Almanac Rugby League – Homecoming

The train from Sydney Central pulls into Woolooware and I step from the carriage, breaking into a shambling run as I spy the shuttle bus, filling up quickly at the bottom of the station carpark.

For the first time in a long time, I’m going to see the Sharks play at Cronulla, having moved to the UK more than 15 years ago.  I’m excited, apprehensive, and unsure of what I will find.  These are troubled times for the Sharks. Hasn’t it ever been thus, I hear you say?

The brilliant white of the floodlights beckons the shuttle to its end point at the rear of the Monty Porter stand.  I disembark and stand a while to soak it in.   I’m here – for the first time since a Gordy Tallis inspired St George belted us under the lights on a Saturday night in my distant past – I’m back to see a game at the hallowed ground.

I scan my ticket and take some time to wander around the ground, smiling at the young rabbits and sharks on the family hill, who jink and weave around each other in homage to their heroes who will soon be taking the field.   The South’s supporters look confident, smug smiles bedecked in red and green.  Top of the table with only one loss they have every right to feel good about their prospects.

I take up position on the hill next to the Peter Burns Stand,  quietly sipping my VB and look up at the sky, wondering when the rain will begin.  It always rains when there’s a night game at Shark Park.

The game is fast approaching and an older couple sidle up next to me, the woman looking furtively around herself as she mutters – “Are we with the right people?”

She spies my jumper, my colours, my grin and smiles back “Oh yes, we’re fine here”

“With God’s chosen people” I amiably remark and we laugh with each other as her partner smiles widely.

I reflect on that a little. God’s chosen? It’s a throwaway line, designed to make a connection – however brief – with a fellow traveller in the support of the team from the Shire.  It’s hard to feel the beneficence of any divine being when you’re a Sharks fan.  We’ve done our forty years of wandering in the competition desert and then some.  Now, we suffer under the harsh, unblinking heat of the ASADA investigation.  It tears at us, dividing us as supporters.  People, feelings, friendships are all offered up on the altar as we flail about, desperately trying to find the truth while the media enjoy a feeding frenzy of their own.

Tonight though, I want to forget all this and watch my team.  We’ve been showing a little form lately and a win tonight –however unlikely – would make it four in a row.  I’ve come 10,000 miles for this, Sharks.  Don’t let me down.

Behind me, a South’s fan screams “Go Rabbits!”,  as the kick off flies high into the night sky and the Sharks begin hitting it up.   We start well, tackling hard and in packs, allowing the Rabbits little room to manoeuvre.  A quick dart from dummy half and John Morris is over under the posts. The Ref decides he needs the approval of the video and necks are craned to watch the slo-mo on the giant screen.  Hundreds of voices scream in unison “Try!” as the pictures clearly show the ball pressed into the turf.  The green light confirms our belief and the cheer echoes round the stands as Carney adds the extras.

It’s a good start, a settler and we are pleased in our black, white and blue.  The Rabbits won’t die easy though and they begin to exert themselves on the game.  Piggybacked down the field with a couple of penalties, they begin a concerted aerial attack, pinning us back on our line with a succession of towering bombs.  The rain has started.  The ball becomes slippery. The pressure builds. Eventually quick hands send Goodwin sliding into the corner.  Again the call goes to go upstairs.  Again, a try is awarded. Sharks fans groan.  Next to me, a fellow Shark says – “It’s ok. Reynolds will never pot this from out there.” Except he does.  The Rabbits fans are happy again.  They feel their team will now roll on with that evener and methodically take us apart.  Except they don’t.   The Cronulla boys continue to fight.  As the rain pelts down, a penalty goes our way and we begin to work our way towards the line.  DeGois barges over.  Try! No, held up…Damn!  The South’s fans laugh, but we continue to press.  Carney grubbers and all I see is the ball suddenly end in Bukuya’s mitts as he steps inside and plants the ball down.  The hill goes mad.

“Try taking that one away ya b..tards” I spout,  punching the air in delight.

We go into the sheds 12-6 in front, with the rain continuing to fall on the chosen and unchosen alike. I retreat to the cover of the bar beneath the stands, grab another beer and chat with fellow Sharks about our chances of still being in front come the end of the 80.  We are cautiously optimistic.

It is still raining when we come out for the second half. Souths get some position. They pound the line. Quick play the balls and a collective sigh from Sharks fans round the ground as Burgess tramples his way through. Once again we are all square.  The rain is easing up, but the grass and the ball remain slippery. The Rabbits are struggling with their ball control.  Even more so with their discipline.  They eventually infringe in the shadows of the uprights and Toddy immediately points to the sticks.  One assumes that captain for the night, Wade Graham, agrees.  The ball sails over the black dot. We are back in front. It is a small margin however. For the next 20 minutes, I ride every tackle, cheer every Souths fumble and offer up that prayer that all supporters do when their team is in front and we implore the divine being to speed up the passing of time (just for the next 10 minutes or so)

The Rabbits fling themselves forward. Gards defuses a bomb that hangs forever, before sinking gratefully to the turf. The clock ticks toward the zero point.  “Come on Souths! Go Rabbits!” I hear the fan behind me say. The confidence is gone.  It is replaced with a pleading hope. A feeling I know only too well.  The Rabbits infringe again.  We have the ball. There is barely time to take the penalty. Carney leathers the Steeden as far as he can into the stands.  The ref points to the sheds.  It’s over.

Eruption. The players are ecstatic. The raw emotion on Toddy’s face is evident on the big screen.   Fifita has been immense.  A force of nature.   On the hill I join my black, white and blue brethren in a capering dance of joy.  High fives, punching the air, smiles all round. The club song reverberates round the stands.  The Sharks are here!  Don’t you forget it.

I text my brother – who was unable to make it to the game.  I imagine him grinning at his home up in Brisbane as our messages flit along the electronic ether.  A smiling Sharks fan is sitting opposite me in the train carriage, laughing and texting on his own phone.  The carriages steadily empty as I make my way back to Central and I ascend the stairs to stand by the door as we pull in to the station.  As I watch the platform hove into view, I glance up and see a lone Shark on the upper deck.  I smile and nod.  He beams and gives me a thumbs up.  It’s good to be one of the chosen.



About andrew frame

UK based, Queensland born footy lover. Diehard sharks fan in the NRL. Cats fanatic in the AFL. Cricket tragic with a long suffering wife who just doesn't get the sport obsession at all. :)

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