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The Waratahs' trajectory and my own life

Michael Cheika has to go back to the drawing board. (Source: AAP Image/Theron Kirkman)
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24th July, 2014
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1672 Reads

It’s been a great year to follow the Waratahs, that much is obvious. But personally it converges with my own life in more ways than one.

Every now and then – certainly not all the time, maybe not even often – your team is riding high and no matter how cold it is on a wintry Friday morning it looks sunny and 25 outside because you’re only a day away from seeing your team blow away another opponent.

That’s what Reds fans felt like in 2011 – and 2012 probably, even though they fell short.

Bulls fans felt like that between 2007 and 2010, like they’d just steam rolled everyone else. Blues and Brumbies fans had long swigs of that sweet winning nectar around the turn of the century.

The Crusaders are the exception that proves the rule; despite not winning a championship for a while they are expected to every year because they were so relentless for so many years. For everyone else it’s all about a window of time.

Sport is great like that. In theory, everyone is in with a chance at the start of the year, even Richmond Tigers fans. Every week of the season you divert your attention to your team for a period of time on the weekend – and, depending on your ‘level’ of fandom, for more time during the week as well – in the hope they’ll come through for you. That they’ll give you something meaningless but meaningful all the same.

Sport is alluring for other reasons too, especially in rugby, as we like to believe we’re educated and civilised. Sport is about more than winning and losing, odds and bets or physical dominance. It teaches both the participants and viewers about character, fighting through adversity, creativity, teamwork, and many other virtues.

Any spectator can look at someone like Nick Cummins and consider the sacrifices he’s made, and will continue to make, for his family. We can learn from those lessons, if we so choose, because he’s made part of his life public through his high-level sporting pursuits.

Yet, there’s a whole other level of viewing sports, one that only happens occasionally – when your life seems to dovetail with the fortunes of your team.

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I will always remember 2014 as the year the Waratahs became a rugby team its supporters were able to get behind again, and I will always remember this year as the one when I achieved a significant life goal.

Over the last 12-18 months I’ve made a concentrated effort to find a path into journalism – specifically sport related. I’d actually arrived at that career decision later than many people do, especially for a market segment largely based on young university graduates taking internships and the like to build the right connections and test the prospective employment options.

I didn’t have a degree. I didn’t know anyone. I just had some rudimentary skills and interests; definitely an outside-looking-in situation.

That’s where the Waratahs were before Michael Cheika took over too. It’d been years since they had a firm direction, culture or results to be especially proud of.

Since then Cheika has worked the team harder than probably anyone who’s been at the helm. He’s cut some dead wood, raised expectations and set lofty goals that seemed unlikely given how far the team needed to come to achieve them.

In the two seasons and almost 18 months since the team’s first competitive fixture under Cheika, they have obviously come a long, long way.

On Saturday night the Waratahs will host their first Super Rugby final in years, coming off their first minor premiership since the competition began.

The crowds are slowly coming back, and this weekend will probably be their biggest. They are playing the kind of rugby that kids will emulate in the backyard, and have built a platform so the stardom of their best players can shine brightest.

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They’re the fittest team, have the strongest defence, and are arguably the most exciting outfit in Super Rugby.

Saturday will be my birthday. It will also be two days before I start a full-time reporting role with Fairfax community news.

Seriously dovetailing storylines here.

This is a big week for me, and my team. On the edge of something new.

I’d like to thank The Roar. This website is a truly unique sports community and one that helped give my writing a start. It’s a place where, if you can write and have something interesting to say, you’ll get published, regardless of prior experience, background or formal qualifications.

Thank you to Zac, Tristan and Paddy who run the show here. All of you have offered advice on my writing and career, as well as provided opportunities to try new things.

The past couple of years on The Roar are my personal equivalent of the famous Coogee steps Cheika put the Waratahs up and down during their last two pre-seasons.

There have been times, as recently as a couple of months ago, where I couldn’t see exactly how I was going to reach my goal, and the Waratahs’ lowly finish last year attracted a fair few doubters as well. But you always have to trust the process.

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This has been a valuable training ground for me, putting in a lot of reps and copping it from the informed crowd when I say something stupid. And that is a perfect segue into the next group I want to thank: all of you, the readers and commenters of this site. It’s been fantastic getting to know some of you, reading all of your ideas, and getting into it in the comments section with everyone (even a misguided proposal or two).

This place has played a big part in me getting to the point where I can get paid for doing something I love. I’m quite sure this doesn’t mean the end of my partnership with The Roar, but it might mean I’m not around as much for a little while.

This weekend my favourite sports team will be going into territory uncharted since GPS (the positioning system, not the schools) made that kind of task easier. I will also launch into something new.

Neither the Waratahs nor I have actually won anything yet. But that’s half the battle isn’t it? Getting into a position to succeed.

I’m hoping this week is the first of many on a path towards more achievements, so do the Waratahs. But it’s always worth recognising new beginnings and help on the way to getting your foot in the door.