Almanac Rugby League – Bumper Farrell and a deep Dragons dislike

On a day better suited to surfing than Rugby League, St George Illawarra faced the foreign invasion from New Zealand, in a Warriors side keen to improve their chances of hosting a home semi-final.

The Dragons had a mission of their own: to snap a five game losing streak which had seen them fall from the top of the ladder to seventh. Playing for such high stakes I would have thought that the choice of the Red V jersey would have forced the Warriors into their predominantly black strip, which would be less preferable on a warm Wollongong day.

Unable to get to the ‘Gong to watch the game, I instead chose to visit my local to watch the game; a working man’s club, where 90 per cent of the crowd support the local Canberra Raiders and 100 per cent of the crowd (bar me) hate the Dragons.

I have supported the Dragons for over 40 years so am quite used to the vitriol leveled at me once I make it obvious where my allegiance lies. Indeed one of the old regulars, Bert, made a beeline for me once I removed my jacket, revealing a Dragons jumper.

“Why would a born and bred Canberra boy follow St George;” he said. “They are scum.”

I was a little taken aback by Bert’s unbridled loathing of my club so I enquired as to why he, a Newtown, now Raiders, supporter so passionately hated them. He replied “They accused (former Newtown prop and hardman) Bumper Farrell of biting Bill McRitchie’s ear ‘orf to get ‘im rubbed out.”

He continued “It was a stich-up, literally, coz Bumper had no teeth!” I bought Bert another rum and cloves and, having advised him that I had just finished Larry Writer’s excellent biography of Farrell, regaled him with the story told within of Bumper’s party trick of cracking walnuts with his gums. This satisfied Bert for the time being and I sat down to watch the game live on the big screen.

I approached this game with a degree of trepidation as, despite some improvement in the level of commitment shown by the Dragons, I remained unconvinced about their capacity to turn their momentum around in the weeks leading into the finals.

When Hornby conceded a penalty at the kickoff apprehension filled a pit in my stomach that was not assisted by two early Warriors tries to Krisnan Inu and Kevin Locke. Uncharacteristic defensive lapses and some good kicking saw the Warriors apply the blow-torch, holding 80 per cent of possession and pushing the score out to 10-0 after ten minutes.

While the intuitive play of Locke, James Moloney and Shaun Johnson was really causing the Dragons headaches, the Dragons use of the ball out wide looked promising. In the 17th minute, Beau Scott was held by three Warriors but continued to make (a little) ground before unloading to Mark Gasnier who stepped through a napping defence to score.

Once again the vilification I received was spiteful and venomous; I simply deferred to the referees and the notion inculcated into me in the under sevens – play the whistle.

The Dragons continued to go wide with good effect, particularly up the left where Brett Morris, Matt Cooper and Darius Boyd created space for each other.

In the 24th minute Morris received a great cut-out ball from Boyd to score in the corner, with a spectacularly executed dive off his left foot. This outstanding effort should hold him in good stead for the long-overdue re-instatement of the standing long jump event in the Olympics.

When Bill Tupou scored in the 34th Minute, the Dragons had conceded the most first half points this season. The importance of Wayne Bennett had to be centre stage and the vision of the congregation being ministered by the master was significant.

The second half proved to be an arm-wrestle with the Dragon defence becoming more structured and effective. Darius Boyd displayed some variety with a well-judged grubber which he fielded and scored from, setting a fine example for Jamie Soward to follow, perhaps in the coming weeks.

The Dragons went on to win 26 -22 in a heartwarming result for supporters. When asked if the team ‘was back’? Benny replied ‘No. But they are going forward’. The Dragons received a massive lift prior to their last round encounter with the Panthers and from a supporter’s perspective, things are looking up.

The Warriors lost no respect but have foregone the opportunity of hosting a home final.

Venue: Win Stadium, Wollongong

Crowd: 15,732

St George Illawarra Dragons 26 (Tries: Gasnier, Morris, Boyd, Nightingale; Goals: Soward 5/6)

New Zealand Warriors 22 (Tries: Inu, Locke, Tupou, Mateo; Goals Maloney 3/5)

Votes: 3- Darius Boyd (St George-Illawarra), 2-Kevin Locke (Warriors), 1-B. Morris (St George-Illawarra)

Sinbin: Ben Matulino (78th minute)

Marty Spencer

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