Almanac Rugby League – A noble rugby league tradition

For good or ill, I am an optimist, so despite another disappointing season from Canterbury and a reliance on either a Friday night draw between South Sydney and Newcastle or a Rabbitohs win followed by a mammoth Bulldogs win, I still thought there was hope for Canterbury.

Mathematical chance, I believe they call it.

That chance came to a crashing halt on Friday night when Newcastle bolted to a 30-6 half-time lead before running away 40-24 winners. That is what you get when you rely on the so-called “pride of the League”, I guess.

So by the time Sunday rolled around, Canterbury were done, the first time they had missed consecutive finals series since 1992. I was 10 at the time and was inculcated with the belief that the Bulldogs had a divine right to success. That belief has taken an almighty battering in the years following the 2004 premiership.

It was probably just as well that all hope was lost because I’m not sure how I would have reacted to our season being on the line and the club selling out to some Star Wars bollocks. It was humiliating, particularly considering we were farewelling club legend Andrew Ryan.

For the first time that I can recall, Canterbury didn’t don the blue and white. Rather, they ran out in an all black strip with two characters crossing light sabres, the worst jersey I have ever seen, bar none. When Ryan ran out in his final game of rugby league, he had to do so through a guard of storm troopers, Luke Skywalkers and Darth Vaders. The cheerleaders were all dolled up as Princess Leia.

It would have been dreadful to see such blatant prostitution at the best of times but on Andrew Ryan’s farewell, it was a downright disgrace.

It was with this belligerent attitude that I settled in to watch the last game of 2011 for the Canterbury faithful at The Imperial, in the heart of Melbourne. There were a smattering of Canberra fans in attendance, along with Justin, a Richmond diehard who stopped by for a beer before the Tigers continued on their noble pursuit of ninth position.

A loose game was expected and as such I bet the over 52, perhaps the highest total points line I’d seen in a league game, and the minus 10. The Raiders had been an abomination this year and I figured the Bulldogs at least had the decency to send such a noble clubman out a winner.

They did.

The Raiders, on the other hand, put up a pretty meek effort in Alan Tongue’s last home game and the same was expected in his last NRL appearance.

Canterbury got out of the blocks early through a nice Josh Morris try which, considering Steve Turner is the Bulldogs goalkicker, was unsurprisingly unconverted.

Rather than opening up though, the game shut down, both teams playing a stoic type of defence rarely exhibited by either team in 2011. The Raiders went into half-time up 12-8 with the highlight of the half being a miraculous try to Ben Barba, his first of four in another stellar try-scoring performance from the Bulldogs livewire.

He excelled in the second half when the game descended into a game of touch football. He collected kicks, made streaking runs and backed up on the inside to finish tied for the tryscoring title on 23 with Nathan Merritt.

The Bulldogs spread it wide and it reaped rewards with the Bulldogs scoring five tries to the Raiders’ two. The highlight was, without doubt, Andrew Ryan’s try, his 68th in a stellar career as a fringe running backrower. Ryan bolted through a hole, crashed over and then went to celebrate on a mounted bobcat, where he slipped and very nearly performed a homemade castration.

With four minutes remaining, Barba crossed for his last, a magical try down the sideline where Jamal Idris threw a wonderful ball inside where the custodian collected and sprinted over.

It was then we got to witness one of the great rugby league traditions, a wonderful act of generosity and respect offered to a retiring legend. The retiree, regardless of his ability with the boot, takes the conversion.

The total was 52 at this point and the Dogs led by only eight so I seemed gone on all bets with Ryan taking the conversion but I couldn’t have had a bigger smile. All of the Star Wars annoyance had faded away. Here was a champion, a veteran of 290 games, taking his first shot at goal. It is just so damned beautiful that a tear started to well up and the memories of Ryan’s career came flooding back.

Luckily for all, it wouldn’t be his last. In the final minute, Canterbury streaked away again through Josh Morris, who scored next to the posts. Fellow retiree Michael Hodgson and Ryan played paper-scissors-rock with Ryan winning. Ryan took the conversion and slotted it to an almighty roar, from both the fans in attendance and the smiling rugby league gods.

The final score read Canterbury 36, Canberra 22. Sadly for the Raiders, Alan Tongue didn’t get the opportunity for a last shot. Hopefully he took delight from the fact his fellow traveller had two.

And that was the last we will see of two champions, arguably two of the best advertisements rugby league has had over the last decade. Andrew Ryan and Alan Tongue, your contributions to rugby league have been immense and you will both be sorely missed.

CANTERBURY 36 (Tries: Barba (4), Morris (2), Ryan Goals: Turner 3/5, Ryan 1/2)
CANBERRA 22 (Tries: McCrone (2), Croker, Robinson Goals: Croker 3/4)

Venue: ANZ Stadium
3-Barba (Bul), 2-Morris (Bul), 1-Ryan (Bul)
Andrew Ryan, Alan Tongue and Michael Hodgson’s last games.

About Nick Tedeschi

Nick Tedeschi was the chief rugby league writer at Punting Ace for five years after a career in politics and bookmaking. He has written freelance for a number of organisations including Back Page Lead, Crikey and Betfair and now runs his own website. He writes an annual NRL betting preview and is a diehard Canterbury fan who lists Craig Polla-Mounter, David Stagg, Tony Grimaldi and Daryl Halligan as his favourite players.


  1. Glen Humphries says

    Those jerseys were horrible. Can’t imagine who at the Bulldogs thought it was a good idea.

  2. RL jerseys are bad enough with all the advertising and associated clash of colours (looking rather like a kindergarten artroom at times) but that Berries one on Sunday…geez! A disgrace.

  3. david butler says

    Ok Punter the Bulldogs are finished for the year but can you make any sense of the remaining teams. Who can win the comp ?

  4. Ah David, good to hear from you.

    A pen can be put through the Knights and Cowboys.

    Thaiday could be a big loss for Brisbane but they look a team of destiny.

    Stewart’s absence has Manly vulnerable the next few weeks.

    I think the Warriors are smokies if they can get through this week.

    I still like the Storm though their skinniness up front has me worried.

    Have the Tigers come in underdone? They haven’t had a hard game in a while.

    I think the Dragons may get them this week.

    The Storm for me, beating the Broncos or the Warriors, if that is how the draw falls. Your thoughts?

  5. david butler says

    Probably lean towards the Broncs if Sammy is available. You will hear the conspiracy calls if he does get rubbed out. I think that Melbourne might lack a bit of fire power in the forwards.

    I haven’t written the Dragons off at this stage. I am a huge wrap for Soward, saw him in the flesh at Bruce a few weeks ago and was amazed at his ability to get his kicks to pull up !

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