So, another trip to Adelaide to watch sport has come and gone.
You may remember my first article back in August 2015 when I recounted my trip to The City of Churches to watch the Mighty Tiges take on the Crows on a ‘cold August night’.
This time I'm writing about my experience of flying to Adelaide to watch the Mighty Melbourne Storm play the Sydney Roosters, the chooks, on June 24 at the Adelaide Oval. Or as the League Live app called it ‘Unknown Venue’. Maybe the NRL were not happy about the fact that the Adelaide Oval is not named after a sponsor like 1300SMILES Stadium, GIO Stadium, ANZ Stadium, AAMI Stadium, etc., etc., etc.
Ed is a big NRL fan and when he learned that league was coming to Adelaide this winter, he decided to present Brock with flights and match tickets for his 12th birthday. Brock is like me and no NRL fan, and also like me he follows the Mighty Tiges. However, who are we to knock back my brother's generosity.
So, as I type this, we're sitting on the tarmac, awaiting clearance for Virgin flight 231 to transport us to Adelaide. I can taste Southwark’s ‘green death’ already!
On my last trip to Adelaide in August 2015 I had the pleasure of the hospitality of my two nephews, Chris (CJ) and Bernard (Bernie). This trip will be no different but I'll be looking after two people this time, so I'll be sure to behave a little more responsibly.
Last trip was an emotional time as I ran into my all-time Richmond idol, Scott Turner, in a bar late Friday night. This experience obviously took its toll on me the next evening, as I fell asleep on Bernie's couch and slept there comfortably until Sunday morning. I could also blame the Trent Bridge Ashes debacle and Michael Clarke's ‘retirement’ speech with Mark Nicholas soon afterwards for my tiredness, but you would no doubt know I was stretching the truth.
Anyhow, I digress, so let us return to late June 2017 and the escapades of ‘Blood is thicker than water II’.
CJ picked us up when we landed in Adelaide and the plan was to head to his place to freshen up the travellers, then head to a nearby pub for dinner and to ‘water’ the weary travellers.
My brother, Ed, traveled up to Adelaide this afternoon from his home in Aldinga Beach and he'll be joining us too. No doubt some may stay up late, ‘chewing the fat’, but not me. I've been up since 4am Friday morning and I reckon Brock and I will be in bed before 11pm.
The plan for Saturday is to head to Bernie's place late morning to meet the new addition to his household, Liam John, born a few months back. Afterwards, lunch at a nearby pub, The Largs Pier Hotel, that overlooks the Gulf St Vincent before catching the train into Adelaide Station and walking to the nearby Adelaide Oval.
The Adelaide Oval precinct really is something special now. I went to the Australia Day test of 1997, when Michael Bevan took his only First Class ‘10fa’, and the precinct of that time barely resembles what it is now. It really is a great area to visit with outside eateries and bars on the western side of the ground and other than the surrounding parkland, you can barely compare it to the Yarra Park area that houses the MCG.
So Saturday dawned and it was off down to the port area of Port Adelaide for breakfast of pancakes in a busy cafe before heading to Bernie's and The Largs Pier Hotel. Saturday was a beautiful day in Adelaide and I always enjoy Adelaide's weather when I visit. It's only a few degrees different to Melbourne but always seems so much milder than what we experience.
On the train into town that evening it amazed me how many people were heading into the game, noticeable by the colours of their league team. There was obviously plenty of red, white and blue of the Sydney Roosters and the Storm’s purple and yellow, but I also saw the colours of Cronulla, Parramatta, St George, South Sydney, Brisbane and heaps of Queensland maroon.
We sat on the eastern side of the ground with the bay adjoining us full of Roosters fans. Ed said he believed there were more Storm fans in attendance but I thought numbers favoured the home team, Sydney.
The players came onto the field for a brief warm up before being replaced by The Sydney Roosters Girls who received a rousing reception from fans of the home team. The NRL still enjoy their pre-match ritual of dancing girls and it appears that making the lead troupe is a big honour.
After a quick routine, the girls made way for the players to come onto the field. For me, I prefer the AFL entry onto the ground through a banner to the tune of your club’s song, but understand league has its own traditions with fireworks and razzle dazzle. Sydney's theme song was OK but didn't hold a candle to “Oh, we're from Tigerland!”
The Roosters began the better of the two teams and were unlucky not to score the first try towards the scoreboard end. A magnificent piece of defending by the Storm, forced the Roosters player out of the field of play by a matter of centimetres, and ‘The Bunker’ came into play to adjudicate ‘No Try’. The clapping from the Storm fans drowned out the groans from Roosters supporters.
Melbourne defended earnestly and then settled, beginning to look dangerous even without ‘The Big Three’ of Smith, Cronk and Slater, who were all rested after Origin duties the previous Wednesday night.
The Storm brought fans to their feet with a 90 metre dash bringing the first try of the game. It was a great run from ‘The Fox’, Josh Addo-Carr who, after an intercept, ran almost the length of the Oval. It's a part of league that I enjoy, seeing a speedster burn off his beleaguered opponents. While I type this I hope that one of Richmond's speedsters, Daniel Rioli, Dan Butler or ‘George’ Castagna can do the same to Carlton the following Sunday afternoon at The ‘G.
The Storm’s ascendancy in the game slowly came to the fore, and with 25 minutes remaining in the match, led the Roosters 20 points to 6, or better than two converted tries.
The Roosters fans in the bay adjoining us had quietened considerably and I felt the momentum was with the Storm and any further score would see them home.
However, as had happened to Sydney before half time when Melbourne scored twice against the run of play, Sydney scored a try and duly converted, reducing the margin to six points with less than seven minutes to play. Surely Melbourne could protect their lead.
Sydney pressed and Melbourne started to make errors under pressure. It was noticeable that without the calming influence of Cameron Smith, the Storm were most vulnerable. With less than one minute remaining, Sydney went over Melbourne's line again after a Croft errant dribble kick and a fine place kick gave them the converted try, tying scores just before the final hooter.
Melbourne's lead had been eroded and the game was in the balance. If either team made one more critical error, the game would be gone.
Both team's defended desperately and when the hooter sounded it was off to ‘golden point’ to decide tonight's winner. No draws in the NRL. You're either go home with a smile on your face or a loser who thinks ‘what if’.
Craig Bellamy addressed his Storm team and after what seemed a quick 5 minute break, play resumed. The Storm’s Brodie Croft, Cooper Cronk’s heir apparent, had a chance to kick a drop goal, but appeared to not make full contact with the ball after attention from the Sydney defence, his kick falling short and wide from about 35 metres out.
Sydney did not make the same mistake and about three minutes later a perfect kick form perennial numbskull, Mitchell Pearce, sailed over the crossbar, signalling celebration from the Sydney players and despair from the Storm team, many slumping to the turf in exhaustion and utter disappointment.
The bloody Roosters had come back from a 20-6 deficit with 25 minutes to play and all I could think about the Storm’s fade out was #Richmondesque
What I then noticed was that many fans, both of the winning and losing teams, made their way for the exit. Some Sydney supporters stayed around, heading down to the sideline to high-five their victorious players as they walked down the length of the field. However, the departure of many fans leaves a stadium fitting 50 thousand but only hosting 40 percent of that on the night, feeling rather empty and sparse soon afterwards. The exodus of fans right after the winning point was like people rushing to their cars to beat the Sydney traffic. Like the losing supporters of an AFL team who know their team cannot possibly win after the opposition kick a goal to seal a win at the 32 minute mark of what has been a tight contest. It just seemed a little strange to me that so many left so soon, and on a Saturday night too.
So, that was my experience of NRL at the Adelaide Oval. The crowd was posted at 21,400-odd and that was deemed an excellent crowd for Adelaide standards. It was the biggest crowd to a league game in Adelaide since the Adelaide Rams’ first game in 1997 and both the competing teams declared the venture a success. I was to learn the next day that it was the fifth-highest crowd for an NRL game so far in 2017. Amazing really! My brother, Ed, says it's a game for TV and better watched on TV than at ground level at a big AFL oval. He may be right but I also think that the Sydney sporting culture dictates the numbers at their matches, and some Sydney-siders just can't be bothered battling the traffic to get to games and prefer to watch league on TV.
Television ratings for league seem to confirm that as it regularly out rates AFL.
So, whilst leaving the ground a little disappointed as my Victorian team couldn't win on the night, I thought about next weekend at this great venue. The Mighty Tiges will be in town and I'm sure the capacity of the Adelaide Oval will be tested, with both Port Adelaide and Richmond in the Eight. I'm not overly confident of a win but I do expect Trent Cotchin to kick with the breeze if he wins the toss.
We arrived home mid-afternoon on Sunday, a little weary after a 9:30am flight back to Melbourne and the two-hour drive back to Traralgon. However, the effort was definitely worth it and I know a lot of Victorians think nothing of flying to Adelaide for a weekend of footy.
I'm not exactly sure when, but I'm hoping there will be a third installment to ‘Blood is thicker than water’, because, whatever your life deals to you, family matters more than anything else!
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