Somebody call the police. I need to report a theft that took place in Penrose on Friday night. At Mt Smart Stadium, to be exact.
The suspect wore a yellow top. Small black shorts. A watch on his left wrist. His socks were pulled up almost to his knees and his white boots were frozen to the spot at the time when it mattered most. He had a slight build with a receding hairline. And, despite pleas from myself and many others, he refused to raise his yellow flag above his waist.
‘What did he steal?’ the police might ask.
‘Two points,’ is the obvious answer. There’s no doubt that particular charge will appear on his rap sheet. Those points are gone forever, and there’s a chance the Warriors will look back in a month’s time and wonder what might have been. If only we’d been able to take better care of those points, they might wonder. If only we’d held onto them a little tighter, rather than leaving the door open for a balding man to snatch them away, things might be very different.
But not only is Warrior Nation now no longer in possession of a crucial W, we have also been robbed of a moment of pure joy, which is perhaps the most valuable thing anyone can steal from a fan at a sporting event.
Just minutes before the robbery, Issac Luke placed the ball over the tryline at the other end of the field. I leaped from my seat, jumped high into the air and when I landed I was smothered with hugs by everyone around me. Friends, strangers, it didn’t matter. The Warriors had won. They’d been outplayed for long periods of the game, but they’d defended bravely. They’d fought hard and made the right decision at the match’s defining moment. This try was the icing on the cake. The chance to raise our arms to the sky and celebrate, an opportunity to feel elated and proud, to feel like we’d been a part of something special. In that instant we were all swept away by a wave of delight.
The feeling was short-lived. Issac Luke’s try was correctly ruled out for offside. Cronulla was handed the ball. They marched downfield. But they weren’t meant to score. That moment had been too powerful. When a joy like that has been experienced, it’s not fair to take it away. It’s like karma or fate or justice or whatever you prefer to call it. Moments like that simply aren’t meant to become meaningless. But that’s exactly what happened next.
Matt Moylan passed the ball backwards to Ricky Leutele, who passed it forwards to Edrick Lee, who dived over the line to score. As I slumped back in my seat and pulled my beanie over my eyes, the slight man in the yellow top with the white boots and black socks pulled up almost to his knees crouched down and held his yellow flag at his waist. As Warrior Nation focused their eyes upon the only man who could save us, the only man who could preserve our special moment, he did not right the terrible wrong. Instead, he twisted the knife in further, completing this heinous crime by nodding to another man who also wore a yellow top.
I know that no matter whether or not this man is identified, it’s likely he’ll escape punishment. For some reason, that’s just the way life is. The good guys don’t always come first, and we don’t always get what we deserve. Life’s not fair, I know that. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
SET OF SIX
1) Whistle-blowers. Referees don’t have it easy. I appreciate you need to make judgements in a split second, more often than not in real time, and no matter which way you swing on the 50–50s there’s one set of supporters that hate you for it. But the fact it’s a tough job doesn’t explain the inconsistency that goes on week after week after week. In most sports, when the whistle blows, you know what to expect. You’ve seen the infringement or can at least sense what’s about to happen from the players’ reactions. Rugby league right now, however, is a complete lottery, and it’s hurting the game in a big way.
2) The Warriors lost more than just the game. Not only did the men from Mt Smart come away from that match empty-handed, they also lost two key troops to injury: Tohu Harris and Bunty Afoa. Both are reported to be out for up to six weeks, putting extra pressure on a forward pack that’s had its struggles at various times throughout the season.
3) Opportunity knocks. As one door closes (or two in this instance), another opens, with Ligi Sao recalled into the NRL side. I’d argue we’ve seen too little of Sao in the top grade in 2018, and strong performances at ISP level would suggest he’s more than ready to step up. Friday night provides him with the opportunity to carve out a consistent role, and make selection very difficult when Harris, Afoa, and Leivaha Pulu, return.
4) All that Jazz. Sometimes when I watch Jazz Tevaga, I don’t get the sense that he’s an NRL footballer. It looks as though he’s not big enough or not fast enough or not skilled enough. I can’t quite put my finger on it. And then ten minutes later I find myself wondering whether he should be on the field for the entire 80 minutes. He’s prone to an error from time to time, but Jazz Tevaga has something that is fast making him a very valuable cog in this Warriors machine. Maybe it’s simply that he plays like he wants it more than most.
5) The marshmallow test. At around the 69th minute of Friday night’s game, there was a moment where Anthony Gelling couldn’t resist temptation. Edrick Lee knocked on, Gelling pounced on the ball with very few Sharks in the picture, and instead of hustling to play the ball, he contorted his body over the tryline, resulting in a double-movement. The Warriors still retained possession of the ball, thanks to Lee’s original error, but things might have been very different if Gelling didn’t stretch for the line. Would the Warriors have scored? Would Matt Moylan have committed a professional foul and left Cronulla with 12 for the remainder of the game? We’ll never know, but it goes to show how delicately balanced that fixture was.
6) Save the fireworks for the end of the game. Those of us in attendance at Mt Smart were treated to a particularly impressive fireworks display at halftime. It felt like a celebration. Which made me wonder if the fireworks might be better served at the end of matches. Imagine it: Agnatius Paasi takes the tackle, sealing a 22-14 win against the Storm on 22 July in front of a packed house. Everyone is on their feet, high-fiving and fist-pumping. Then the stadium lights flick off, the field is covered in darkness and the sky lights up in showers of colour as thunderous roars of noise echo around the ground. BOOM!
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Cover photo by Kat Wilcox from Pexels