On February 16, 2002, Laurie Daley teamed up with his hometown's Junee Diesels to take on his old side, the Canberra Raiders.
Here's how The Daily Advertiser and The Southern Cross reported the drawcard match in February 2002.
CHAMPION Canberra five-eighth Laurie Daley will seriously consider turning his cameo appearance with Junee at the weekend into a full-scale rugby league comeback.
In front of thousands of local football fans, including family and long-time friends, Daley produced a majestic performance as his home town team was crushed 64-6 by Canberra at Willow Park on Saturday.
Looking remarkably fit after 18 months away from league, the 32-year-old also showed his football powers had not been dimmed by the lengthy break.
Running and passing like he used to in his prime, the former Test and State of Origin hero several times made mince-meat of the Raiders’ supposedly finest.
By the end of the game, Canberra chief executive Kevin Neil had seen more than enough.
Almost rubbing his hands with anticipation, Neil said Daley was on the Raiders’ most wanted list.
“Wow,” Neil enthused.
“He’s lost absolutely nothing.
“I can tell you I won’t be wasting any time. I’ll be talking to him as soon as I can.”
Daley played more than 200 games for Canberra in a glittering career and Neil believes he can add more to the record this year.
“Why not?” said Neil as he watched as Daley was mobbed by hundreds of autograph seekers on the lush grass in the centre Willow Park.
“He’s too good not to be playing the game.”
For Daley, the chances of reviving his career in the coming months remains a far off, but nonetheless realistic prospect.
“I’d probably think about it,” said Junee’s best ever football export.
“What with my work and other commitments there’s a lot to consider. I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve got itchy feet.”
Away from the football paddock, Daley has quickly built a hugely rewarding life in the media and will head a television commentary team on National Rugby League games this year.
While a lucrative comeback with the Raiders will be discussed in the next few days, Daley also intends to play more games with Junee.
However, he has ruled out playing for the Diesels in the Group Nine premiership in 2002.
To cap a sensational promotion, which drew more than 2000 people and a $12,000-plus gate on Saturday night, Daley said he wanted to keep it going.
“Maybe we can make it a yearly occurrence,” he said.
“This was fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of it.
“The response from everyone was great.
“I want to say well done Junee.”
The retired superstar led the Diesels’ players around the ground to applaud the fans and his teammates responded by lifting him on to their shoulders in a marvellous gesture.
THE LAURIE Daley show was everything it should have been – and more – at Willow Park on Saturday night.
True to the return of a national celebrity to his boyhood home, Daley’s rugby league comeback for Junee was given mass media coverage by three television stations, including Sky TV in New Zealand.
Throw in four newspaper photographers and Daley’s every move was caught in digital brilliance to be splashed across the sports pages in Sydney, Canberra and the Riverina.
It was an event worth of saturation coverage and the 32-year-old champion made sure he let no-one down.
Barely two and half minutes into the game the Diesels’ number six got his first touch of the football – and went within a whisker of setting up a try.
In trademark style, Daley out manoeuvred the Raiders’ defence with a jink and change of pace.
Combined with a perfect pass it was enough to send halfback Steve Lawson bolting to the tryline, only to be caught perilously short.
Like several other Diesels, Lawson will count himself lucky to have been on the receiving end of a magic Daley pass.
As Raiders’ chief executive Kevin Neil said later Daley stamped his mark on the game from start to finish.
“Laurie probably did five of the best six things in the game,” Neil said.
“Now that’s not bad for a bloke who hasn’t played for 18 months.”
Given a hero’s welcome by the crowd, Daley led the Diesels out knowing they were meat to the slaughter.
Without his efforts – three try-saving tackles at least – the score would have been much worse than a 64-6 loss to Canberra.
Admittedly, Daley was a winner in the end.
A deal stitched up early in the last quarter allowed Daley to play the last 10 minutes for the Raiders.
Moments after setting up Junee’s lone try for Damien Willis with a beautifully weighted grubber kick from 30 metres out, Daley pulled off his Diesels’ jumper to become number 18 for the Raiders.
And nothing much changed.
Ninety seconds before the end Daley threw a lovely short pass for Raiders’ hooker Alan Tongue to score the last of their 12 tries.
Later Daley gave his home-town team a decent pat on the back.
“Well done Junee,” he told the players.
“You can hold your heads up.”
Canberra had too much size and class for the Diesels, who needed another five or six Daleys.
Junee held the Raiders’ attack for 10 minutes, but trailed 18-0 at the first break.
Four tries in the second quarter pushed the lead to 40-0 and it was 44-0 by 45 seconds into the third term after halfback Brett Finch put speedster Odell Manuel.
By this time the ground rules altered and Canberra kicked off to Junee after each try and the Diesels used an extra man.
Coming out at 52-0 for the final term, Junee gave as good as they got to hold the Raiders to 12-6 for the last 20 minutes.
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