“What a great spectacle,” commented a young Irish chap, as my wife, Marie and I made our way back to our Coogee Bay hotel, after the 2013 NRL grand final between the Sydney s and Manly-Warringah, at ANZ Stadium, Homebush.
Our Irish companion had not been brought up on ‘our code’, and had attended the match as a neutral observer, just to experience a bit more of what makes Sydney tick.
The fact he was living in the eastern suburbs, meant he went for the ‘mighty Chooks on the night, with dual rugby international, Sonny Bill Williams another reason for the Irishman to get behind the Trent Robinson coached side.
The game was a classic, with a try by s’ centre, Michael Jennings one to live in the memory.
Leading only 20-18 with seven minutes left, the s looked to fiery five eighth, James Maloney for something special, and he delivered, with a grubber kick between Manly fullback, Brett Stewart and winger, David ‘Wolfman’ Williams. It looked as if the ball would roll dead, but Jennings refused to give up on the play, and pressed the ball a centimetre inside the field of play.
The s won 26-18, their claim their first premiership since 2002.
There was a lot of push and shove, trying to get on the train after the match, but everyone remained in a good mood.
Marie and I had spent two nights in Newcastle before the Sydney leg of our trip, and had caught up with friends, Greg and Maree Grainger, who took us to dinner at Silo Restaurant, on the Hunter River, a great spot to watch shipping come and go, with the tugs always at their side. We had drinks at Honeysuckle Bar afterwards, with Greg and I tucking into an ‘Angry Man Pale Ale’, and talking about our glory days at Murwillumbah Brothers.
The following day, Marie and I walked from Fort Scratchley, south along the coast as far as Shepherd’s Hill, before the weather turned nasty. We ran to Bar Beach to escape the storm, drinking hot chocolate and eating chips (potatoes from Lowood in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley) to negate the effects of a freezing cold wind.
While we were in Newcastle, I learned of the passing of former Great Britain rugby league prop, Terry Clawson, who had a stint with local club, Souths. I had seen Terry play for the Lions on their Australian tour in 1974.
I also took a call from Dane Campbell, who was looking for publicity for the upcoming Vanuatu v Solomons Island match. I don’t think he realised I was a retired league writer.
This was to be my first grand final as a spectator since 1980, when I attended the Norths v Souths Brisbane decider at Lang Park, with a couple of American friends.
On Friday, October 4, Marie and I caught the train from Wickham (Newcastle) to Sydney Central. An Indian cabbie, who spoke into his phone the whole way, drove us to the Crowne Plaza, Coogee. The female receptionist said it was my 18th time staying at the hotel. I thought I had stayed there many more times, during my Courier-Mail days.
Marie and I dined at Coogee’s Legion club, sharing mussels and calamari.
Coogee Bay, the day before a grand final, is rugby league central, and on the way to Coogee Oval, to watch a bit of cricket, I bumped into former Gold Coast players, Tony ‘Bull’ Durheim, and Peter Gill. Durheim was still living in his home town, Lismore, while Toowoomba product, Gill had moved back to the Gold Coast, after finishing his top class career in England.
While I enjoyed my coffee, I was able to watch a quality game of grade cricket, while also looking out to sea, where there were Navy Ships. Several helicopters flew by, one with a huge Australian flag.
On the roof of the Palace Hotel there was a party, and it was easy to distinguish Melbourne Storm centre, Matt King with his afro hairstyle. I also heard the voice of Storm skipper, Cameron Smith, who had spotted me and made some sort of comment, before disappearing from view. Harmless, I’m sure.
Next stop, was the Clovelly Hotel, where there was a huge Queensland contingent, including my former Brisbane Brothers’ teammates, John Alroe and Rod Gillis, as well as Titans Media man, Adam Gardini.
In the TAB bar, I had drinks with former Kiwi internationals, Eddie Heatley and Bernie Lowther; former Australian forward, Paul Dunn and player-manager, Steve ‘Chimes’ Gillis. I played against Heatley in 1975, when he was captain-coach of Wauchope and I was a second rower for Wingham. Heatley went on to become our milkman, at Zillmere in Brisbane’s north.
Joe Kinnane and his family from Grafton, were the other ‘regulars’ I caught up with, at the Clovelly.
While I was reliving my glory days, at the Clovelly, Marie was spending time in the city, catching up with our daughter, Melanie.
The day after the Roosters’ triumph, there were Roosters’ flags everywhere at Bondi, where Marie and I spent a big part of the day.
We had dinner again at the Legion club, but left when a drunk patron started singing ‘Yesterday’.
Before flying out on Tuesday, Marie and I walked the streets of Paddington and Woollahra, enjoying a drink at the Lord Dudley pub, before a lovely lunch at ‘Flat White Cafe’, across the road. The first time I visited the Lord Dudley was back in the early 1980s, when the great Arthur Beetson took members of the Queensland State of Origin side there.
In Oxford Street, the police pulled over a young driver, for talking into his mobile. Well done.
We walked through Centennial Park, before getting the bus back to Coogee, where Parramatta teammates, Jarryd Hayne and Ben Roberts, and another bloke, were training on the beach, keeping in shape ahead of the Rugby League World Cup in Britain and France, where Hayne was to represent Australia, and Roberts Western Samoa.
The driver of our shuttle bus to the airport, had played soccer for Brisbane Lions. His brother was a jockey.
Courier-Mail sports reporter, Robert ‘Crash’ Craddock was talking over the phone to 4BC in Brisbane, as we passed through the Sydney airport terminal, with ‘Crash’ on his way to Fox Studies to record an episode of ‘The Back Page’.
‘Crash’ mentioned me, and I thought I detected a hint of emotion in his voice, as he no doubt reflected on the quickly changing face of the media, with so many experienced people like me, having taken redundancies.
1 Greg and Maree Grainger
2 You don’t have to be mad to be a s’ fan, but it helps
3 Marie Ricketts at Coogee
4 Great Britain rugby league prop, Terry Clawson enjoys an Aussie beer in 1974.