On the Road: Back to the future

As 20-year-old Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend made his way to the eastern side of Toyota Park on Sunday, he almost saw himself looking back at him across the fence.

“I remember my dad used to bring me down to the Family Hill and I used to wave my flag ,” said Townsend, after only his fourth first grade game.

“To be playing out here, it’s a dream come true. It’s definitely more fun on this side (of the fence).”

His coach, Shane Flanagan, was similarly wistful after the 26-4 win against South Sydney in front of 18,625 fans. “It was like the old days when I was growing up watching games,” Flanagan said.

“The hill was full, a nice bright sunny day. It was great.”

But as Sydney Roosters left the field following a 38-12 belting by Canberra in Monday Night Football, there was no sun, only metaphorical gloom.

It was a reminder of a period  before last year’s grand final appearance, when the under-performing Tricolours were sometimes booed from the Sydney Football Stadium by their own supporters.

When Triple M commentator Dan Ginnane introduced the Roosters at the start of the game, to background jeers, he explained the Raiders had actually run on first.

“The Roosters fans aren’t into their team yet,” said Ginnane. But it did not take long.

Coach Brian Smith had little time for the hecklers after his side’s third consecutive loss: “There are some people who just don’t understand that we had 18 fit and available players to play this weekend,” Smith said.

“They’re not our best 18.

“I think that’s ridiculously harsh if someone’s portraying ... they’re probably portraying their own character more than the character that our guys are trying to display at the moment.”

With the focus on Origin III, club football was all about the bottom of the table at the weekend. The tricolours are above last-placed Gold Coast only on percentages.

Parramatta; 16-12 losers to Brisbane at Parramatta Stadium on Friday, are just above them on 13 competition points and the Raiders are only one point ahead, illustrating why they weren’t jumping for joy on Monday.

Two points further up are Sunday’s combatants, the Sharks and the Rabbitohs, and then Canterbury, the Warriors, Penrith and Wests Tigers are on the next rung up – which is marked “18 points”.

Penrith have had some terrible periods this year but their 20-6 win at Centrebet Stadium on Saturday led to talk of a finals finish while the vanquished coach, Kevin Moore, is reportedly set for the high jump.

Newcastle moved clear of this inconsistent, jostling group by beating St George Illawarra 14-10 at WIN Stadium on Sunday.

A star was Knights halfback Ryan Stig, who could hardly have done more to impress new coach Wayne Bennett.

When Bennett looked across the fence onto the playing field, he saw his future rather than his past.