A new game of the year contender graced the screens in Round 8 as crowds returned to New South Wales venues and two coaches moved one step further down a greasy pole. Here are my talking points for the weekend.
We are certainly in the midst of crazy times.
There’s no sport being played just about anywhere in the world and no confirmation of dates for when sport may return. With nothing current to write about, my thoughts turned to my favourite sporting memories, or at least my take on these events.
All in all, it’s a very subjective list. One person’s favourite sporting memory is likely someone else’s sporting nightmare. This is one of those memories. It’s my story, but I hope you can relate.
Sunday, 2 October 2016, is a day I will never forget. I’m a Sharks fan – there, I said it. A long-suffering Sharks fan. I’d endured countless dramas over many years, near bankruptcy on many occasions and, just as things seemed to be taking a turn upwards, the peptides scandal. Supporting a team with no premierships and, realistically, a team that every other fan wanted to be kicked out of the NRL, wasn’t easy. For the black, white and blue fans, 2 October 2016 changed all that.
I wasn’t even there. The extended family had booked a holiday to Hamilton Island nine months earlier. Planning holidays around grand finals was something that not even the most optimistic of Sharks fans would consider.
I was there a week earlier when they beat the North Queensland Cowboys at the Sydney Football Stadium. I had never been in a crowd like it, only to be eclipsed the following weekend.
I’m not afraid to admit it: I cried like a baby when the siren went in the preliminary final. Just the thought of making the grand final was overwhelming. It wasn’t until the next day that Melbourne Storm were confirmed as our opponents, a team that had demolished the Sharks a few weeks earlier.
I did consider flying back for the grand final, but the cost of the additional flights and thoughts that I might jinx my team made me stay put in what is, in reality, a pretty cool place to stay put.
Saturday, 1 October, saw the Western Bulldogs beat the Sydney Swans in the AFL grand final. While a Swans supporter, the feelings don’t go as deep for me in the AFL. I was actually thinking if the Western Bulldogs could win their first premiership since 1954, surely the Sharks could win their first ever.
We headed to the marina at Hamilton Island late on Sunday afternoon and grabbed fish and chips. It was a surreal place to be watching the grand final. It was real mix of supporters, some loyal Storm and Sharks supporters, Queenslanders who didn’t want to see Paul Gallen win and New South Welshmen who felt quite similar about Cameron Smith.
The Sharks couldn’t have started better. A James Maloney penalty goal plus a converted Ben Barba try gave Cronulla the 8-0 lead. Better still, a scrumbase play that had been kept well under wraps. The Sharks were in complete control. Although the 8-0 scoreline at half-time was still a concern – we knew the Storm would come back.
And come back they did. Jesse Bromwich crashed over in the 50th minute and Will Chambers beat a tired-looking defence in the 64th minute. From a half-time lead we were now 12-8 down.
It was too much for my dad, as he’d been there a number of times before. He and mum and my sister’s family headed back to the apartment to watch the end. But something made me and my family stay. My wife, a Panthers supporter, said we had better just see it out.
I’d never been a massive Andrew Fifita fan, but I loved him in that 69th minute. No one except Fifita scores a try like that. When we saw the replay and it was clear that Fifita had scored, it was a huge moment. My three kids were getting excited.
Sharks were two in front with ten minutes to go. It was the longest ten minutes of my life. The Storm arguably butchered one chance. Cronulla found touch with 60 seconds left on the clock. Melbourne would need to go 80 metres.
What followed was just a blur. It’s only that I’ve seen it countless times since that I know exactly what happened. After seeming like the Sharks were going to lose in the cruellest possible way, Ricky Leutele made a great tackle, Michael Ennis leapfrogged him and the Sharks had held on. Cronulla had won it.
I cried again. I hugged strangers. My seven-year-old said she had waited so long for this. I didn’t feel the need to tell her that I had waited my entire life. We hung around the marina to let it soak in and returned to the apartment. I hugged my dad, who had been waiting a few years longer than I. As far as sporting memories go, it doesn’t get any better than this.
When Paul Gallen said, “Turn your porch lights off because we’re coming home with the trophy”, the final wave of emotion hit. The wait was over.