On Thursday, July 25, the South Sydney Rabbitohs were at the top of the NRL ladder. Those in the famous Cardinal and Myrtle jersey were a band of brothers – literally, their ranks included four Burgesses from West Yorkshire, two of whom were gigantic twins – and they’d been storming through the comp. If ever the club’s premiership drought, stretching back to 1971, was going to be broken, it was now.
Like a lot of Bunnies tragics, I had a rush of blood to the head and went online to purchase a couple of grand final tickets, at $225 each – and they weren’t the most expensive.
My old buddy and fellow lifelong supporter, Washington Minor, was less than gruntled.
‘What if they don’t make it that far?’
I convinced him that this season there was no stopping the boys.
‘Jeez mate, I hope you’re right.’
We’d done exactly the same thing last year. Jumped the gun, only to watch from our nose-bleed seats high in Sydney’s Olympic Stadium as Melbourne Storm took apart the odious Canterbury Bulldogs after the Bunnies had been eliminated the week before. But we didn’t talk about that – to do so would have Jonah’d our chances for sure. History could not repeat itself… could it?
On Friday, September 27, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles unceremoniously put the boot into our dreams with a 30–20 victory over Souths in the first Preliminary Final.
The phone rang barely two minutes after the full-time siren.
‘Hey mate… ’
It was Washington Minor. I think ‘peeved’ is the word that would have best described his tone.
We ummed and ahhed about selling our tickets.
‘Have you ever done anything on eBay?’
This is a classic example of how both of us live in the past. And I’d suggest it’s typical of the silver tsunami of ageing Rabbitoh fans. We still talk about Johnny Sattler’s broken jaw as if it were somehow relevant. Rusty Crowe, despite George Piggins’s dummy-spit, has at least brought the organisation kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Sadly, on the day that matters most, our participation was yet again not called for.
‘Should be a good game though.’
‘Yeah. And it is a grand-final, after all.’
‘Who’ll we barrack for? Easts or Manly?’
‘I couldn’t give a rat’s.’
I had to agree with Minor on that last point.
We’d probably not determine who we were going to favour until after sussing out the mood of the night and deciding which team we hated least. But there was something I was absolutely sure of – if I had to read one more sentence about Sonny Bill Williams I’d puke.
On Saturday morning, October 5, I am in the Wellington Bakery on Bondi Road. Some clown on commercial radio is spruiking the game big-time, going ga-ga about Sonny Bill Williams. I go into a brain-fade.
Apart from the Maori garbo I saw wearing a Roosters cap, I cannot detect any whiff of grand-final fever in the air – but the bagels smell good.
On Sunday, October 6, I meet Minor at Abdul’s in Cleveland Street for a Leb feed before making the trek along Parramatta Road.
‘You know One Direction’s on out there too?’
‘The boy band?’
‘They might have a spot for Sonny Bill.’
At 4pm we find ourselves in seats 10 and 11 of row 19 on the southeastern side of the Stadium. The Under-20s grand final between Penrith and the Warriors does nothing to enliven the atmos, and it’s baking hot.
It cools as the sun starts to drop behind the massive concrete arc opposite. Jessica Mauboy turns it on – I’ve no idea what the song is, but she looks a million bucks in her tight yellow dress. The crowd is now woken from its slumber. Ricky Martin nails it with his routine and suddenly the vibe is electric.
Artie Summons and Norm Provan make their annual appearance with what must be sport’s ugliest trophy and as the bank of floodlights starts to kick in we are all on the edges of our seats.
The pre-kick-off noise is with the mob from across the Bridge. Roosters supporters, who take out travel insurance to venture any further west than Moore Park, are slow to find voice. There are hundreds of Souths fans, stuck with tickets they couldn’t offload.
The Sea Eagles start with precision, power and a sense of adventure. Their outside backs are murdering the Roosters, who look like an outfit that has only played one tough game in the last three weeks and is having trouble adjusting to the intensity and pace of their opponent.
In the blink of an eye it’s half-time.
Easts are ahead 8–6, but they were sluggish out of the blocks and the refs have been kind to them.
After an encouraging start, Manly fall away in the second forty as possession and penalties flow against them. The movement that produced the game-breaking try to Shaun Kenny-Dowall included a pass that looked a yard forward to us – if it happened against the Bunnies we’d have gone troppo.
At full-time, Easts are deserving winners of a fab game of footy.
At 10.30pm, Minor drops me off at Bondi Road, where there’s a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ going on.
‘We’ll do it again next year?’ ‘You bet. And Souths’ll be there for sure.’