The Greatest Game of All Time

Filed in Other by on December 4, 2010

Nobody could have foreseen the events of last Friday evening. It was the perfect storm. Having drunk heavily for the preceding two days and two nights with four Danish tourists and a depraved moustached frame dealer from the western suburbs of Adelaide, I wasn’t thinking a great deal about the Friday match-up.

It involved the Saints whom I disliked and the Eels whom I despised. Both teams were out of form and nothing about either side suggested a great deal would be offered. The Dragons have been hit hard by injury and suspension and have struggled all season. And the Eels, still lapping up the deserved poetic justice for stealing the heart of Canterbury talent in 1995, are a team in despair. Poetic justice can be long and brutal and ever-persistent and has a tendency to keep flogging the deserved in a brutal and vicious manner until mercy or death are the only remaining options. Those in the business of buying NRL premierships would do well to remember that…

We’re sliding down a path of vengeance and redemption and we’re probably better off seeing it out than keeping the violence suppressed. It’s not healthy and at four in the morning, a deadline just around the corner and rabid teenagers wandering aimlessly down below, the ramifications of withholding the rage could be bloody and criminal.

There is no doubt Dennis Fitzgerald and those punks at Parramatta deserve all the past failure, current quagmires and future melancholy heaped upon them by those whose business is poetic justice. No sporting franchise has done more to anger the gods. So nobody should be surprised at seasons of grand mediocrity interspersed with unparalleled finals failure. They should be beaten until comatose and then buried in a shallow desert grave, somewhere west of Forbes…

Enough of all that. I feel better now and if I can keep this positive momentum up until I go and collect on a few Eurovision bets, we may be able to spare some violence.

And last Friday night, well, that was relatively violence free as well. After a few afternoon phone calls to various bookmakers, punting types and good old league boys, I’d got set for some total points unders and the Saints at the minus and whilst still reeling from a backpacker bender, my mood was calm and plaintive. There was no energy for anger, nor for heavy gambling. The bets were small and the action quiet.

So while I was saved at the clutch by some Sean Hampstead incompetence, this was the greatest game I’d seen not for reasons of gambling or victory. To the contrary. When Matt Cooper crossed after the farce that saw Hampstead lose Origin, Jeremy Smith cop suspension and Parramatta missing the spread, I was overcome with melancholy. The Saints covered but it shouldn’t have been like that. The game didn’t deserve it. After what had transpired the previous eighty minutes, the inglorious finale did not befit the noble struggle.

This game had transcended gambling. The taste of victory was soured by what, deep down, I knew to be an injustice. This feeling is rare, but it is honourable and should be regarded as such. It takes a lot to make a game so monumental and glorious and captivating and of such an incredible importance that it is magical within itself; where factors of gambling and hatred and The Ladder and rivalry and personal satisfaction are overcome and defeated by the game itself. Where the game is lifted to proportions of a mythical nature…

For seventy tough minutes, the Dragons and the Eels had still not managed to score a point. Refereeing incompetence, weather wet in nature and a lack of genuine ballplayers saw to all that. For seventy minutes, the game was a dour struggle with little ball movement and even fewer chances.

Then, in a truly great moment, John Morris stepped back and slotted a field goal to put Parramatta up 1-0. To my mind, it was the first time the first scoring play in a game of first grade rugby league was a field goal since 1989. As a lover of the field goal, I could hardly contain my excitement.

It was then my head filled with possibilities that I’d never dared to dream or contemplate. And so it was.

Ben Hornby dropped a very ordinary attempt…and it made the nut. The score was 1-1. My mind was officially blown. With only four minutes to go, I was staring down the barrel of the greatest score of my time.

Then, a possibility that was so wild it had never entered my consciousness or thoughtstream. After a moment of genius where John Morris tried a chip kick on the halfway line, the Saints got into position and Hornby nailed his second FG. The Dragons led 2-1…would this be the first time since Clayton Friend that a player had kicked a field goal for his total team points?

For possibly the only time in history, a top grade game of rugby league had its first three scoring plays by way of field goal. It was a moment to behold, a game to remember. This will never happen again. Never. It had it all bar the kicking duel and the lack of same is more a reflection on the stupidity and narrow mindedness of the modern footballer…but that shouldn’t take away from Friday night.

For just eighty minutes, we were transported back to a simpler time, in both terms of life and league. It was a time when offside was offside, rules were black and white, the field goal meant something and players had ingenuity. Professionalism and the modern world saw an end to all that. But it was nice to go back, even if only briefly.

That, dreamers and obscurists, is that.                


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