The nineties were famous for Pokemon and Nintendo 64. We saw a victory in the 20s as the decade opened its door. The Fuller years were filled with hope but the start of a spell, As 95 was the final year that the Club drank from the well.
The permed hair and moustaches that adorned the players of the 80 s had finally disappeared. John Macdonald s first grade squad pushed forward in an effort to repeat the grand final heroics of 1987. A pre-season premiership win in 1990 bode well for a strong season, but they were unable to maintain the momentum.
A younger generation of footballers was coming through the ranks and the 1991 under 20 s team, coached mutually by Peter Worth and Steve Macdonald, were runaway winners in the grand final, defeating Souths 41-14. Although it wasn t a first grade premiership, the club celebrated in true style with life members and manager-statisticians extraordinaire, Doug Vetter, Joe Jones and renowned life member Dr Rod Ward partying on with the team on the mound at the University oval for at least three days before they were asked to leave by University administration, who initially thought it was O Week in September .
The 1991 under 20 premiership team included a raw boned young prop by the name of John Fuller. Studying Economics at JCU, Fuller gave out an air of intelligence which belied his front row position in the scrum. John spent more time playing for UNI then he did at Primary and Secondary school combined assuming you only count one of his five Grade 3 attempts. 1990-2003 were the Fuller Years at UNI which included: Player, Captain, Coach, Captain Coach, Under 20 Premiership, A Grade Premiership, two time Club Player of the Year and two TDRL Medals in 95 & 96 say no more.
By 1993 Russ Cook had finally recovered from the claustrophobic trauma he suffered from his 80km car boot ride and took over the club presidency. He welcomed in the first player/coach in many years. A Burdekin born and bred, Chris Perry. Once again UNI had the nucleus of a strong A grade team in Worth, Fuller, Macdonald and Holmes. It wasn t to be however as the side failed at the last hurdle against Charters Towers in the decider. The reserve grade team coached by Mario La Fauci suffered a similar fate.
Another player/coach in Troy Logan, was recruited for the 1994 & 1995 seasons under the presidency of Greg Eastment and Ross Jessop. Once again UNI made the A Grade final in 1994 by defeating a Brothers team full of Townsville representatives, 16-10 in a brutal clash. It was a Saturday night game at the Townsville Sports Reserve where University withstood raid after raid by the Brethren to hold on and qualify for the grand final. The final however, was another disappointment as the Saints again went down to a more committed Miners outfit.
More strong player recruitment in1995 saw the arrival of Graeme Huddleston and Michael Howard from the Hunter Valley who went on to represent NQ that year and Aaron Radeck was finally convinced to follow in his father s footsteps and join the Saints. 1995 was also the NQ Cowboys NRL debut year and they brought a lot of new recruits to the town and often loaned them out to the various district clubs. One such player who was sent to Uni Oval for training was Chris Murray.
After waiting eight years since the last A Grade premiership and enduring successive heart breaking grand final losses, the 1995 final was a one sided affair. UNI piled on the points early to exact revenge on Charters Towers for their previous years losses. The 34-10 victory came courtesy of a powerful forward pack including Fuller, Radeck, Macdonald, Huddleston & Monaghan and they paved the way for the likes of Murray, Crooks and Nelliman to score a bucket load of points.
Premierships are a wonderful part of history, but in the modern, professional game, always come at a price. Despite the victory in 1995 the following year saw a mass exodus of players. Some returning to their home districts and others moving on to other Clubs as UNI could not match the offers they were receiving. The depth was tested and so was the club s resolve.
The squad that battled the 1996 season was vastly different to the one that swept to victory over Charters Towers the previous year. The first round saw the students winless and wondering where 2 points might come from. But, they never wondered where the next drink would come from. Off the field it was business as usual as the club s famous spirit and determination to have fun was never dented by winless adversity.
Race Days were held and humans other than jockeys ended up hurtling towards the finishing post. The RSPCA was called after a savage pigeon beheading by a prop forward on crutches during mad Monday celebrations. Games played out of town were followed by, $10 all you can drink bus trips and there were nights when despite heavy losses to the likes of Ingham and Charters Towers, the players on the bus wished they were coming back from Mt Isa. The magic pudding of grog never seemed to run dry and the deeds of each player soared along with the alcohol intake. Mid 90s Captain, John Fuller once stopped the self congratulations in mid stride on one of these trips to pose the question (that was never answered) Well if you played well and he had a blinder and so did the fullback, how come we lost by 40?
XXXX Beer Top trivia, was many a UNI playing student s study regime during the late 90s and Fridays never meant the end of the week, but the start of the party. The Seaview hosted the raffles where appropriately clad hostesses would inappropriately demonstrate why ice will melt and water will boil. This was all part of the mighty Saints experience.
It was no fluke that the start of the 90s party coincided with the arrival at the club of Dan Keenan. His perpetual playing style was matched by his propensity for late night post mortems. The beauty of being involved with a club full of academics was the battle of wits that often took place. Dan enjoyed those battles as much as he did the 80 minute ones of the field. It was a difficult conversation to join late, and loaded, when it involved the likes of, Keenan, Fuller, Murray, Jason Griffin, Jon Larrazabal, Chris Mitchell, Brendan Dolan and the White Bison Andy Collyer. You did well to just nod and laugh.
At the end of the 90s the committee was focusing on debt consolidation, the phrase that sent shivers up the spine of any A grade coach, so it was fitting that the A Grade coaches were part of the committee. Life members, Peter Worth and Mario La Fauci were appointed to do what they could with the little budget offered. They often shook their heads, but only at the score line, never at the effort given by the players.
What they never lacked was physical and emotion support. Doug Vetter and Joe Jones were ever present and no one drank out of Doug s water bottle more than once. Although a quick swig could often substitute for a warm up as it sent blood coursing through the veins. Tits was the fitness trainer, Herman was the general dogs body and RTW (Rodney Thomas Ward), was always there to provide financial support and sagacious advice.
On field success was limited in the late 90s, but the club had a unique mix of players from diverse backgrounds that loved playing rugby league and understood there was more to the game then simply the 80 minutes on the park. Competition was strong off the field as well, particularly in the annual UNI Rugby League Golf Day. The UNI Golf Day had a unique scoring system whereby each hole attracted extra points, depending on the manner in which it had been designated to be played. Only use one club for the entire hole; Happy Gilmour driving technique; and pool cue putting, were only some of the hole allocations.
However, the hole that attracted the most extra points was, the Nude Hole, where massive points could be gained if the whole team was prepared to go the FULL monty from tee to green. Inevitably, the Golf Days were always won by Worthy, Mario and Tav. For these old heads, the feel of the wind blowing through their pair was too much for them to resist and they were the only team prepared to take the pants drop on the fifteenth. A lot of FOR SALE signs went up in the adjacent estates as a result.
The only thing John Fuller hadn t done at the club was coach, so, inevitably he took over the reins in 1999 and the team narrowly missed out on the finals.
As the sun set on the 90s, the shadow of the Sydney Olympics loomed large and as a new millennium approached, the club s administrative baton was about to be passed.