NRL Grand Fina 2006 and Thoughts on Simpler Times

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

“The things which the child loves remain in the domain of the heart until old age. The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remaining over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves”

Kahlil Gibran

As I sat high up in the plastic thrones of Sydney’s modern day coliseum, ensconced among a brethren of fellow travelers who scream and shout for the greatest game of all, gazing down upon the battlefield of fairytale green and chalk white, two sets of legendary warriors draped in familiar colours and set in familiar formations, deep in the annual battle for glory and immortality, I was swept back to a simpler time.

Rugby league grand final day has always been the most important day of the year. It is for your sentimental wordsmith, anyway. Whilst I am not old, I am not young either. I have seen enough grand finals and enough games of rugby league to understand the true meaning of the game. I can plot my advancement from wide-eyed child to cynical man, through the awkwardness of puberty and the naivety of reaching manhood, through the landscape of rugby league grand finals.

Time stood still for just a brief moment and the Ghost of Grand Finals Past showed me glimpses and snippets of grand final days long gone. The days were simpler then. My brothers and I would wake up early and play the big game a thousand times before breakfast. We would scoop up the brown ball and jump over the back fence and tackle and kick and score tries under the guise of Lamb and Meninga and Sterling. When it rained, we would search for a soft ball and play down the hallway, busting tackles and commentating robustly as Mum yelled with futility at us to stop. If the Dogs were playing, blue and white streamers would adorn the house and car and mailbox. Before the first game started, we would run down to the corner store and buy cokes and chicken twisties. If we had enough change, we would buy another packet of footy cards and play paper-scissors-rock for the powdered gum. We got home for kickoff and had devoured most of the twisties by half time. At halftime, we would pull out our footy card collections and run through yet another grand final preview. Just before reserve grade, some juicy sausages drenched in tomato sauce and a slice of bread, furiously stuffed away so a quick kick can be had before the match. A game of League Premierships was had once the fulltime whistle to the two’s blew. Then, quiet reverence through the pregame until the sound of boot on leather and air through whistle, when cheers and jeers reigned for the following eighty minutes.

There was no worry over tickets or travel or where you watched the game. All that was important was that you were involved in rugby league with fellow true believers. Arguing, taunting, embracing.

In those early years of my rugby league life, I learnt all the important lessons I’d ever need through. Through watching the struggle, the value of hard work was instilled. Through the tribalism of supporting a team, the importance of identity became evident. Through rugby league yearbooks and player biographies, I learnt to read and write and think. Through footy card trading, the principles of market economics were soon figured out. The lessons of youth. The lessons of league.

That was all a bit Kevin Arnold and a bit Willie C but so be it. Melancholy and reflection are integral elements of The Grand Final Feel.

When I found myself back in the realms of reality, I was both saddened and proud. Grand final day will never be like that again. You never can wind back the clock and I’ll never again see Terry Lamb busting tackles or Royce Simmons diving over. Still, proud that rugby league remained the domain of my heart and that grand final day was still magical.

With 80,000 fans cranked on rugby league and a salivating match-up on the menu, this was, I guess, of little surprise. Magic was a certainty. Always will be for those pure of heart.

The 2006 version was as hard and as memorable and as enjoying and as engaging as any grand final I had ever seen. The game transcended the beer buzz and the wagers made and the fact it was the first grand final with not a home team in sight. It was a truly grand match defined by defensive warfare and the ability to seize opportunity. It had all the plot of a Dickens novel- tales of redemption, honour, attainment and death- and the stars and glitz of a Wrestlemania. The game was bigger than some bad refereeing decisions and more important than most realised. After a year has passed, one forgets the true importance in the context of history and legacy that separates the victors from the defeated.

The Broncos now bathe in glory, a brighter ray shining over them with their perfect grand final record. Wayne Bennett was redeemed yet again, now firmly entrenched as a coaching immortal alongside Jack Gibson and Chris Anderson. Shane Webcke has ridden off into the sunset like The Chosen Few before him…a hero. It was a victory deigned by the gods as destiny. You never bet against destiny.

And the Storm, they hyperventilate and moan in disbelief. They know that the words of Ricky Bobby- if you ain’t first, you’re last- are true to the last letter. They fail to understand the workings of the rugby league gods and they sob with ignorance. But they are young and their future is bright and grand final victory is not far away. They did themselves and their jersey and their city proud.

It was a match for the ages. But it is all over now. All over for near-on five months. 

I have already entered the realms of post-league depression. My smoke-happy girl is ready to down me with a musket if I don’t escape the funk. There are some Test matches to be played but the best thing to deal with the withdrawals is total abstinence. I shall lay low, hope my bookies hold my horse bets and wait for that first Ashes test.


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