New tricks for a new Dog by Stephen Cooke

Muzza had taken it upon himself to provide me with an impromptu coaching session. It was my first night of training with the Capella Cattledogs and I certainly needed the help. I was a Victorian (“Mexican”), followed Australian football (“aerial ping pong”) and had never watched a full game of rugby in my life (“inconceivable”). So a lesson on the intricacies of the game they play in heaven could really help.

“Cookie,” Muzza said, calling me over to a half-formed scrum and indicating to the prop’s posterior. “You get down there, and shove your head right up his arse!”

I see.

The Cattledogs and I seemed made for each other in season 2003 – they were desperately short of players and I, well, I had two legs and two arms.

I had moved to Emerald as a reporter with Queensland Country Life and was overjoyed to see that the Showgrounds was the home of the local AFL club. However, finding 20 players to take the field each week had proven too much and the Emerald Saints folded a few years earlier.

So I took a mate’s advice to join him at the Cattledogs in the Central Highlands rugby union competition. It was a totally foreign sport but the camaraderie around the team would be the same.

At 196 centimetres (or six foot six in the old measurement) I was a natural fit in the second row. With Muzza’s advice ringing in my ears, I locked arms with my fellow Dogs and pushed hard in the scrum, getting closer to Ginger than I really cared to.

However, in the line-outs I was reduced to lifting the lighter bean-poles of the team. As a six foot six second rower who lifted others I felt like a cricketer who bats at No.11 and doesn’t bowl. But my fate was sealed at that first training session. My fellow forwards much preferred lifting Andrew and Pat, particularly Pat, who was about my height and 40 kilos lighter. He must have been 70 kilos wringing wet.

I’ll never forget being lifted that first time. I had never flown that high on the footy field down south. “How good is that!” I said to my teammates after coming down with the ball, the excitement raw in my voice. “Don’t get used to it fatty,” was their delicate response.

So I was resigned to hoisting Andrew and Pat into the air at line-outs – their arms stretching to the heavens like giant testicles, in the words of Captain Blood Jack Dyer.

My first game was certainly memorable – some fans still talk of how tight my shorts were on debut. I didn’t think anything of it as I scrounged around in the communal kit bag before the game. They were certainly snug but nothing you wouldn’t see at any AFL game. It dawned on me as I ran out onto the ground with my teammates – they with their baggy shorts covering their thighs; me with nowhere to hide. It was just as well I wasn’t jumping in the line-outs as there was precious little to grab hold of. Most in the crowd were curious about my short selection until they were told I was from Victoria. That makes sense, was the consensus, an Aussie rules bloke.

We lost the game but won the boat race afterwards, with three Cattledogs drinking their cans at a faster pace than the opposition. This trend would continue all year – a defeat in the main event followed by a consolation victory. The Cattledogs did notch up one win on the field that year but I wasn’t part of it. It was one of two games I missed because of work commitments. Despite this, I look back fondly on that season. After all, it’s not all about the win on the day; it’s as much about the club and playing a small part in its history.

That and the boat race

About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety

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