NRL Grand Final 2016 – Cronulla v Melbourne: Where I find my heaven

I’m high on the hill. Looking over the bridge. To the M.C.G.

(Leaps and Bounds, P.Kelly)

The lines float into my thoughts. There’s a chill in the early October morning air. I’m high on the Millennium Bridge. Looking over the Thames. To the Victoria Embankment. My only company is a scattering of joggers and some early rising photographers, taking advantage of a city waking from its Sunday morning slumber. The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral rises directly in front of me. I take a minute to stand and look around. London is a pretty city at this time of the morning. The peaceful stirrings are a soothing calm to the tumult of emotions spinning through my head. I’m nervous, anxious, excited, full of foreboding. My breakfast – which consisted of pretty much pushing a couple of sausages, some beans and an egg around my plate – is now being pushed around my jittery interior.

My destination lies a little way up the Embankment as it winds alongside the churn of the Thames. Last year, I was in physical agony shuffling along this very path, as I completed the closing stages of the London marathon. This year, it’s my emotional fitness being tested rather than my aching feet. The squat, grey blocks of the Temple Walkabout hove into view and I cross the street with a cursory glance. The traffic is light, as is the new tune now running through my head. It’s been popping in and out all week actually.

And the blood flows through my heart and leaves like sand…

I step through the entrance into the sights, sounds and smells. It’s busy. People everywhere. The predominant colours amongst the throng are black, white and blue. A smaller scale reflection of the same colours, evident in the crowd at a stadium far away. There are nervous smiles and nods to people I don’t know, as I twist my way to the bar and grab a calming ale. The big screen is indeed big, beaming images of Sharks and Storm dressing rooms going through final preparations as the inanities of Richie Sambora drone on.

I find my spot. Time drags. Some good natured banter with a couple of girls standing behind me. One Shark. One Storm.

“Relax. We’ve got this”, shouts a large and jovial Cronulla fan, resplendent in jersey and cap.

And the wind outside…

There’s a roar as the Sharks come out of the race and enter the field. Gal is beaming. Soaking up the crowd and the occasion. This is the stuff of his dreams. Of ours.

Where I find my heaven..

It’s a good start. We look hungry. Full of intensity. An early high shot from Ennis leads to a relieving penalty for the Storm, but it’s really a statement of intent. There will be no quarter asked for and, consequently, none given. The ball handling is sure and composed. A swinging arm takes out our local junior halfback and two points are easily taken. Maybe not just reward for possession and territory, but we will have more chances, judging by the flow of the game so far.

A scrum in the shadows of the sticks. A new set of six. We really need to score. Use the set Sharkies. Be patie….YESSSSSSSSS!!!!! Benny Barba!!!! WTF happened? The replay shows the beautiful cheek of a perfectly executed scrum base move and the score moves to 8-0. The first half ticks on and the Sharks continue to make all the running. The Storm simply refuse to yield. Their defending is textbook. One low, one high. Over and over again. They’re on the ropes but blocking, weaving, deflecting. If King Canute had been a Storm player, who knows what havoc might have been played on Earth’s tidal systems. The whistle goes for 40 minutes and it’s still 8-0.

And a whispered word in my spirit lies..

At the moment, the word is no. I’m thinking of times past. Ghosts of previous heartbreaks are rattling chains of torment. Only eight. Only eight. We’ve been parked down their end continuously and it’s still only eight. What if they score? What about if there’s a dodgy call? What if….? Please, no.

Second half begins and it’s more of the same. Repeat sets. The Storm, a purple sea-wall holding back the sky blue waves. A penalty. Melbourne have some position at last. McLean makes a big run and suddenly Bromwich carries three Sharks over the line before planting the ball. Crap! Crap, crap crap! It’s 8-6. I knew it. I knew we needed more at half-time. The Storm are now feeling right back in it. The body language has changed. They’re charging into the line and suddenly things are shifting. Prior goes off with a head knock. Feki has been unfairly tackled and a penalty is forthcoming, but it doesn’t alter the fact he is now back in the sheds, desperately trying to get his knee to work again. Bukuya gets his head in an awful position with a tired looking tackle and is off for a concussion test. Tides are turning. Broken play arises from a Townsend kick that leads to a seven tackle set and Chambers steps inside for another Storm try. 12-8 now. Melbourne in front. The crowd in the Walkabout is quiet, stunned, apart from a few noisy Storm fans. The Sharks are looking a little rattled. Flustered. The ball handling is still excellent, but the decisions are starting to get flaky.

But Sunday morning is only for the blessed..

There’s 15 minutes to go, so we’re certainly not out of this, but the Storm are defensive concrete and now they’re in the lead. A penalty is given for holding down and we get a bit of position. It’s hurried, lacking in composure but we get a gift. An act of ill-discipline gives us another penalty on the fifth tackle and we have a chance to re-set and refocus.

And the grace keeps flowing..

At first, it looks like another one-out futile bash against the line. Storm players swarm over Fifita’s bulk as he strives to break through. He’s still going forward though, inches that Lewis couldn’t quite manage in the first half are being taken. Time slows. There are four tacklers hanging off him now and another – a fifth – is about to chime in as he topples forward toward the posts. His right arm reaches out, the ball tucked between his hand and wrist, backhand toward the centre of the line. At the last instant, as the fifth tackler moves across to cut off this avenue of access, Fifita rolls his arm back over, like a bowler disguising his leg break and through flailing, purple clad limbs, the ball kisses the turf. I’m jumping, screaming incoherent sounds as the replay shows no loss of control and the big guy is swamped by his teammates. Storm players gather under the sticks to plot their way back again.

Where I find my heaven..

The screen blurs. I’m crying. I croak “Come on boys. Just 10 more,” past the lump in my throat. There are fans all around me with similar mists in their eyes. It’s one of the longest 10 minutes of my life. Chambers somehow re-gathers a kick he had no right to and the girl behind me screams “No!”

There’s that word again and for the final minute it is not whispered. At least not by me. I’m screaming it loudly. Melbourne are throwing it around, one way, then the other. Cronulla are all over the place. It looks like there are holes everywhere. “No!” I’m shouting. “No! No! No!” The tears are welling up again, except this time their howls of frustration. To be this close and see it snatched away. The siren sounds. The ball is still flicking around through Storm hands. “No!” Oh, this will be a scar alright. This will be a doozy. Then, just like that, a Leutele tackle and it’s over.

And the blood flows through my heart..

I’m a mess. The Sharks girl behind me is now beside me and she’s weeping. She has no words. Just silent mouthing. I pick her up and swing her around. We laugh and cry in equal measure. The players seem to be going through the same. Gal is wrecked. Collapsed on the ground he can barely raise a voluntary movement. Mick Ennis is whooping and hollering, jumping about like a schoolboy. Wade jumps the fence to celebrate with the fans. These images will stay with me forever and while seeing Gal lift that trophy high is one of the best, I cannot go past that moment when he and ET are embracing in tears. I will never be able to see that picture without filling up.

I need some air. Cronulla fans are outside, some smoking, some, just like me, needing some air. A guy in an old style AussieDuct jersey is simply repeating, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.” I hug him. We’re joined by others. Someone starts the song. We hold each other, shoulder to shoulder, jumping up and down and belting out the words. Passers-by stare bemusedly at the crazy, black, white and blue scrum full of laughing, tear streaked faces.

And the sacred moments of silliness are where I find my heaven

Where I find my heaven

Where I find my heaven

Heaven

(Where I find my heaven, Gigolo Aunts)

Later that day, I’m driving back up the M1 and stick the iPod on shuffle. Crowded House are singing Now We’re Getting Somewhere.

You better f***in’ believe it.

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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. :)

Comments

  1. Peter Schumacher says:

    Those not interested in sport don’t know what they miss. Also, if anyone says that there is no soul in sport, particularly the NRL well I would refer them to this report. A truly engaging read.

  2. andy frame says:

    Thanks for the kind words Peter. There were times in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and early noughties that I wished I wasn’t so interested in sport, particularly when dealing with the ‘disappointments’ of being a Sharks and a Cats fan. Still, that’s what makes the success all the sweeter. I’m sure Doggies folk will agree.

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