A grand final week drinking session hurt Penrith's 1990 grand final aspirations.
A grand final week drinking session hurt Penrith's 1990 grand final aspirations.

Drinking session that cost Penrith grand final glory

For many young men it must have been like discovering Aladdin's Cave, the full-strength version.

It was a Wednesday night in 1990 and the Penrith Panthers, now qualified for their first grand final in the club's 33-year history, were checked in at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney where the following morning's grand final breakfast was being held.

It was the big event on the calendar at the time, aside from Sunday's decider. Some recollect it was the only event.

Coach Phil Gould told the Panthers to have a couple of beers and relax.

 

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Penrith’s John Cartwright runs at Canberra centre Mal Meninga during the 1990 grand final.
Penrith’s John Cartwright runs at Canberra centre Mal Meninga during the 1990 grand final.

 

Once checked in the players opened their bar fridges and found them fully stocked with bottles of bourbon and scotch and rum that looked just like the real thing, only miniature.

They were excited. They were Penrith boys not only having a night out in the city but a free night out in a flash hotel, and now they found their fridges stacked with free alcohol.

For the young men from Penrith you couldn't wish for much more.

They gathered in a room and began working through the miniature bottles with a certain recklessness, then it went up a notch.

"About 10 of us started ordering Dom Pérignon and seafood because we'd never seen thousand dollar bottles of champagne before," says Mark Geyer.

"It was our first time in the city."

Soon they got a tip Gould was onto them and was coming along to check.

Then they heard it.

A faraway knock on the door.

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Phil Gould consoles Brad Fittler.
Phil Gould consoles Brad Fittler.

 

Mark Geyer in tears after the loss.
Mark Geyer in tears after the loss.

 

Gould walked along the corridor knocking on empty doors until he found the door that hid the players, by now delightfully drunk, and the telltale giveaway when he knocked on the door were the light giggles and an avalanche of shushes.

Finally someone opened the door and Gould strode in.

"Congratulations boys," he said, looking around, "you've just lost the grand final."

The Mountain Man has evolved since then.

Back then players worked and trained Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. A basic requirement was players brought their going-out gear, on coathangers, to training Thursday nights so they could hit the nightclub later for dollar drinks night afterwards.

In between the Panthers' second grand final team, the 2003 version, emerged much like this team, from the middle of the pack, and went on a run that took them to the minor premiership and then the premiership.

 

The victorious 2003 Panthers grand final team. Picture: Gregg Porteous
The victorious 2003 Panthers grand final team. Picture: Gregg Porteous

 

In many ways they were still the ways of the old west then. Craig Gower led that team with the likes of Scott Sattler and Ryan Girdler while coming through were the likes of the eager and the impressionable, the likes of Luke Lewis and Luke Rooney.

After the grand final they took a young James Hooper on the bus back to Panthers Leagues Club for a first-person piece and he went missing for 24 hours. There have been unconfirmed reports of what happened, although I can't verify any more than pulling him out of the Peachtree Inn soon after he fell sometime the following afternoon.

Gower still had another day in him.

This week, the current mob have spoken about their "vulnerability sessions", which might be about the most awkward pieces of commentary offered by young men of any age.

All stories were deeply personal, young men sharing their histories and troubles, some of which they had hardly shared with anyone.

 

Penrith are back within touching distance of another premiership. Picture: Brett Costello
Penrith are back within touching distance of another premiership. Picture: Brett Costello

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But here was the modern age.

In a sign of the growth in the team, each responded and in their stories they found a struggle and a bond.

The evolution of the mountain man.

On first look Penrith has come a long way but, soon, you realise they haven't really come that far at all.

This mob still has the Penrith DNA.

They came out of clubs like St Marys and St Clair Comets and Brothers, Minchinbury Jets and Windsor Wolves. Local clubs sprinkled through the Penrith players' biographies any number of times.

A homegrown club with homegrown stars.

Originally published as Drinking session that cost Penrith grand final glory


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