She wore a yellow dress with three stripes at the front. Red first, blue in the middle and then red again. Creamy white tights covered her legs, and pink shoes dangled in the air as she gently swung her feet backwards and forwards in time with the clickety clack of the train tracks.
As our eyes met, my first instinct was to look away, to pretend the gaze was incidental, to act almost as if I was surprised to have found myself looking in her direction, in any direction at all. But something deep down told me to hold for a second, to keep looking and see what I might find.
It might sound cliché, like something created with special effects for a movie scene, but I swear her eyes glistened. There’s no other word for it. They twinkled like stars in the sky, and at that moment it felt as if I’d never be able to look away.
I can’t remember who smiled first. In my memory, it feels like it was her, but there’s every chance I was grinning from ear to ear before she even noticed my presence. I suppose it doesn’t matter now — with the passage of time such details become less and less important — but the vision in my head is so clear that it seems odd to have any loose ends.
Looking back now I understand that she could see well beyond my eyes, deep down to a place I don’t think anyone has seen since. It’s amazing, really, that love can take you to such places so quickly. Once two people meet there, there’s no need for speech, the connections you make bond tighter than any contract or promise uttered with spoken word ever could.
When she first stood up I was a mixture of excitement and nerves. Should I stand, too? How should I greet her? What should I say? How would I introduce her to my mother? My whole life flashed before my eyes, past, present and future. I knew our lives were already so tightly intermingled, but I didn’t know where to start.
As she broke my gaze, there was a moment of confusion, but as the train slowed and she walked towards the door I began to feel physically sick. I squeezed my mother’s hand in an attempt to fight back the tears, but it made little difference. The girl in the yellow dress with two red stripes and one blue one was stepping onto the platform. And out of my life.
I expected she would turn back to look at me, but now I realise that it must have been too painful, that sometimes it’s better to hold on to the good memories, to remember people at their best instead of when everything is unravelling around them. That she knew that at such a young age makes the loss greater, but it also gives me solace. She was one of the good ones, one of the greats. I was six years old, and I’d just experienced the best seven and a half minutes of my life.
SET OF SIX
1) ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. If you’ve made it this far, firstly thanks for trusting there was something rugby league-related coming soon, but, most importantly, the point I’m trying make is that Friday night’s performance against the Dragons strikes me as a much bigger concern than the second-half meltdown in Penrith. The collapse against the Panthers was shocking, but at least we got to ride the rollercoaster. It hurt to lose, but there were moments of ecstasy, flashes of pure joy. Against St George, it was as if we never even went to the fairground. It may have taken them nineteen minutes to click into gear, but once they did, any glimmer of happiness seemed a long way away.
2) The Saints go marching. The Dragons finished the match with a slight advantage in possession, but racked up 600 more running metres than the men from Mt Smart and ten times the amount of offloads. Their forward pack was outstanding, relentlessly marching up field and providing perhaps the clearest demonstration thus far that this Warriors squad has a lot more work to do than we might have thought only 120 minutes of football ago.
3) How did it turn to custard so quickly? At halftime in the Penrith game, Warrior Nation was a beautiful place to find yourself. The men from Mt Smart had been improving week by week against the competition’s big guns and were towelling up a side sitting at the tail end of the ladder. We dared to dream, and it truly felt like better things were yet to come. In hindsight, it’s easy to say that 28–6 flattered the Warriors, but I don’t think anyone imagined doomsday would come this quickly.
4) I hope Simon Mannering is as crucial as I think he is. If anyone had any doubt about the value of Simon Mannering, the way both Penrith and St George were able to control the middle of the park should put those questions to rest. St George in particular seemed to place specific emphasis on targeting the area in behind the ruck, especially when a smaller player like Issac Luke, Kieran Foran or Shaun Johnson lined up as the A defender. Mannering’s return should sure up this crucial area of the park, but whether that will be enough is a different story altogether.
5) I’m starting to lose faith in Sam Lisone. When Lisone first entered top grade, I really thought he’d rise up the ranks quickly, and even labelled him a Kiwis bolter after just a handful of NRL matches. He’s got a combination of size, speed and ball skills that is hard to find, but he doesn’t seem like he’s found the best way to harness it. At times, he looks like exactly the kind of player that this Warriors pack is missing — someone big enough to bust the line and create opportunities for the outside backs — but at others he seems to almost be falling as he meets a tackler, or throwing the wrong pass at the wrong time. He’s only young, and I still believe there’s a special player inside there somewhere, but it might be time to give someone else from the NSW Cup side a crack.
6) We need a new plan. If the past few weeks have told us anything, it’s that this Warriors forward pack not only struggles to break the line and create second-phase opportunities, but also simply to make any significant yardage or generate quick play-the-balls. The ‘huge Warriors forward pack’ has been a commentator-driven myth for quite some time now, and it’s become more apparent as the losses pile up. Which makes it all the more puzzling why the gameplan appears to be focused around keeping things simple and hoping the spine can capitalise on errors from the opposition. Doing the basics right is all well and good when you can control territory, but if you can’t get out of your own half, it’s time to try something new. The Warriors looked at their most threatening on Friday night when they spread the ball early, and they’ll need to consider thinking outside the box to be any chance of turning this season around.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS