Almanac League: NRL Round 24 – Souths v Cronulla: Chumbawumba

South Sydney Rabbitohs 12  Cronulla Sharks 6

7:00 pm, Monday 22nd August

ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Paul Macadam

 

Pissing the season away… pissing the season away…

 

You drink some whiskey drink. You drink some vodka drink.

 

Oh, the Sharks. They’re doing it again, aren’t they. Barge their way into title contention in May and June; hit the skids in July and August.???? I bristle at the chokers tag as much as anyone. It’s just hard to refute at times.

 

Sometimes the weather makes your mind up for you. Priority one was restoring the defensive solidity missing over the past two weeks. On a wet Monday night featuring two teams who’ve brought the worst out of each other in recent years, any plans for razzle-dazzle football went back on the shelf. And Gallen’s out again. Great.

 

You want a fast start without expecting one. Even during the winning streak we were often slow out the blocks. Three minutes in, Heighington makes dinner out of a play-the-ball. No Rabbitoh hands near him. Cronulla survive, but the night’s tone has been set. While Souths aren’t threatening to get in, coherence is lacking when we’re in possession. ???The clock crawls. 15. 20. 25. Still scoreless. Reynolds, a profoundly gifted halfback with hamstrings made of Cheezels, leaves the field with concussion after half an half hour. He won’t be back. Advantage Sharks. You’d think. On 32, Ennis is left to make a tackle on his own. Help him out. Someone fucking help him out. Nobody does. The off-load is allowed, Paulo compounds his misjudgement with a weak attempt to bring down Walker, and it’s 6-0.

 

Sorry, but our last 90 seconds of the half are as poor a spell of that length as we’ve had all year. A knock-on under no pressure, then a staggeringly daft penalty. Maybe they were fearful of the field goal. But Reynolds is off the field. Force Inglis or Walker to kick it. At least give them a decision to make. Nope. The penalty puts us 8 behind, which is essentially 14 in these conditions. It needn’t have been this hard. Later, back at home, you see footage of Flanagan with head in hands at half-time. It’s not a good look for the TV cameras, but who’d blame him.

 

Homebush is a weird stadium. Weird area, really. As a friend of mine says, it’s just a bit too far away from everything. Not helped by the legendary ineptitude of SydneyTrains, which ensures that the last direct service from Redfern to Olympic Park leaves a full hour before kick-off. From then on it’s a change at Lidcombe. Admittedly I didn’t factor this into my trip time, but the point is that I shouldn’t have to. As “Our House” booms through the speakers, a fellow Sharks fan alters “in the middle of our street” to “20 k’s from Redfern”. Best shout I’ve heard at a ground for a while. You can see the economic rationale – few if any NRL clubs consistently run at a profit – but I wonder whether 20 000 in an 80 000 stadium is worth sacrificing a packed ground of 16 000 for. And what of the next generation of young fans out in the sticks, who’ll want to see games but won’t fancy two hours on trains? This is the way rugby league has decided it wants to go, though. There’s a parallel between the relocation of the Rabbitohs and the way Redfern has become a suburb catered to people not from Redfern (and yes, I’m complicit in this process). A new club opposite the station has a sign reading ‘Little club, big atmosphere’. People are all smiles in the photo. None appear to be indigenous. Make of that what you will. “I Feel Good” echoes through the ground during a scrum stoppage. Every note Mr. Brown sings, you hear twice. A pang of sadness. Part of me feels I’ve made a mistake in coming here.

 

Come on Cronulla, go again, go again. Big half big half come on Cronulla. I’m seated a fair way back, but the crowd is so thin that Holmes can probably hear me. They’re sharper from 40 to 60 while struggling to convert pressure into points. At last, it happens. Graham runs just the right line for a Maloney ball. 8-6. There’s a sense that Souths wrestle back control of the match too comfortably. Can’t remember an up-and-under kick that made their backs panic, either. One time Townsend sends a bomb from out wide toward the posts, and Inglis could hardly have asked for an easier task. You’ll never get 100 per cent of kicks to bounce before the fullback, but don’t lash it straight down his throat in the middle of the field. Moments like that. On another night, that grubber bounces up more kindly for Beale and we’re leading 10-8. But guys, you can’t rely on On Another Nights. Can’t keep cutting it this fine. Work yourself into a position where bad luck has little impact.
Maloney breaks through, again with Graham in support, but the pass is around his knees and Wade slips while catching the pass. In the final ten minutes we run out of ideas, and continue to shoot our own feet. Five to go. Souths are pinned on their own line, with two tackles already gone. Maloney needlessly swings an arm out. Penalty every day of the week. Frustration from the match scenario and having to do more than his fair share of tackling boils over. I stand up to leave when a drop-out is conceded in the final minute, and am already back in the shire by the time Burgess scores. “Thanks, have a good one”, says the venue… security guard? Crowd greeter?… as though I’d just been to see Aerosmith. I hate this place.

 

Dunno where we go from here. I’d have ripped your hand off for 3rd place if you told me in April that we’d win 15 straight before a winless month. After living it all, I’m less sure. This season is running out of steam at an alarming speed. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there. The finals start on Saturday. This has to be the mentality now.

 

That dressing room, though. Wherever you were on Monday night, be glad you weren’t there. Gallen desolate; the will to bring the trophy home stronger than ever, but the body packing it in bit by bit.

 

Barba lost in thought. Wanting it so badly; not just for himself but for his family, for us, and for Ennis, who’s helped him through more than we can know. Now watching it slide out of view; now suspecting he might never get to wear that ring on his finger.

 

Minutes pass without a word spoken. Then a mumbled tune.

 

I get knocked down. But I get up again.

 

It’s Ennis.

 

You’re never gonna keep me down. I get knocked down.

 

He’s looking around the room, nodding in encouragement. It isn’t catching on, but Ennis is nothing if not persistent. He gets up. Still singing. Off-key, but it’s the thought that counts. Puts a hand on Barba’s shoulder. Ben joins in this time. Then Prior, Bukuya, and Leutele. Another couple of runs through the chorus, and more voices coalesce.

 

But I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.

 

Ennis clapping hands; fiving highs. Making sure all are joining in.

 

Holmes nursing a sprained ankle but keeping the beat on a Gatorade esky. Fifita grabbing Sene-Lefao by the shoulders; wide-eyed grin and jumping up and down. It’s properly rowdy now; even Flanagan’s into the spirit.

 

I GET KNOCKED DOWN.

 

There’s still time to save this. But there can be no more looking ahead; no more circling of dates on calendars. Just this match. Then the next.

 

Then the one after that.

 

BUT I GET UP AGAIN.

 

Five grand finals. Maybe six. Put everything you have into them, boys. We’ll do the same for you. Come on Cronulla.

 

YOU’RE NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN.

 

South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 (Cody Walker, Joe Burgess tries, Damien Cook 3 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 6 (Wade Graham try, James Maloney goal). Crowd: 7 588.

 

About Paul Macadam

Songwriter under my own name, drummer for Library Siesta. Newly ecstatic Cronulla tragic who also loves Liverpool because life wasn't meant to be easy. Too slow for the wing, too skinny for the second row.

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