I’m not going to lie – seeing the Tigers fans give it to Ivan Cleary on Friday night was great to watch.
So much anger towards the man who left them back in 2018.
So much resentment towards the man who blew those infamous kisses when they met again.
They were ready. Locked and loaded with insults and hand gestures, desperate to give it back to Cleary. Thankfully for the Tigers’ faithful, they got the win and gave him everything they had.
Over the top? Maybe.
Deserved? You be the judge.
But did it confirm the importance of enemies and grudge matches in rugby league? Absolutely.
The game is fueled by feuds. It feeds on bitter rivalries. And we, the fans, soak it up and love every minute of it.
Many friendships have been made and broken over who goes for which team. Engagements called off and families torn apart over club loyalties. Okay, slight exaggeration, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark.
Your team needs a mortal enemy. Players need to have an opponent that brings out something in them like no other. Fans need a team that, no matter who they are playing, they refuse to tip just out of spite.
Remember the old saying: “I support (insert team here) and whoever is playing Manly”?
There have been some legendary rivalries that have lasted the test of time, and newer ones that are proving just as timeless.
Roosters and Rabbitohs
The oldest and still the best. The war between them started back in 1908. Money, boundaries, players jumping ship and loyal fans with long memories will ensure the bad blood will never die.
Paul ‘The Chief’ Harragon and Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll
Hatred. Just pure hatred between the two front-rowers. Always an explosive battle when they came together. And this paved the way for the rivalry between Newcastle and Manly that still stands today. The pinnacle, of course, being the epic 1997 grand final, won in the final seconds by the Knights.
Manly and Melbourne
These teams played back-to-back grand finals in 2007 and 2008, with each side claiming one. This should be enough to flair a rivalry, but they will forever be bitter rivals due to the infamous Battle of Brookevale in 2011.
The animosity between the teams had been bubbling away under the surface for the first half, and then it finally exploded into an all-in brawl. Players, trainers and officials found themselves caught up in the notorious fight. That game will go down in history, and that rivalry will live on forever.
Wests Tigers and James Tedesco
It always hurts when a beloved player leaves a club to join another. It is so much more painful when it is a local junior who has come through the ranks, who you just know is going to be a star and lead your team to a premiership, for them to turn around and sign with an enemy.
Tigers fans will never forgive Tedesco for moving across to the Roosters.
Parramatta and Canterbury
These two teams were strong rivals back in the ’80s, with many classic battles between them. Their rivalry ramped up again during the Super League War.
With the Bulldogs signing on with the new venture, the Eels stayed with the ARL. In doing so, they signed four legends from the Bulldogs – Jason Smith, Dean Pay, Jim Dymock and Jarrod McCracken. When all teams came back to one competition the following year, it started a whole new hatred between the sides.
Brisbane and North Queensland
For eight years, these two were the only teams in Queensland. With Brisbane being the older club, when the Cowboys joined the competition, a ‘big brother-little brother’ battle emerged.
The Broncos were always victorious at the start, but as the years went on, the matches began to even up. In the 2015 grand final, the Cowboys took out the ultimate bragging rights over their older sibling – winning one of the best deciders ever with a Johnathan Thurston field goal in golden point.
There are so many classic rugby league rivalries, I could keep you here all day.
Des Hasler and the Bulldogs, Wendell Sailor and Adam MacDougall, the Storm and the Sharks, Darius Boyd and pretty much everyone, the Sharks and the Dragons, Manly and Western Suburbs, and, of course, as we will see again this week: New South Wales and Queensland.
It is safe to say that the Tigers and Ivan Cleary have joined that list of bitter enemies.
And this ever-growing list is so important for the game. For as long as there are classic rivalries, the game will never die.
You will always hate the team that beat you in the grand final. You will always loath the player that broke your heart when they left your club. And you will always despise the coach who blew you kisses after he came back with his new team and won.
When you get one up on your arch nemesis, you let them know with everything you have.
Like the Tigers did. And it feels so good.
Roarers: what is your favourite rivalry of all time?