Getting to the heart of the matter with the seconds

Longevity and loyalty. Priceless virtues, they are the cornerstone of bush footy. And if you really want to see the type of bloke that lives and breathes country rugby league, the character that epitomizes the game’s ethos, just get to the ground early and check out the reserve graders – the ‘reggies’ – go round.

The Mullumbimby Giants (blue and yellow) opened their Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League season today (April 15)  with a home game against the Ballina Seagulls (sky blue, black and white).

The side is made up of grizzly warhorses who have seen the glory days of A-grade but still can’t think of a more fun way to spend a Sunday arvo than lacing up the boots and busting their guts in the local league comp. They’re joined by the bright-eyed and bushy tailed brigade who have graduated from the Under 18s and, just last summer, started shaving.

Captain is lock forward Scott  ‘Scoot’ ‘ Hogan. Hero of the 2007 seniors’ grand-final victory, Scoot was for a time last century on the books at Parramatta and, even now, he can still throw the sweetest pass in the comp. His leading light in the backs is centre Glen Godbee, another who has experienced the high life of professional footy, plying his trade in both Sydney and darkest Yorkshire. At his peak, with ball in hand, his skills were silken. The third player in the trinity of veterans is the rangy prop, Adam ‘No-knees’ McKenzie. In his fiery youth, Macka would rather have had a fight than a feed and, though more temperate in the autumn of his battle-scarred career, he’s still a handy number-eight to have around when the blow-torch is being applied.

With legs held together by strapping and lungs full of new-season oxygen, big Macka is prominent as the Giants race away to a 22-6 lead.

But he is sucking in the deep ones as the clock reminds him of the passing years. Then Scoot is hurt after tackling the Seagull’s raw-boned second-rower. He’s done his ribs and stays down for the count.

‘Can we get a stretcher on the field please?’ The ground announcer says it almost as an after thought.  A couple of trainers emerge from the sheds with it, but Scoot’s too proud to leave the fray on his back. His assisted walk to the sideline is agonizing to watch.  The Seagulls, as well as his own teammates, clap respectfully before resuming hostilities. .

With Scoot’s departure, the Giants’ attack has lost its fluency and sense of direction. The visitors, thanks to a jinking ten-metre run from the greying prop who is the dead spit of Ronnie Barker as Norman Fletcher, have clawed their way back to 22-18.

The Mullum faithful in the outer are getting agitated.

‘What about the off-side, sir!’ becomes a constant cry. But the ref, who was blowing the pea out of the whistle in the first half, has turned a blind eye to the Seagulls’ repeated, blatant and downright un-Australian indiscretions.

Outrage boils over when the old lag Fletcher, cock a hoop after scoring his first try since Jesus was playing half-back for Jerusalem, gives Mullum’s teenage five-eighth a face-full of his forearm. The linesman is not more than two metres from the callous attack on the kid, but he takes no action.

‘Are you blind, touchie!’ is the only heckle that might be repeated in polite company.

Ballina’s hooker, a mullet-coiffed keg with legs, has suddenly found his low centre of gravity to be his greatest asset as he skittles the Giants’ tiring pack like nine-pins.  Macka calls on his bruising guile to knock the wind out of the bloke’s sails in a shoulder charge that none of us think was remotely late. The Giants rally.

Quick hands deliver the ball to Godbee, forty from his own line. His opposing centre foolishly shows him the outside running and Godbee, reliving golden history, sails past him with the grace of a gazelle. The cover is converging on him by the time he makes it to Ballina’s twenty. The old legs won’t see him to the line but, at the last minute, the Giants’ half, a real estate agent from Brunswick Heads, arrives in support. Godbee throws a hail-Mary that lands in the number seven’s bread basket and he scampers in under the black dot. The crowd goes apeshit.

The Giants kick away to win 32-18. Both sides have begged no pardon as they bashed the bejesus out of each other but, as happens in all games of bush footy across the Wide Brown, they raise three hearty cheers for the other mob as they trudge from the field.

There’s a cold beer waiting in the clubhouse.

Comments

  1. Ian Hauser says:

    John,

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Haven’t we all been to games just like this? And, at different times, come away on both sides of the result. You made me laugh so much but also brought a tear to my eye, especially with the last paragraphs – go out and belt the shit out each other on the field but make sure you clap the opposition off at the end of the game, and then have a beer or six together in the clubhouse. That’s the way it should be. After all, it’s only a game. But a game that encapsulates minor triumphs, full-scale tragedies, local tribalism, age-old tradition, ubiquitous blind touchies and a whole lot more. Beautifully captured!

  2. Great rugby league writing thank you John! “Mullet-coiffed keg with legs” – no more description required. Just priceless.

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