Almanac Rugby League: …and then Tommy scored

 

Tom Raudonikis playing for Newtown
Photo: nrl.com

 

Nearly half a lifetime ago I stood at the Randwick end of the Bob Stand and watched Newtown lose the J. J. Giltinan Shield to Parramatta. It was a day when I learnt what it really meant to lose, even though I’d spent years on the hill at Henson Park and watched most teams in the competition run all over the Bluebags.



That day in the the Bob Stand represented the end of my own journey with Newtown Rugby League Club* which had commenced in the mid-1970s in the King George V Memorial Grandstand. A match which saw Newtown hold out against an all powerful Eastern Suburbs team well into the second half before being overpowered.



It was to become an all too familiar pattern as seasons rolled into one another. It was a comfortable routine. A car trip with my mum to the home of my uncle and aunt in Sydneham Road. A short walk to the ground past the drinkers spilling out onto the footpath outside the Henson, a left hand turn and down a short street to the brick entrance to the Hill.



We occasionally bought a double on the first scorer tickets. I don’t recall anyone winning. Our spot was between the three-quarter line and half way at the scoreboard end of the Hill. There were generally four of us: my uncle, his daughter, my mum and me. Our ranks would swell from time to time with other cousins. Game done, we would head back to the house where my aunty, ironing in the back room with the radio on, would bring us up to date with scores from around the grounds before serving up a mountainous roast. The warmth of these family gathering steeled me for the inevitable Monday roast at school.



I grew up in St George/Canterbury territory and my support from Newtown was widely viewed as inexplicable. How could I begin to explain my devotion to Lionel Williamson and Neil Pringle? A few seasons came and went and we occasionally ended up with the wooden spoon.



A match late in 1980 spoke of things to come. Newtown raced to a lead against a full strength Parramatta, playing inspired attacking football. A storm rolled in and the points on the scoreboard increased from their face value. Parramatta came back strongly but Newtown managed to hang on to achieve a win.



In 1981, our familiar pattern of home games was thrown into disarray. We began to enter the ground with expectation rather than hope. We had Raudonikis and a couple of wingers who seemed destined to score tries. Our family group was now travelling. September came and we were playing Parramatta at the SCG. We lost narrowly, Ken Wilson (uncharacteristically) missing a late goal. Newtown, of course, were making up the numbers, according to all the pundits, not being in the same class as Manly, Easts or Parramatta.



The scrum was packed near the quarter line at the Members end of the ground and, from our vantage point on the Hill, it seemed to spew upwards before cartwheeling sideways and breaking into individual outbreaks. All the years of hatred for Manly found expression in that scrum. It was an ugly incident. We lost two players, they lost one. Outrage. The game was won and the feeling among the Newtown supporters was so strong it seemed to lift me out of the ground via the tunnel under the old Sheridan Stand. People were signing the club song and familiar faces from Henson were beaming. The experts convinced themselves that the next game would be it for Newtown. Easts were lying in wait, they were too good.



They weren’t.



The day started early and we moved quickly along King Street toward the SCG. King Street strewn with blue and white bunting. King Street in the early morning waiting silently for the mayhem victory would bring. We got to the ground around 7:30am and, once in the ground, we realised there were no seats anywhere. A couple of huge Newtown flags broke the near solid mass mass of blue and gold on the Hill.



We stood on the edge of a row in the Bob Stand and watched Parramatta being beaten in both lower grades. The wind was howling making the light towers sway. The game was on and Newtown were composed and in control. Half-time came and we were still in the game and shortly after half-time Tommy scored.



Tommy scored in front of the Hill. He put the ball down and and then leapt to his feet with the ball still in hand as his team mates reached him. In the Bob Stand we leapt up with him and the possibility that Newtown could win seemed so real and so close.



Of course the rest of the game belonged to Parramatta and bloody Brett Kenny broke Newtown hearts. Victory evaporated, replaced by tears.



Within five years my uncle was dead. I stood on the steps at St Brigid’s church as two old men, who I did not know, greeted each other for the first time in a while and discussed my uncle.



‘He was a Newtown man’.



‘Oh yes. Loved those Bluebags’.



I smiled through tears and remembered the day that Tommy scored.



* This piece was originally published in September 1997 in loosehead zine (Issue #1). The Bluebags have been reborn since and I follow them still.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Dr Rocket says

    Great piece on the Bluebags Neil.

    I could never come at calling them the Jets…
    although it is an air-show at Henson Park in normal times.
    Now the home ground for UNSW- Eastern Suburbs AFL team.
    as well as the Jets.

    Great pub The Henson!

  2. Good stuff, Neill. Wonderful memories from another time that stay forever. RIP Tommy!

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