NRL Grand Final Preview – Keep the light on for Jack

I haven’t dared say too much. I haven’t dared hope.

This season has been so promising, like so many before. Like any long suffering supporter disappointment is the default position. When success is achieved there is euphoria – so rare, beautiful and brief.

And I can’t believe we’re here.

And now that we’re here, I am feeling sadness. Part of my love for the Sharks is tied up with memories of times I shared with my Pop, sitting in our seats in the Peter Burns Stand, above the King Wan Restaurant, cheering them on.

He started following the expansion team when they started in 1967. It was a deliberate move by the NSWRL – to end the dominance of their neighbour St George by ensuring that the juniors from the Shire would now be zoned to Cronulla. They started playing across the road from the house he shared with my Grandma and my mum. Within 10 years the kid from next door was playing for them – although he probably spent more time suspended than on the field. Listening to the game on the radio and, if the Sharks were the televised game, watching it on television. Eventually he and Grandma bought season tickets – it must have been after he’d retired because, as a shift worker on the railways he wouldn’t have always been able to go to the games.

When Grandma got sick, Pop offered me her seat. Both Mum and I were Cronulla supporters, but somehow I got the seat.

I loved those times, Saturday afternoons, we’d climb the stairs in the Leagues Club, past the bar, out to our seats. The Under 21s would probably have started, we’d say hello to Ian and Roger sitting in front of us, and eat our sandwiches. Then the reserves and finally the main game. Maybe it was enjoyable because it was an era where the Sharks were full of promise. Andrew “ET” Ettingshausen and Mark “Sparkles” McGaw in the centres, ripping apart the opposition. Gavin Miller, the face of a boxer but the mind of a chess grandmaster, setting up the play. The combination of Speechley and Russell in the halves, the grunt of forwards like Dane Sorenson, the safe arms of Jonathon Docking – my favourite – as fullback.

Then in 1988, it actually looked possible. We were the all conquering team, winning the minor premiership.

But off-field, Grandma had taken a turn for the worse. Semi-finals and palliative care are an awful combination. Two defeats in successive weekends at the Sydney Football Stadium were a brief respite from the real sadness we shared. Footy was secondary. The record states that Canterbury won the Premiership that year; but I didn’t care. We were in mourning and not for a lost season and a failed promise.

Next season, 1989, Pop still bought two season tickets – there was no question that I wouldn’t go with him. We were with our footy family who loved the Sharks as we did. Despite being decades younger I was readily accepted into the group. We talked ability of players, the overall strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. There was never any question that I wasn’t there for the footy. But that wasn’t the whole story; it was time that I got to spend with Pop, just him and me, over our shared love of the Sharks.

When I turned 18 the routine changed slightly. We were able to drink, so after the game Pop, Ian, Roger and I would have a beer. Unfortunately for me it was the sponsor’s product, Powers Bitter (if you thought XXXX was bad…), when the game would be discussed again.

The 1990s weren’t as good as the 1980s and finals were once again distant memories and unattainable dreams. The crowds that had packed Ronson Oval weren’t necessarily coming back to Caltex Field, even though the kids coming through the lower grades (some of whom I’d been at school with the year before) were promising.

1993 was my last season watching the Sharks in the Peter Burns with Pop.  After graduation I moved to Canberra where I took up a graduate position in the Public Service.  But when Cronulla played Canberra at Bruce in 1994, Pop came down and we watched a defeat in unfamiliar seats in an unfamiliar stadium. It was Canberra’s year, and I was the only person at my friends’ BBQ who religiously watched the two lower grade grand finals, cheering on the Sharks to two Premierships. Yes, they’re minor grade, but it’s silverware and, aside from the 1977 AMCO Cup there’s bugger all in the Cronulla trophy cabinet.

Pop stuck with the Sharks through the Superleague farce but even then we couldn’t manage a Premiership. He had memories of the precarious nature of the Club’s finances and how we luckily managed to survive when clubs like Newtown had not. Superleague was touted as financial security – he had more faith in it than me. He’d stuck with them for 30 years – with variously his wife, granddaughter and daughter (yep, Mum took my seat) by his side. He was a fixture like so many long time supporters, waiting and hoping that this year was the year.

It took 19 years to get another chance and Pop, unfortunately, is not here to see it.  The year he died we went close.  Beaten in the preliminary final by the New Zealand Warriors. It was weird. I wanted them to win but I wouldn’t have been able to bear it if they did. He had been there since the beginning and if they’d won a Premiership that year, without him, it would not have been right; it would not have been fair. It would have been heartbreaking.

But now, 14 years later, we’re here and I want it. Our whole existence has been keeping the porch light on for Harold Holt, but really we’re also keeping it on in memory for all who have gone before, cheering the Sharks on for 50 seasons, without trophies but still winning.

On Sunday night I’m keeping my porch light on for Jack.

About Kath Presdee

Just a suburban girl, just a suburban girl. Lawyer by day, wife and Mum by night. I experience the agony and the ecstasy of sport, having followed Cronulla all my life, the Brumbies all their life and as a foundation member of the Giants.

Comments

  1. Lovely stuff Kath. Family and footy. Great memories that we can only hope will be the foundations for a truly wonderful story after 80 minutes on Sunday. Could it be….is it……is that a lone, dark figure emerging from the breakers on Cheviot Beach?

  2. Anthony W Collins says:

    Thank you for the wonderful image of a Grandfather and his beloved granddaughter.
    It is splendid to think of such a heartwarming image.
    Enjoy the moment.

  3. Beautiful stuff, Kath! Becoming old enough to share a beer with my grandfather was one of the best bits about adulthood for me – even if mine was unsteerably into West End Draught. Might pop a light on on Sunday evening. Cheers

  4. Sweet piece, Kath. Haven’t yet lost any fans in my family, but it reminded me of how that’s ultimately inevitable. Hope the Sharks can win it for all fans current and past.

  5. Kath Presdee says:

    Thanks for all the comments – I watched the GF with my mum and we were well pleased.

  6. andy frame says:

    We did it Kath. We only went and did it!!

  7. What a ripper piece Kath and then such a tense battle of a Grand Final when it looked like you were going to get rolled despite having so much of the play.

    Many beaut lines in the piece: I especially love “Gavin Miller, the face of a boxer but the mind of a chess grandmaster”.

    Enjoy the premiership!

Leave a Comment

*