Like our club president, I’m not a positive fan on the sidelines, believing in every move or every decision.
Glass half empty?
Maybe, or just maybe years of experience watching teams I have followed trip up at the penultimate, watching faces drop, heads down, heading home and wondering what might have been.
After 30-plus years of working in and around pro sports, and that includes NRL, RFL, pre and post Super League and a smattering of that round ball game, I feel I am fully qualified to comment on the ‘what might have been stakes’.
Add in the fact I’m a South Sydney fan and I hope you can sense why I can never quite get the glass half full scenario.
I watched a young Kiwi halfback called Robbie Paul score the first ever hat trick at a Wembley Challenge Cup final in ’96 – and still lost.
I had to ghost write his column the following week for the daily newspaper I worked for.
I then watched them lose again in ’97.
You get the drift.
But Saturday at Ken Allen Field proved to be a day I actually saw the glass half full.
I didn’t at about 4.20 when the Sharks were trailing 18-0 after some near perfect football from the Giants.
In fact my son reminded me after the game I had threatened to walk away at halftime as all I saw was defeat.
Oh, ye of little faith!
Perhaps that’s what years of watching this beautiful game does to you.
It tortures you, one way … then the next.
The ups and the downs.
Joondalup threw everything but the kitchen sink at us in that first half of that preliminary final. Everything.
We knew they would. A big side, living up to their nickname.
A side that had come off two remarkable weeks of football and a side on the up.
When they scored their third try after 22 minutes, many around me questioned if it was to be our day.
Jeez, I even had a blue with a Joondalup fan sat in front of us (we kissed and made up afterwards).
But, as someone reminded me just after Anthony Bowman scored our first try a few minutes later: “This game ain’t over yet.”
And it wasn’t.
After all, we had had virtually no possession and had to sustain 30 minutes of pressure football.
The real question was, could Joondalup keep that up for another 40?
I still wasn’t sure at the break.I was standing next to the most nervous man on the planet, the chairman.
He couldn’t watch the kicks, pulling his hoodie over his head and asking for the call!
Nervous, me? Not compared to him.
But Dale has seen more downs than ups than me in Sharks colours, so he perhaps he was entitled to be the more pessimistic.
“We have to score first,” was the general consensus as we prepared to face the kickoff.
And score we did … within barely two minutes.
The ball was moved quickly wide. We had moved up a gear – the Giants were gasping for air – to Connelly… to Hayden Toby, you now his name … and YES!
In the corner.
“They’re gone.” my son commented on the way the Giants looked. “They’ve blown it.”
“On 42 minutes?” was my response.”Long, long way to.”
And so the longest second half in history (well, we thought so) began in our favour.
When Tyler Hunt skipped through a hole and past three defenders four minutes later, belief had been restored.
Dale hid his head in his hoodie as Hunt kicked the points and we were back in the game, just two points adrift.
I had only ever experienced this sort of turnaround in a game once – a long time ago when the Bradford Bulls came from 24-0 down at Halifax Blue Sox to win 28-24. That game briefly flashed through my mind. Could it be again?
We still had over 30 minutes to play – a long time in a game as tense as this.
One little knock-on, going too early on defence, a silly ruck mistake. We all knew what referee Michael Sims was like.
“Don’t muck in the ruck” was a message sent to the team the previous week when Mr Sims was in charge.
The word ‘discipline’ was screamed at the players as they returned to face the kickoff.
“Don’t do anything silly. Play solid, safe football.”
And, as the game wore on, that is exactly what they did.
I was under strict instructions to message scores to a friend in Paris, France.
Andrew had built our new club website and as a lifelong pal (we went to school together) he too had become a Sharkie for the day.
No sooner had I remembered to message the Hunt score, I was doing it again as Geordie Connelly found the space on the left flank to go over.
“TRY” I wrote.
“Another 1 – we r in front.”
The kick was missed but by now Dale had retreated to the back wall, 15 metres from the field, shouting “How long to go?”
He was soon back among us as young Josh Bransby, who had had a quiet game so far, went off his left foot through a hole to leave defenders grasping.
The move had been set up by AJ (Andy Jeffery) who was at last beginning to dictate around the ruck, switching up tempo as the Giants struggled to get back.
In the first half he had seen little of the ball and like most of his teammates, had few chances to test the Joondalup line.
Now was different as Bowie put in some superb fourth tackle kicks to turn the opponents, forcing them to come from deep in their half.
But even he had our hearts in our mouths when he stumbled with what looked like a knee injury, only to recover.
The kicking tactic was working as we pushed and pushed – even across their own try line on one occasion – so when Josh found the hole opening up and went for it, so did we, screaming for all it was worth, urging him to that line.
My messaging service to Paris continued … as I scribbled into my notebook the play and the scoreline.
The kick was good and the gap had widened to eight points. But, and this was still a big ‘but’, there was still 17 minutes to play.
“I need another beer, this is doing my head in,” joked main sponsor Craig. “C’mon you Sharkies,” he roared.
Franklin Offshore Australia Pty Ltd – remember the name.
But back to the game…
Connor comes inside to help the forwards, then Geordie, then Logan. Back to the big boys: Jules, Bolthy, Reecie, Richie, Matty, Woody off the bench.
We pushed them forward. Wrighty on a run, then back to AJ and Benny coming off his shoulder.
And we urged big defence – we called out names, we took it upon ourselves to take the hits (metaphorically speaking) with them.
Young Brandon Wright stood up all afternoon, a walking tackling machine.
Reecie Potter and big Benny Bolth returned as our coach began to wisely use his bench to our advantage.
As for Joondalup they were tired, very tired, but you just never know, so the call kept going out for ‘big defence’.
Even Caleb came and went in spurts – to great effect – as we defended our line, forced errors and then moved forward.
“Benny takes the kick, looks inside to Richie – a big run, punches a hole in their defence. Next up… and again, then wide”. It was relentless.
By now, a bag of nerves, I was pacing up and down, checking the stopwatch. Still 11 to go.
Then, another quick move off the back of a penalty (tired Giants were now giving up the ball too easily) to AJ, left to Bowman, who spotted a gap … and went for it.
Yes… 30-18. Game over.
Well, we though so, even with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Sharks fans were celebrating – but 10 minutes is a long time in rugby league and for them to get another try would make for a tense finale.
Two and we were locked up again. That was the cold mathematical logic I was trying to put to the back of my mind.
“How long to go?” Dale asked incessantly.
We watched, tackle, tackle, then they moved swiftly to the right and for a few seconds it looked as if they has scored.
Then a touchie’s flag went up. Phew!!! Heart back to normal.
How much more can we take?
We’re so close, so close …. then, then, yes, yes, the siren.
Jubilation. Relief as well!
The boys had come back from the dead and we were heading to a Grand Final.
Hugs, more hugs, smiles, laughter, plenty of that.
“We always believed once we had the ball we would score,” coach Darren tells me.
I wish I had that belief at 20 minutes!
Glass half empty?
Who cares. Rockingham Sharks first and reserve grades are 2017 Grand Finalists.
And how sweet does that sound.