The Raiders 1994 Grand Final triumph over the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, in which the Green Machine defeated the Minor Premiers 36-12 to send legendary captain Mal Meninga out a winner, will go down as one of the proudest moments in the club’s rich history.
To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Grand Final, the Raiders have invited all members of both sides to a dinner this Friday for the Round 15 match against the Bulldogs at GIO Stadium Canberra.
In the lead up to the clash, Raiders media caught up with players, members and historians from that era to re-tell their memories from that fine day.
You only have to look through the Raiders record books to comprehend the indelible mark that the great Jason Croker had on the club; 318 games for the club, the most by any player, 120 tries, again the most by any player and the record holder for most tries in a season with 22.
The last of those esteemed records was set in the year this article is attempting to celebrate – 1994.
After debuting as a prodigiously talented 18 year old in 1991, Croker was at the peak of his powers in 1994 enjoying arguably his best ever season alongside a host of players who would go onto be legendary figures in the game.
Croker was able to break into Canberra’s almost impenetrable line-up through his terrific utility value however in 1994 he was able to snare a starting position in the second row, forming a brilliant back-row alongside Clive Churchill Medal winner David Furner and lock Bradley Clyde.
By the end of the season, after being amongst Canberra’s best in all 26 matches for the year, Croker had made the position his and would hold onto a starting back-row position until his retirement in 2006.
Throughout a glittering career across all levels of the game, the 1994 Grand Final remains as one of Croker’s most cherished memories.
“I was lucky enough to play for Australia and New South Wales throughout my career but winning that 1994 Grand Final in Mal Meninga’s last game for the Raiders is a memory that I will always hold close to my heart,” Croker said gleaming with lime green pride.
“Mal had announced earlier in the season that he would retire after the 1994 Kangaroo tour and sending Mal out a winner for the Raiders was something that we all talked about and were motivated to do. As a young guy coming through the grades, Mal was a great mentor for me and I was passionate to give it my all so that he went out on top, which was where he belonged.”
Croker was too young to be a part of the club’s previous two Grand Final wins in 1989 and 1990 but despite this lack of experience, the Crookwell junior was confident of sending Meninga out a winner due to the vast amount of talent and big match experience within the team.
“We were confident all year because of the great players in our team and the smart coach we had in Tim Sheens. Even though we lost the Major Semi-Final to the Bulldogs we still headed into the Grand Final with confidence, especially after smashing Norths in the Preliminary Final. We knew that we had the side to beat the Bulldogs and the win over the Bears gave us a nice injection of confidence leading into the big one.”
That confidence went up another level from the opening kick-off in a painfully memorable moment for a one certain Bulldogs front-rower.
“The match couldn’t have started any better for us with big Martin Bella dropping the ball from the kick-off and big Ozzie [Paul Osborne] making the most of his opportunity after coming into the team for the suspended John Lomax and setting up our first two tries.
“From there we never looked like losing.”
While Croker was thrilled to see Meninga sent out a winner, he has ‘mixed emotions’ in regards to his unforgettable intercept try late in the game.
“Seeing Mal score the final try was something that I will always remember. I’m still a bit dirty on him actually because I could’ve bagged a double if he had passed to me in support – that could have got me a spot on the Roos tour!” Croker laughed.
Despite breaking into the NSW team in 1993 and representing Country in 1994, coupled with his brilliant season for the Raiders, Croker strangely missed out on selection for the Australian squad at the end of the year.
One thing that can never be taken away from him though is his 1994 premiership ring.
These days Croker is a Director at Emplace PTY LTD, a Canberra based Construction Company and is thoroughly excited to catch up with some familiar faces on Friday night.
“It will be great to catch up with everyone at the 1994 reunion dinner. We won’t give the Bulldogs boys too much of a hard time but there will definitely be a few friendly sledges here or there.”