Friday June 22
Moore Park’s monster triple header started on Friday night, as Geelong travelled north for the Swans’ only Friday game of the season. The Bradman, Noble and Messenger Stand renovations have slashed capacity and the huge majority of the 34,000 available seats were filled with spectators hoping for a repeat of Nick Davis’ 2005 heroics, immortalised by Anthony Hudson’s unforgettable call.
The Swannies’ white-collar crowd was treated to some blue-chip football in the first term as Sydney piled on seven straight goals to lead by 35 at the first break. But just as they did in their last outing against Essendon, the Swans left the door ajar for their opponents. The Cats chipped away at the arrears until they poked their nose in front late in the last term.
While it lacked the theatre of Davis’ four goals en route to the ’05 premiership, the conclusion to this round 13 clash was equally unlikely. Andrejs Everitt – the string bean journeyman who substituted for Adam Goodes, a much more probable star enduring a miserable, seven-possession return from injury – calmly slotted a set shot in the dying minutes to secure victory, to a rapturous support who had seen their heroes get out of gaol twice in two games.
Saturday June 23
Sporting organisations often seem to do a poor job with their fixtures. It took the A-League seven years to realise their season shouldn’t open in August and September, in direct competition with NRL and AFL finals. The NRL has a unique ability to deflate big games with inexplicable time slots – take last Monday’s grand final rematch pigeon-holed on a Monday evening after Origin. But whoever draws up the schedule for the ARU deserves a pat on the back.
The three-week break in a lacklustre Super 15 season has allowed Northern Hemisphere nations to send full strength sides to face the SANZAR outfits, and Wales and Australia repaid the commitment with a hard-fought three match series. The third game at the stadium formerly known as the SFS easily sold out – 2,000 tickets were sold to subbies players, who enjoyed a rest week to accommodate the Wallabies match. Shute Shield was shifted to Friday and Sunday to make room for the Saturday showpiece. Tickets were cheap and the venue was appropriate. And as a reward for this deft planning, the harbour city was treated to blue skies. Perfect conditions for champagne rugby.
Built a quarter of a century ago – and rarely filled since the NRL grand final, Origin and Wallabies games were transferred to the Homebush Olympic Park in 1999 – Allianz Stadium was beginning to show its age. Gate D was closed due to a technical glitch or something or other, leading to a crush at Gate C. The bar staff couldn’t pour Hahn Super Dry quick enough for the thirsty patrons and the queue for the toilets snaked across three bays underneath the big screen at the northern end. But all of it added to an all-too-rare carnival atmosphere that’s hard to engineer in big stadiums. A sizeable contingent of well-humoured Welsh fans (most of whom had evidently acquainted themselves with the watering holes around Surry Hills and Paddington) added greatly to the occasion.
The game was a willing contest between two good sides who had struggled to click, but not through lack of effort. Wales toiled manfully despite the loss of their star captain Sam Warburton to a shoulder injury after half an hour and won the physical arm wrestle but Berrick Barnes – who Quade Cooper will find hard to displace from the No.10 jumper – turned in another cool, calm and collected shift to steer Australia home.
Sunday June 24
After a heart-stopping Swans victory and a terrific finale to the Welsh series, the script writer was exhausted by Sunday afternoon. He’d used up all his story lines. He didn’t have anything left in the tank for the poor old Roosters, who came crashing down to earth with a 52-14 demolition at the hands of Manly.
There was nothing memorable about this game, witnessed by a palindromic crowd of 13,531 people – mainly Roosters, with most Eagles fans preferring to stay on their insular Peninsular. Tony Williams went on a rampage and Jamie Lyon was at his crafty best. The Roosters looked a broken side following their messy divorce with Anthony Mitchell and 148-game former fan favourite Sam Perrett, and collapsed in a heap after threatening a second-half comeback.
So ended a busy weekend for the SCG Trust staff, as well as the sporting tragics who feasted on this weekend’s buffet of sport. We mightn’t have been treated to a Nick Davis moment, but it was close enough.