Recently I watched the short film “Dear Basketball” by Kobe Bryant, and for anyone who loves sport of any kind do yourself a favour and find it.
It’s a film of passion and shows what the sport means to him and what it has done for him throughout his life.
It caused me to reflect on my life and love for sport and while the NBA is a passion of mine and I love to play the game, it has not had the same impact on me as rugby league. It has influenced all aspects of my life and I am very thankful for it.
Some of my earliest memories as a child involve rugby league. I remember watching the Origins of the mid-90s with my dad as he called for the refs to do their job and to stop letting the QLDers do whatever they want. He would recount with passion the old Origin games and the all in brawls early in the games, Les Davidson’s madness, Brett Kenny’s skill and how much of a bastard Wally Lewis was.
I remember the hits that Spud and Chief would dish out to each other and how excited I would feel.
The first grand final that I can remember was the 1997 Manly versus Knights game, and I was transfixed by the forwards’ brutality, Geoff Toovey’s toughness and the overall joy I felt to see Darren Albert score late to win it when my dad had already made it clear we hate Manly. My first few years following league was with the Gold Coast Chargers, the somewhat local team that would visit my school to train and hand out tickets.
I would go to the games with my dad and see them often flogged one particular night Parra put 50 odd past them, but I loved the crowd, the cheering, the referee bashing and how hard the teams went at each other.
When the Chargers were booted from the comp there was just one player I wanted to follow. That man was Brad Fittler. I loved his step, his coolness, how he played Origin and seemed to never get flustered. I loved Brad Fittler and in turn loved the Roosters. I watched every game I could and those I couldn’t, I would listen to on ABC Grandstand.
My dad did not really support my choice, being a Souths man and the rivalry became obvious to me quickly. When Souths were booted from the comp I think Dad lost all love for the game and nearly stopped watching altogether.
A lot of the friends I made at school had a passion for league as well and the talk on a Monday and whose team had lost and whose had won. The games on the playground where often and intense, I tried my best to emulate my hero in Brad Fittler with his ball playing and big step. I joined a team and found out I was just an average front rower, though I maintain my coaches were wrong.
I went to the local league games and watched the Mustangs’ intensity. I watched how one day a week these guys could become local heroes. The elation that the town felt when the Mustangs won their first grand final of my time was beautiful and so good for the town. The second one was full of tears and an outpouring of support and love for the town and the family of Grant Cook, who had died a week earlier in the preliminary final.
In 2002 the Roosters won the grand final for the first time in my life and for the first time since 1975. I was beyond excited I had seen a personal hero of mine become a champion and then some other players I had loved watching, such as the likes of Anthony Minichiello, Luke Ricketson and Adrian Morley. I felt true happiness when they finally beat the Warriors.
The same year the Rabbitohs had returned to the league and my dad’s love for the game returned too. The Rabbits struggled but it meant a great deal for him for them to be just back in the game.
Supporting the Roosters has been a roller coaster for my entire life. I have seen them win a wooden spoon and seen them win three premierships. They struggled hugely after Brad Fittler retired but I watched them every week I needed to see how they went and hope for a win. They were lean years and the wooden spoon was a true low point.
But the last ten years have been a huge high, they have been fantastic for most of the decade and seen the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Mitchell Pearce and Cooper Cronk call the club home. I have huge respect for Trent Robinson and am so grateful for what he has done for the club I love.
Perhaps the man most responsible for my enjoyment of league besides my dad has been Nick Politis, I will never be able to thank him enough for what he has done for my club and how much he has contributed to the game as a whole.
Rugby league has been one of the foundations of my life and the relationships I have built throughout my life. My dad and I are forever talking about the game and watching it together. My earliest memories focus around watching football, it has given me so much and I thank it for everything that it has done for me.
I want to thank it for the memories I have, I want to thank it for the friends it has allowed me to make, the joy I felt practising chips and chases in the back yard. League has been the ongoing love in my life and I hope I get to see the game continuously improve (and perhaps a few more Rooster premierships).
I would love to hear about what made readers fall in love with the game, a team or a player.