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The National Museum invited rugby league fans to share their favourite memory of playing or watching footy. This selection of personal footy yarns was collected while the exhibition was on show in Canberra.
Read sports broadcaster Debbie Spillane's 'Grass roots: on being a rugby league fan,' (PDF file size 398kb) in the League of Legends catalogue
Chain and anchor
I remember when I was about ten years old (1951?) that there was some dispute between Cootamundra, who held the Maher Cup, and Harden. Apparently Cootamundra's win had been challenged, and the trophy had been awarded to Harden on appeal but Cootamundra was loath to part with the cup and had it on display in a window at Meagher's (pronounced Maher) Department Store. It was chained to the floor and weighted down by an anchor! My father drove me the twelve miles into town to see it and I was so impressed by the sight of the cup and the story I wrote a poem, the only verses I can remember went something like:
Those Harden chaps won the appeal
The cup from us they wished to steal
But it's not taken from us yet
Lest we forget, lest we forget
Henneker and Fazio and Neil McDonal too
Atkinson and Rowley, all players old and new
Oh guard your cup by moonlight, oh guard your cup by day
Keep it fixed to the floor with anchor and chain, lest Harden take it away!
2006 Grand Final
I was age 10 when the Bronco and Storm were playing in the 2006 Grand Final. The best moment was when just seconds before the full-time whistle, Darren Lockyer intercepted the ball and ran 40m to try and win the premiership for the Broncos. And mum went to bed thinking the match would be boring.
Go the Eels
86 Grand Final Eels on fire. Time for another one before I die (Go Eels). I'm starting to get worried (I'm 35 years old).
Around the ground
On Sunday arvos it was good listening to ABC Radio with 'Around the grounds' but now it's more like around the ground with only 2 Sunday afternoon matches. Bring back Sunday afternoon footy.
Shawn Timms field goal in the first golden point State of Origin game. At full time we thought it was all over, drawn. Started to get up and saw the NSW team in a huddle, Yes!! Golden Point!! We were right behind the posts and watched it sail through, that was golden.
Favourite footy moments
My favourite footy moment is when the Broncos won their first Grand Final at the SFS and Allen Langer wore his Powers Bitter hat that his mum made for him.
My favourite footy moment was when the Roosters lost their 18th game in a row!
I'm a big Penrith Panthers fan, so I'll say the Panthers winning the premiership in 2003, I was watching it at home with my dad and brother, we are all Panthers Fans, I especially loved the Scott Sattler tackle that took Todd Byrne (Roosters) over the sideline, (that was a try saving tackle) and a premiership winning moment that turned the game.
My favourite footy moment was Benji Marshall's flick pass to Richards in the 2005 Grand Final to win them the game.
A funny sight
1975 Warren R.L. Club were playing in the Group 11 2nd Division Competition. On this day we arrived at our opponents ground reasonably early. No gatekeeper, no committee members. The opponents being Euabalong.
Finally some one arrived with bags of S.R. flour and started to mark the lines on the ground, what he didn't realise was that as quick as he was marking the lines with the flour a black dog was following him licking up the flour. It was rather funny and nobody would tell him to look behind himself.
Red and blue
I remember post 1997 Grand Final, walking along the main street of Newcastle and hugging every person dressed in red and blue.
Go the Eagles
Going to Brookvale oval and seeing Manly play their first semi-final and seeing Manly flags like 'Rabbit proof defence' it made my hairs at the back of my neck stand up. Go the Eagles.
Watching all 3 of my sons playing rugby league at different ages.
When I scored a try and ran from 1 side of the field to the other.
A bad omen
I have been a Dragons fan since birth. Unfortunately I have not seen the team win since 1963. I no longer go to games. I think I am a bad omen!
Blue and gold
Three generations following Parramatta looking forward to Sundays to go to Cumberland Oval making sure Mum's (Nan) blue and gold basket was packed with the hotdogs to make, the blue and yellow cans of soft drink along with the blue and gold cupcakes and most importantly the little transistor radio to pass down the family line to hear Rex Mossop say TRY to Parra.
As an American watching League for the first time made me wish that I had known the great sport earlier in my life. I love and appreciate my girlfriend for introducing me to the game.
I started watching League with my girlfriends because the players were cute. Now at matches we're as brutal as the best of the fans.
When Gordon Tallis tackled the full back for NSW from the centre of the field all the way to the out line and showed how much strength Gordon really had.
I went to the 2007 NRL Grand Final with my Aunty and my favourite team the Melbourne Storm won. They played against Manly in Sydney and they won. It was awesome to watch the game. It was awesome to watch the game live.
Go the Pies
2006 Yass Magpies win the Canberra Cup for the first time in 47 years. Local history made. My husband Michael 'The Russian' Owen at 32 years of age was the oldest member of the team and one of the longest serving players. It was a celebration that lasted a week. A police escort for the players back to town. 'Go the Pies'.
Go the umpire!
Everyone loves to have a go at the umpire. When my husband and I were courting, I would go and watch him umpire football games. I was the only one cheering for the umpire ... consequently I also had abuse hurled at me. Very funny. All part of the game.
Coming up trumps
My fav footy moment was the time the Canberra Raiders had won their first Grand Final back in 1989!! I was only seven at the time, but I knew what was going on!! I watched every bit of that game with my dad, waving my Raiders flag and hoping that we would come up trumps! We did the same again in 1990!! We had the best side then!
Simply the best
Penrith winning the Grand Final in 1993 with 'Simply the Best' blaring over the speakers! Great moment!
2005 Wests Tigers premiership
Benji Marshall's tries in that game along with the partnership of Scott Prince to win 2005 premiership. First time as a merged Balmain Tigers and Magpies.
Grew up being taken to Parramatta Stadium to watch the Eels with my family (circa late 80s early 90s). Despite Dad joking about forgetting the tickets, which sent me into a panic, they were some of the best memories a boy would have.
A planned move?
Manly's Eadie scores in the corner from a cut-out pass from 5/8 Alan Thompson. In the dressing shed after the game, a reporter asks Thompson if that play was a 'planned move'. 'Oh, I knew he was out there somewhere' said Johnson.
Great footy moments
When the Knights smashed the Raiders 70-32 at Canberra Stadium in 2006.
2004 State of Origins – Shaun Timmins' golden point field goal.
When Newcastle won in 1997 by Andrew Johns' pass.
1997 Grand Final – Newcastle v Manly. Try by Darren Albert in last ten seconds.
Freddy Jones' toothless grin when Manly bought the 1972 Premiership from Easts at the SCG
Steve Jackson's Try – 1989 Grand Final.
Wests Tigers vs Canberra Raiders in 2007 with great players Brett Hodgson and Robbie Farrer, I enjoyed the game because we won and I got to see my favourite players playing.
Brian 'Poppa' Clay flattening Arthur Beetson at S.C.G in a head on tackle.
Watching Chicka Ferguson score the winning try for the Raiders in 1998 Grand Final.
When Paul Montgomery pounded Neil Sherlock against the goalpost he cried and said 'You cost me the match Pandy, you cost me the match!'
Out in the cold
Standing in the snow with my son Terence to watch the Tigers play the Raiders at Bruce Stadium. As a Tigers fan, I always watch this fixture, no matter the weather conditions. It was a challenge on the day and not the result I wanted.
I remember the 'T.N.T. on the ref's jersey stood for 'That's no try' and not Thomas Nationwide Transport.
Aussies in France
A few lads were selected to go and play league in the French comp. Col Russell a referee in Newcastle was the coordinator liaising with Julian Ruskener a French Ref. It was the 80s and I thought it was tough in Aus. Some of the grounds in France had cages around them. A lot of Aussies feared for their lives and with good reason. Refs and linesmen would turn a blind eye when the French would lash out doing the can-can or kick you while you were down. The Aussies tried to stick together as there was at least 2 to 3 in each French side.
We loved getting together and telling yarns. It was difficult though as we were scattered all over the country. I remember Kerry Hemsley from Balmain was playing with Le Pontet and was attacked and sidelined for a few weeks. I was with Roanne which was 700 kms from most of the main teams we played and so was Ken Wolfe with his family from Penrith. There was at least 45 Aussies there in 86'.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen in the French president's X111 side to play against Australia and loved being tackled around the legs again, I was held up twice over the line by Gary Belcher from bombs we put as we couldn't run through them. What a rush singing our National anthem in another country for another team. It was great travelling round with the Aussies.
I was also fortunate enough to be voted the French Rugby league player of the year. Tas Bateri rang me at home in France and said you've won old son. I didn't even get a trophy, although there were rumours of a bottle of French champagne for every kilo I weighed. It would've been hard to bring it home on the plane.
A lot of Aussies that went to France came home early as the change was too much, I thank Tas for the experience and the effort he put into the French comp. It looks like it paid off as they are in the super league now.
I would've liked to see a section in the museum titled "Aussies abroad" I'm sure there's been thousands.
A forgotten hero
In the Centenary of Rugby League 1908-2008 year it is timely to remember the forgotten story of Newcastle's Pat 'Nimmo' Walsh 1908-09 Kangaroo. Pat Walsh had played Rugby Union for New South Wales in 1903 to 05 and for Australia in 1904 (three tests). He also played in the Australian Rules competition in Johannesburg South Africa in 1905 (vice captain of the Commonwealth team winners). The trophy is in the Australian sporting hall of fame at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
In 1906-08 he played rugby union in the Auckland competition(representing Auckland in 1907). In 1908 he received a cablegram from J J Giltinan about the 1908/09 Kangaroo tour. He returned to Australia and played his first rugby league match for Queensland in 1908, the first interstate series. He played for Newcastle in 1908 and went to England on a second ship (the Salamis) taking the Kangaroo Mascot with him. He played in 29 games including the three tests and scored nine tries on the tour. He was signed by Huddersfield 1909-1911 (team of all talents). In 1911 he returned to Australia and captained the Newcastle and Hunter tour of Queensland. His team defeating the Queensland state team in all three games.
In February 1915 he enlisted in the 12th Light Horse serving at Galipolli, Palestine and Egypt. He was mentioned in despatches by General Allenby.
During the war he contracted a paralysis to his legs and thereafter had to walk on crutches. J J Giltinan 'considered him the finest forward in the northern Union' (Huddersfield Rugby News 10 April 1909). Dally Messenger listed him in his favourite team and he was listed in W.A. 'Billy' Cann's Best Alltime team in 1938.
Unfortunately his achievements have been long forgotten.
A rainbow finish
Raiders v Roosters. Laurie Daley's last home game. Wet day, started pouring 15 mins before the end of the match. Finished with a Raiders win and a rainbow stretched over the length of the stadium.
A fitting farewell
When the Broncos won the 2006 premiership – a fitting farewell for one of the Bronco's, Queensland and Australia's best prop forwards.
Watching as a young child the unbelievable rivalry and hard play that the Maher Cup challenges produced particularly West Wyalong v Barmedman v Temora.
A great childhood memory.
A big thrill
As a 12 year old in 1972, running on to the Sydney Sports Ground, and touching Graeme Langlands at the completion of play.
A big thrill for a boy from the bush.
The game played in Canberra in the middle of a snow storm - I was there on the day, and remember that the players had to stay 20 metres from the side line for fear of being slid over touch when tackled. Happened a few times!
Grand final winners
Winning the 16s grand final. We were 14-0 down at half time then one of our blokes got knocked out and we went on to win 28-26 with a penalty in extra time.
Raiders vs Tigers
The Raiders come from behind in the Grand Final to win against Tigers. Great match.
The 'Old Tin Cup'
I myself, do not like Rugby (or Union, either, for that matter) but I came to see the 'Old Tin Cup' – Maher cup. It was a real part of the Riverina Sporting scene when I was a child until I came to Canberra in 1967. A pity it is still not contested.
Raiders' first win
After the Raiders were admitted into the NSWRL competition, fans had to endure a few games of disappointment before their first win. It came against Newtown at Seiffert Oval, Queanbeyan, on a Sunday afternoon. Cars and utes travelled up and down the main street until almost midnight in celebration.
Awesome field goal
North Sydney v Brisbane, 1994 semi. Bears, chasing their first premiership of the modern era, defeated the defending Premiers 15-44! Jason Taylor's field goal was awesome!!
2005 Grand Final Wests Tigers and North Queensland. Benji Marshall's skill and flare was just breathtaking and the atmosphere was electric. Just so proud to be in the crowd at the stadium that night.
Canberra Raiders winning their first Premiership playing Balmain!!! (I hope they win this year!!! 2008)
In 2002 in round 25 when the Eels beat Broncos 68-22. When the Broncos were about to score at the end of the game but instead dropped in and the Eels scored again.
A quick beer!
State of Origin (Lang Park) the year before XXXX cans were banned from the Pig Ben (1986?). Sat watching the game as a 10 year-old with a school friend and his father - he was hit in the head with a full can of beer – burst into tears – his old man was overjoyed that he didn't have to queue for beer.
Grand final fever
For the week before 2005 Grand Final North Queensland went crazy. Don't reckon you could've found a yellow or blue streamer north of Rocky! Shame we lost.
Cheers from the hill
Sunday afternoons at Leichhardt Oval in the 1980's when Balmain had Elias, Jack, Roach and Sironen. Sitting on the hill and chanting Tigers! Tigers! Tigers!
One hit wonder
The year was 1978. It was raining cats and dogs and the biggest game of my rookie career, the under 7's grand final at the hallowed turf 'SCG number 2' against our arch enemies 'St Charles. Coming off the bench for Rose Bay Rams I was cold and nervous.
Being two feet tall and weighing in at 20kg I was invincible. I remember taking it up for a few settles and hated being tackled so much I decided to run the other way. To put it nicely I was used as an impact player and I think to this day that I achieved that goal.
Our captain Steven Keys was truly inspirational and led us to grand final victory by a small margin. We left the field looking like Provin and Summons on the Winfield cup.
The victory BBQ that followed was one to remember with all the sausages and soft drink one could eat and drink.
The end of year club trophy day was awesome. I came out on top for the most improved category along with several other team mates.
And as I look back on my glittering career playing for such super clubs as Paddington Colts and Clovelly Crocs, I realised playing against such greats as Jimmy Dymock and Craig Fields and reaching several more grand finals I would never feel that glory, glory, glory again as I did in 1978.
I felt compelled to tell my League of Legends story which I like to call 'the one hit wonder'.
I was raised to hate St George. Everyone seemed to hate them. They won all the time. The club seemed to pinch all the best players. But coming from the Wollongong region I had no real local team to support. Then the Illawarra Steelers formed and finally this working class district had its own team. Now imagine the moral dilemma when the Steelers merged with the Dragons!
Dad and I have season tickets to the Raiders. It is great as we both lead busy lives but this is something we can go to together and both enjoy!
1989 Grand final Raiders vs Balmain - BBQ at home with family and friends, 90 seconds to go, and the amazing try by Chicka Ferguson, converted by Meninga, scores tied. Extra time and Steve Jackson sealed it. Tension unbelievable. Followed a few days later by the reception in Civic Square and the euphoria experienced by all.
– J Mayhew
I began my love of Rugby League when I saw Souths v Balmain GF in 1969. I was supporting Souths because of their history but of course they were beaten. I was so lucky to be following them as some of the greatest players of all time were playing.
My greatest happiness was in the 1971 GF when George Piggins continually raked the ball from the play-the-ball and it allowed the Rabbitohs to hold off St George 16–10. That same grit has led George to further hero status in 2001 when Souths defeated News Ltd and Souths reentered the NRL in 2002.
It has been a great dream following the greatest league team of all time.
– Michael, 46
Grand final fever
In the week before the 1976 grand final I found myself sitting on a railway bridge above Church Street, Parramatta watching Ray Higgs, the legendary tackling machine and Parramatta captain, lead the first-grade team on a parade through the city. I remember with absolute clarity the sense that the Eels would prevail in the coming match with the Manly–Warringah Sea Eagles.
Banners adorned the shop fronts and blue and gold crepe streamers fluttered from every car aerial. Even the doughnuts were iced with blue and gold icing. There was one problem. Parramatta had not yet won the grand final. Minor premiers: yes; victorious in the major semi-final: yes; but not yet the grand final. To bring this sad story to an end, Manly–Warringah put Parramatta to the sword the following Sunday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
– G Hansen
Not quite the ticket
1989 – what a year for the Raiders. I was so excited that they had made the grand final so I camped outside the Raiders Leagues Club at Mawson from 4pm the day before the tickets went on sale.
There were about 100 or so people in front of me but I wasn't concerned; I really thought I would get tickets. The tickets went on sale at nine the next morning and the queue moved quickly. When there were just ten people left in front of me, the tickets sold out. I cried most of the day. I was totally devastated.
Anyway I took my kids to the club at Mawson on the grand final day and we had a ball, but I made sure I secured tickets for 1990.
Go the Bunnies
Sitting out at Telstra Stadium on a Monday night watching Souths play Manly and going into half time 18–6 down wasn't a good feeling. If Souths lost this game, it would be another season that we had not made the finals, with the last time we actually played finals football back in 1989. But when Souths came out in that second half something had changed. And soon enough the score had gone from 18–6 down to 24–18 up. Souths had won!
It was amazing, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric! Manly were in the top two and we were fighting for eighth spot on the ladder. It was like a grand final win after the game - Souths fans were just going nuts.
In the members' bar afterwards all the Souths fans were over the moon. No one wanted to go home even though it was a Monday night, with most people having to work the next day. Souths fans had been waiting 18 years to play finals football and we were that one step closer.
This game would be the start on a run of wins that propelled Souths into the finals for the first time since I was 11 years old.
Come on Souths, I'm still hoping to see my first red and green premiership win before my 30th birthday this year. Go the Bunnies!
– Michael Devlin
Football in the snow
In my life I have seen two games of football played in the snow: one in the Victorian mountains – another code – and the famous 'game in the snow' at Canberra Stadium. My league-loving daughters let me go and freeze by myself that day. The Raiders wore their white 'away' jerseys as a subtle form of camouflage, blending into the background.
But the highlight for me was Leslie Vainikolo, for the Raiders, launching himself at the line from what seemed an enormous distance out. He did a credible interpretation of a snowplough and slid over the line, cutting a great furrow as he went. Later, they seemed to be pouring hot water down his shorts to thaw him out – ouch!
At Canberra Stadium in July 2007, Canberra played Parramatta in what was the most whirlwind start to a league game I have ever seen. The Eels had the ball for the first set of six and after that, until about the 13-minute mark, it was one way traffic. By the time the Eels took the ball back after 12 minutes, the score was 24–0 in the Raiders favour; the game was to all intents and purposes over and the Eels looked shell shocked.
The imagination of the commentators waxed higher and higher with comments like, 'what sort of raw meat have they been feeding them in Canberra during the week?' and 'stop the fight, its all over', matching the Canberra crowd, who were 'doing handstands in the grandstand'.
Three sendings off later in the game, including Michael Weyman and Mark Riddell, apparently for fighting, and one poor young Eels player being just poleaxed, seemed anti-climactic.
– Neil Wareham
The Raiders' admission into the New South Wales Rugby League Competition was the key instigator for uniting the Canberra community. The town now had a team they could share their hopes and dreams with.
The Raiders' on field success was the crowning glory in the town's coming of age. They provided the opportunity for Canberrans to tell the rest of Australia: 'we're proud of our town and proud of our team'.
– Kenrick Winchester