of a Queensland side that for the first time wasn’t inspired by the great Wally Lewis. They won the series by taking out the deciding game by 12 points, winning 16-4 with Ricky Stuart winning the official man of the match. For the Maroons, Langer had been the hero of game two, kicking the winning point in a gripping 5-4 victory.
1992 also saw Gary Hetherington, then the boss at Sheffield Eagles, call for summer rugby, veteran prop Jeff Grayshon was awarded the MBE, Sky Sports launched it’s Boots ‘n’ All magazine show and the British heavyweight boxer Gary Mason trialled at London Crusaders, scoring with his first touch in an Alliance Cup match against Sheffield. And Great Britain legend and World Cup winner Paul Charlton created some unlikely headlines by turning out for Carlisle Border Raiders’ Alliance team at the grand old age of 50! But in Australia, there was sad news as Penrith’s Ben Alexander, younger brother of club legend Greg, was killed in a road accident. The club endured a nightmare defence of the Premiership they had won so famously in 1991, and it took them a long time to recover from Alexander’s tragedy.
Unlike the year before, however, 1992 is best remembered for what happened on the international scene and all of the six Golden Boot contenders took part in those four titanic tussles between Australia and Great Britain.
The contenders (in alphabetical order)
The Canberra loose forwarded cemented his reputation as one of the best forwards of the modern era in 1992 by producing another outstanding season of football. He won the Harry Sunderland award as the man of the series as Australia won a vintage Ashes series against the best Great Britain side in 20 years and he produced a typically solid performance in the World Cup Final before he was forced from the field with a shoulder injury. Journalists worldwide voted him as the game’s finest loose forward in 1992 as his 38 votes saw off competition from Great Britain’s Phil Clarke (30) and New Zealand’s Tawera Nikau (28).
Langer enjoyed a magnificent 1992 in captaining Brisbane Broncos to, firstly, the Minor Premiership of the Winfield Cup and then to the club’s first-ever Grand Final win as his man-of-the-match, two-try performance helped see of St George. His individual performances saw him win the coveted Rothmans Medal while he also played in the World Club Challenge win in Wigan, Australia’s victorious Ashes series over Great Britain and in the World Cup final. In State of Origin, he couldn’t prevent Queensland losing the series to the Blues, but he provided the matchwinning moment in game two with the winning drop goal.
The big forward was in the prime of his career in 1992 and was the cornerstone of a superb Brisbane Broncos team that were crowned champions of Australia and of the world in a glorious 1992. He more than played his part in Australia regaining the Ashes before going on to enjoy a fabulous World Cup Final when he made five tackle busts and over 100 metres in what was a very defensive game of Rugby League. And unlike most of his Broncos teammates, he enjoyed success at state level, starting in each Origin match as his Blues side won the series 2-1. He was voted the finest prop in the game in the World XIII voting, beating Great Britain’s Andy Platt and New Zealand’s Brent Todd to the honour.
Comfortably voted the best centre in the world and came up with the key plays to deny Great Britain in Australia’s first and third Test victories. He was magnificent in the first game, scoring two tries, each of which he finished off a move that he had begun, proving far too strong for Garry Schofield and Lee Crooks in the first instance before combining with Brad Clyde and storming through Graham Steadman for his match-clinching second. His try in Brisbane decided both match and series as he went through Denis Betts and Shaun Edwards in typically blockbusting fashion. He ended the year lifting the World Cup at Wembley Stadium after another excellent performance with ball in hand.
Offiah’s individual feats in 1992 were absolutely stunning. After becoming the world’s most expensive player at the start of the year, he ran in try after try for Wigan after his move from Widnes. He was described by Prime Minister, John Major, as being ‘faster than a camera shutter’ after his two tries against Castleford secured him the Lance Todd Trophy. He scored an incredible ten tries as hapless Leeds were thrashed in the Premiership semi-final and he wowed Australia with all four of Wigan’s tries as they won the World Sevens against Brisbane. Rugby League, in either hemisphere, hadn’t seen a finisher like this for years.
In an era when world-class stand-offs were aplenty, Schofield once again secured a spot in the World XIII beating off stiff competition from Laurie Daley, Kevin Walters, Brad Fittler and Terry Lamb. It is also testimony to his club form that he was named as Great Britain’s number six despite Shaun Edwards enjoying a wonderful domestic year for Wigan in that position. Schofield enjoyed his finest hour in mesmerising the Australians on that unforgettable night in Melbourne as his side kept the Ashes alive, and he reproduced that form a few weeks later in securing a series draw for the Lions in Britain’s 19-16 win in Auckland against New Zealand.
Summary of 1992:
International Rugby League:
France 12-30 Great Britain
Great Britain 36-0 France
Wales 35-6 France
Papua New Guinea 14-20 Great Britain
Australia 22-6 Great Britain
Australia 10-33 Great Britain
Australia 16-10 Great Britain
New Zealand 66-10 Papua New Guinea
New Zealand 15-14 Great Britain
Australia 36-14 Papua New Guinea
New Zealand16-19 Great Britain
France 38-4 Russia
South Africa 26-30 Russia
South Africa 22-19 Russia
Wales 11-36 England
France 18-19 Wales
WORLD CUP FINAL
Great Britain 6-10 Australia
Other Representative Rugby League:
State of Origin:
New South Wales 14-6 Queensland
Queensland 5-4 New South Wales
New South Wales 16-4 Queensland
Domestic Rugby League:
Stones Bitter Championship: 1st Wigan 2nd St Helens 3rd Castleford
World Club Challenge – Wigan 8-22 Brisbane Broncos
Challenge Cup Final: Wigan 28-12 Castleford
Regal Trophy Final: Widnes 24-0 Leeds
Premiership Final: Wigan 48-16 St Helens
Winfied Cup Grand Final: Brisbane Broncos 28 St George 8
Rothmans Medal: Allan Langer
Dally M Medal: Gary Freeman
Clive Churchill Medal: Allan Langer
Man of Steel: Dean Bell
Lance Todd Trophy: Martin Offiah
The World XIII:
1. Garry Jack (Australia)
2. Michael Hancock (Australia)
3. Mal Meninga (Australia)
4. Dean Bell (New Zealand)
5. Martin Offiah (Great Britain)
6. Garry Schofield (Great Britain)
7. Allan Langer (Australia)
8. Glenn Lazarus (Australia)
9. Steve Walters (Australia)
10. Andy Platt (Great Britain)
11. Bob Lindner (Australia)
12. Paul Sironen (Australia)
13. Bradley Clyde (Australia