YOU would think that a Neville Nobody like me would appreciate the opportunity to have a greater involvement in the radio broadcast of the match of the season.
But when I learned that Andrew Johns had the flu and I was to be the sole sideline eye at last night’s Sydney Roosters-South Sydney epic, my feelings were less than enthusiastic. On Sunday night I got back from Canberra at 9pm. I got up at 2.30am yesterday to watch the Challenge Cup semi between Huddersfield and Warrington. Between 4.45am and 6am I slept again. And from 6am until it was time to leave for Allianz Stadium at 4.15pm, I wrote five stories for Rugby League Week including a 1500 word feature.
Monday is RLW deadline day. What I really needed was two coach interviews at 5pm, two at 9.30, checking on injuries during the game and that’s it – which is the way some Mondays go for me on Triple M’s Monday Night Football, if I'm lucky.
Instead, I got a ringside seat for the closest thing we get to miracles now they’ve stopped adding chapters to holy books, an evening that should have reminded us all that rugby league is not just “product”, “content” or what might even be lucky enough to call work. After conceding two tries in the final three minutes to lose their last game against Sydney Roosters, South Sydney scored two in the same period to win.
These coincidences do not happen elsewhere in the universe. We are involved in a group endeavour that somehow creates an environment for them to happen, like some sort of Hadron Collider - but better. As he waited to be interviewed on air after a loss he described as “gut-busting”, Roosters coach Brian Smith still had the wherewithal to muse: “That’s what’s so special about live sport. That’s why people watch it.”
Live radio can be scary if you psyche yourself out and it takes years to realise that if you stuff up, it’s no big deal. It’s not like you mucked up the moon landing and accidentally landed on Mars. It’s footy, after all. Before doing a sideline on the ABC, I scribble out a few notes – the team changes, weather and ground conditions on one page, a list of stats on the next, and a point on each player on the following two.
Sometimes you do not use even one of those points in a call, but it’s a nice security blanket to have.
Things went OK until fulltime but then the enormity of the game, the fact it would be talked about for years, and my fatigue all hit me at once. As a print journalist, I would have been happy with the quotes we got from John Sutton, Issac Luke, Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Brian Smith and Michael Maguire. So would my colleagues, just quietly, who were still waiting outside the Souths rooms almost an hour later!
But as a broadcaster, I thought I was a bit untidy – some unnecessary pauses and slight stumbling over questions. You want to do the occasion justice.
It didn’t help that Sutton and Luke were absolutely exhausted by the time I reached them a minute or so after the siren. “We never give up in any football game, no matter how short the time is, and we just proved it then,” said Sutton. “There’s more Bunnies supporters than Roosters supports here and it really helped get us home.”
Luke, who I had seen walk into the ground three and a half hours earlier wearing giant headphones, looking straight ahead, gave a great line standing near the eastern touchline. “Anything is possible at the moment,” he said.
“Two points – we’re lucky to have them.”
Greg Inglis had time to catch his breath by the time tech Josh and I had chased him across the turf. Have you played in a game like that before, Greg? “I did but we was on the other end of it – Minichiello got us!” he responded. Gold.
“They did it to us so we believed we could do it back ... Our destiny now is in the hands of the guys who run onto the field.”
It’s usually my job to ask about injuries but caller Dan Ginnane covered for me. Inglis hurt his knee before halftime. “I fell on my knee a bit awkward,” the fullback said. “I’ll probably go for scans and see how bad it is. It feels a bit bad but I’ll probably just go in, ice it up, jiffy-grip it and I’ll be back playing Saturday.”
The man who scored the winning points, halfback Reynolds, expanded on Inglis’ point that being beaten in similar circumstances in round one gave the Bunnies the confidence that they could pull a metaphorical rabbit from its hiding place last night.
“We knew we could get points on them in the end after they did it to us in round one,” said Reynolds, who reckoned his injured ankle was “alright”. “We spoke about that behind the try-line. We knew we could score points, I didn’t think it would come like that.
“We’ve grown as a group. We’re a lot stronger than we were in round one. We’ve got faith in each other.”
Maguire said that in the closing minutes, “the trainers came back and said the players were saying 'we can have a real crack at this'”. But for Smith, thinking of this as just a special game, with the final try an act of God, was a little more difficult.
“It’s something that could have been avoided,” he said. “There’s just mental issues there. Guys are not where they’re supposed to be, not thinking clearly under pressure.
“For younger guys in that caldron of complete fatigue and a little bit of mayhem, and the cat’s amongst the pigeons and trying to keep each other steady and calm ... It’s why professional sport and our game in particular is so well supported. It can always happen.
“The overwhelming thing to start with is ‘oh my God, I can’t believe that happened’. But it happens too often in our game. Canberra did it in a losing vein, they did it yesterday.
“In the end, when you need those points and you break free from those percentage plays ... It was our job to recognise that. It’s not about percentages, it’s about shutting down one big play.”
My big play last night was to stay awake, to get to the end of the night without any major stuff-ups and go back to bed. If you’re reading this, you know I made it.