Almanac Rugby League – A quiet week in sport? Not in New Zealand.

by Matt O’Hanlon

It was interesting to read JTH’s view on the lack of sport in Australia on the weekend in his Almanac insight on Friday as G squared and I were heading to Auckland for the Nines. The Sydneysider had a start with the Dogs and we thought it was a perfect opportunity to enjoy a weekend of sport – albeit Nines which I had not really paid much attention to in the past. Armed with a couple of Corporate tickets courtesy of legendary Queensland player manager Jim Banaghan through his contacts at Downer – the competition sponsor – and Ducco- the competition promoter we were all set for the great Australian pastime of the sport corporate box. G squared suggested that she preferred to be with the people, but I had to give her a return of her famous ‘are you serious look’ not with the razor sharp clarity she uses but effective enough for the point to get through. Well done!

There is no better way to start a journey than in the airport lounge. We made our way to the Virgin Lounge and given it was just 2 o’clock in NZ I decided an amber fluid would be the perfect starter. Going to the Land of the Long White Cloud I felt Minimum Chips (Chups) would suffice – make that 1 all in the ‘are you serious look’ game. One hour later it was 4-1 against and we were boarding. 4 bottles of spirits through customs and we were away with Kulchur a plenty on the flight where I watched Macbeth and G squared took in Far from the Maddening Crowd. Given the lounge food and beverage experience we skipped the inflight food and arrived in Auckland primed and set.

Our lodgings in Queen St were perfect and we wandered down for dinner at a Thai joint named the Bangkok something or other. It was above Father Ted’s Irish Bar which I thought I might check on the way out. Food was good and I washed it down with 2 ‘Beerlaos’ – a Laotian beer brewed with rice- very crisp and perfect with cuisine –look score 6-1. We walked around the city which felt like any other biggish city although we thought Sydney was a comparison. Sampled the Ice cream or gelato (7-1) at a place in Queen St where there were longer queues than you would find at the bookies pay clerk after a Black Caviar gallop and then home for the evening..

I decided to stay on Queensland time (8-1) so I arose at 6.15 and went for a stroll. I was amazed at the people out and about in team colours at that hour until it was later pointed out there was a time difference. Not to worry (9-1). We visited the Sydneysider and he was well and looking forward to having a gallop having also played in the 2014 version. He felt the crowd support was not as good at the fan day in 2016 but I assured him that town was choc-a-block with people. It was getting on to 8.30 Q time so we made our way to Eden Park. In a 1 km walk to the free bus we saw groups of people dressed as Pretorian Guards, Mario brothers, pilots, brides, Reg Reagans, Men with saggy boobs hanging out the bottom of crop tops, where’s wallies, village people you name it and the colour was fantastic. On arrival at Eden Park (where we got soaked by rain) as well as all of the above groups there were more colourful groups along with every jersey known to man. What a spectacle and we hadn’t even seen a footy kicked.

The corporate area like all modern grounds was excellent. G squared was a little uneasy as is normally the case for a woman of the people when our hostess asked if we’d like a drink- 10-1, 11-1, 12-1- to which I replied why not it is after 12 noon in Auckland and G squared pointed out she thought (13-1) I was on Q time. The lad played and they got thumped in the second half by the Warriors which the crowd loved.

The action was fast and there was plenty going on including food and drink in the box. I was having Asahi and a Golden Lager both of which were going down well when lo and behold my old junior coach who worked for Downer –the sponsors- saw my name on a guest list and came in to say hello. H as I will refer to him was playing first grade for our local club as well as coaching us way back in 78. With H as coach we had a great season winning every game except the last two. Can you believe that! Like all good coaches H is still hurting from those 2 losses. As a coach of 15 year old boys in a much simpler world he was great. H was recorded forever in our team photo, standing in the back row with a wide tie around his neck. Nothing odd about that, except on inspection there is a full length statuesque nude on the tie recorded for eternity and whenever we boys now in our 50s get together we talk about H’s nude and the end of season trip.

Ohhh!! The end of season trip! We went to the BRL 1978 GF with H and his mate in charge. You can imagine the excitement as H called us into a huddle at the Ansett bus terminal in Quay St and said ‘Boys I’ve got a few things to do so I will see you all tomorrow at the footy and if any of you muck around I’ll give you a good kick up the arse! You all got that!’ We ran amok in Brissy that night and sat with H the next day in the sun on the old Lang Park terraces. H was hungover, bright red and fatigued and we knew he’d ‘played for Australia’ on the drink the previous night. I can’t remember much of the season but I can remember H in his double pluggers, white footy shorts and a stubby with bones in it and a small overnight bag sitting on that terrace with 20 kids around him. He was our Coach and we thought he was great! On arrival back in Rocky our parents all thanked H for looking after us so well because it wasn’t easy taking 20 boys to Brisbane. H just grinned with the same grin he used when I told his boss at Downer the same yarn in the corporate box. No wonder he is now high up in HR.

G squared was really warming to the box and the day rolled on. She was having a great yarn to Jacky –wife of the King who was working for the Media- and enjoying the entertainment including streakers. One Streaker ran a good 200m freewheeling in front of 30000 people. For a bloke it either takes guts or stupidity to put it all out there like that!

The paradox of the small world got smaller when an old colleague from Mackay was sitting with us. We have both lost a bit of weight and didn’t initially notice each other but as H went back to his box Tony and his mate, the Brewmaster, joined in and talked about our teams from the days of the BRL. Tony and I were Brothers men and the Brewmaster was a Reddy boy. Tony has been doing it a bit tough with his health but the old Longreach boy has plenty of fight and the Brewmaster, who now resides in Auckland was giving him a weekend out. Like everyone else they were enjoying the show.

As well as the 9s we talked about the many people we knew in common and footy in general. You have to love sport for the way it links people. It really is the essence of what it’s about. As I told, swapped, and shared stories G squared face was contorting (the score resembling a 2016 Windies bowlers figures). She said she couldn’t believe people would find those cliché-filled hackneyed old stories amusing. No fear for me-Lager in one hand and the food of the Gods, Kransky on a roll with German Mustard and Watties –kiwi for tomato sauce – in the other I was in heaven and the Dogs won their second game with the Sydneysider going ok. Happy days.
At day’s end we made our way from Eden Park witnessing what was under a Scotsman kilt along the way. We had seen the wedding tackle all over the place. We headed to the Viaduct area where we found a restaurant called the Crab Shack. We ordered Tempura Soft Shell Crab, chips and a kilo of NZ Mussels. Food was great and I washed it down with two Martinis (as you can guess I had lost count of the look comp). We visited the lad at his lodgings on the way home and I looked at G squared and said what a top day-good people, good food, and it’s only 9.30 (no need to say what happened here) and we get to do it all again tomorrow.

I woke up at 6.15 and felt like Bill Murray reporting on Punxsutawney Phil when I went down for a walk. On return I went to open my mouth when G squared said ‘don’t.’ I replied ‘what?’ She said ‘don’t’ and I said you wouldn’t believe how many people are-yes you get it – G squared screamed in exasperation and I couldn’t understand the fuss. We were on the bus and even saw some of the same people from the previous day before we entered Eden Park.

The Dogs won their third game and now needed the Broncs to beat the homeside. The ground filled up and the promoters and sponsors needed a Warriors win over the Broncos or they were out the back door. What an exhibition these two teams put on. If you get the chance to watch it do so. In the Box things were warming up. We were visited by a virtual whose who. The King was in and out, Big Mal, Kevvie, JT, Andrew Johns, Carlos Spencer and young Queensland school teaching Welter Weight Jeff Horn as the promoter Dean Lonergan gave them some space before their roles with the crowd and in the Kicking comp. It was a football fans heaven. I was dropping names quicker than Clark Griswald lost money in Vegas.

The Brewmaster, Tony G squared and myself enjoyed Dean’s hospitality surrounded by greats of the game. Jimmy Banaghan even started to wind the crowd up cheering uproariously for the Titans to beat the Warriors in the semi. The kids in the Warriors box beside us were having a field day giving it back to him as the Warriors got on top. Right on full time Jim donned a Warriors shirt and in front of all yelled out ‘that’s my team’. This caused great laughter for the adults and the bewilderment to the kids. Great theatre!

Darryl Halligan kicked goals from the touchline and the final of the Ladies 9s between Australia and NZ was played. The Kiwi girls won in a highly entertaining and bruising encounter before the final. Of all things the Eels won the final which was a bit of a letdown for the 30000 strong crowd but not for us. We had had two great days and didn’t mind who won. We had a drink and a bite at a Japanese noodle bar and were home by you guessed it 10.30 Q time. To top it all off our Taxi driver thought it was a bit unfair that we would bring 15 teams over to beat one Kiwi team. G squared gave me the look and as it was home time and being one up early in the tour I opted not to engage. Now that’s a sporting declaration on a sporting weekend!

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