All aboard for the 2012 Grand Final abroad
As a rugby league fan, I will go to great lengths to make sure I get to see the grand final every year. This is even if it means overcoming niggling roadblocks such as work, relationship commitments and the birth of blood-relatives.
When on the road, though, and not having the luxury of just parking your arse on the couch and fumbling for the remote on the big day, getting to watch the grand final goes from being a simple exercise in responsibility-dodging to the kind of mission that Chuck Norris riding a velociraptor would shy away from.
In 2011, my game day experience consisted of listening to ABC’s radio coverage in rural Africa via an internet server that cut-out every time a monkey jumped on our server cable (approximately every second set of six, or every time Manu Vatuvei dropped the ball).
Being in London for the 2012 decider, however, things were looking up.
Or so I thought.
The following is a blow-by blow description of my NRL grand final day in the Olympic City:
•12am Sunday morning: with the game kicking off at 8:15am London time, I set my alarm for 7am, allowing me plenty of time to make it to the nearest Australian-themed pub for kick-off. It also provided me plenty of time to regret being far too broke to afford Sky Sports in my house
•7:00am: alarm goes off. When the smell of regret and empty bottles of Scrumpy Jack hits my nostrils I realise it is a Sunday. Promptly fall asleep again.
•7:48am: wake from a dream about scoring a 98-metre try for the South Queensland Crushers wearing nothing but a Footy Show cap and black boot polish under my eyes. Have a nagging feeling that I am supposed to be somewhere.
•7:50am: OH DEAR GOD!!!!
•8:00am: arrive at tube station and jump on the first train. I am the only person in the carriage that isn’t an early-rising football hooligan or a lumpy housewife reading “50 Shades of Grey.”
•8:10am: get out of the tube station and start frantically looking for the Aussie pub. Breathe a sigh of relief when across the road I see two grown men wearing matching “Bring Back the Biff” T-shirts laying passed-out in a gutter.
•8:13am: make it into the pub, order a snake-bite and saddle up to the big screen showing the game. Ask a bloke next to me if I missed anything in the pre-match entertainment. Apparently, my late arrival had deprived me of seeing “Some ugly seppo douches in the wrong jerseys singing or something!”
•8:15am: kick-off, and the crowd erupts! Place bets on the winning margin, first try scorer, and how many seconds it will be before Craig Bellamy blows up in the coaches box.
•9th minute, game time: Hoff slides over and Melbourne are on the board. Kleenex share-price takes a dramatic plunge.
•17th minute: channelling the spirit of Shannon Nevin, Cameron Smith stinks-up his penalty attempt, causing it to bounce off the upright and let the Dogs off the hook. Doggies fans to the left of me decide to put their Storm jerseys and ciggie lighters away, for the time being.
•27th minute: Canterbury goes in for a try. In much more important news: “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT”! The whole pub breaks its Sunday morning hangover and rises to its feet. Replays of James Graham going the chomp on Billy Slater are met with more cheers and fist-pumping. Come to the conclusion that Billy’s ear is probably better than the Yorkshire Pudding and mushy peas that the pub is currently trying to pass off as food.
•33rd minute: Ol’ one-ear Bill goes over for the Storm’s second. Ben Barba spotted in back-play trying to fill in his New Zealand visa forms for the chance to play rep footy one day.
•40th minute: and right on half time Melbourne is in again. If Cooper Cronk was any more on-fire then his jersey would be in a pile of ashes in Belmore somewhere.
•Halftime: it is reassuring to know that halftime in the pub directly mirrors that at the game, i.e.: queuing for the toilets, queuing for drinks, queuing for the chance to move away from the fat bloke in a Manly jersey who has been blocking your view all game etc. No fly-by visit from Joey Johns, though, unfortunately (I don’t think London brings out the best in him).
•42nd minute: only two minutes back in the game and the Dogs are on the attack courtesy of a Billy Slater error. Ben Barba seen in back-play hastily reaching for the white-out
•50th minute: what looked to be a certain try goes begging as Michael “Top Bloke” Ennis gets held-up by best mate Cameron “The Personality” Smith in a great display of line defence. Somewhere, Benny Elias receives a narky text message from Steve Walters.
•54th minute: not content with looking like Blackbeard’s brother and eating half his club’s under-20s team, Sam Kasiano drops the knee in a play the ball and gifts the Storm a penalty. The bartender wearing a Melbourne jersey drops three trays of glasses when he sees Cameron Smith reaching for the kicking-tee again.
•62nd minute: a jolt of electricity surges through pub as Ben Barba breaks his way through the line and hoofs the ball down field for Josh “not Brett” Morris. There is to be no repeat of Mackay, though, with Slater flying in to save the day, providing a bigger spoiler than the pimply faced kid who told me that Robin was going to be in the new Batman movie.
•66th minute: Dogs come close to scoring, before the video referee realises that Jono Wright was somehow involved in the play. Red light.
•69th minute: Brian Norrie claims a try for the Storm, leaving everyone scratching their head as to how the big-bopper got to the in-goal so fast. Replays showing him to approximately 37.5 metres offside revive everyone’s belief in basic physics.
•75th minute: Bulldogs on the attack and needing to land a try to stay in the game. Against the wishes of every non-Storm supporter inside the pub, though, they pass it to Keating, resulting in a turnover and at least 7-8 tirades within earshot concerning the general evil nature of redheads.
•80th minute: the clock winds down and Melbourne claim their deserved prize. As others celebrate or begin drowning their sorrows I look into my warm snake-bite and quietly reminisce on another great year of rugby league.
Well done Storm; you truly are a champion team. And as for the Doggies, well, there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.
If you’re lucky, the Channel Nine chopper might even give you a lift.