Tsunami warning can't stop rugby league
ARTHUR Beetson's sons, Chris and Brad, were among the first people in all of Hawaii to learn a tsunami was bearing down on the islands.
The game between the Hawaiian All Stars and the Queensland Indigenous side at Kaiser Stadium on Sunday, Australian time, was launched by the mayor of Honolulu, Peter Carlisle, and the Australian High Commissioner to the US State, Scott Dewar. After speaking to the crowd, they told Chris and Brad Beetson and other Queensland staff, including former Australia centre Tony Currie, they had to leave because of a tsunami warning.
Dewar had one piece of advice for the young Australians - "stay put". Kaiser High School doubles as a tsunami evacuation centre because of its elevated position to the east of the city. The Queenslanders couldn't have been in a better place as the sirens blared around Oahu.
"We got told at halftime there was a tsunami," said their captain, former Brisbane Bronco Ian Lacey.
"We got a bit shakey but we're high enough above ground."
And after running in 13 tries against the Cory Paterson-coached locals, the Queenslanders followed Dewar's advice. Mums in the school canteen stayed back to prepare food and drinks for the hungry footballers, many of whom had never been on a plane before the trip, let alone face a possible natural disaster in a foreign country.
One hundred dollars raised for a whip-around bought burgers or chicken dinners plus drinks for 40.
"No-one's scared, we're on high ground, at an evacuation point," said Currie.
"It took away about three-quarters of our crowd. The tough ones, the ones that could swim, they stayed.
"From my vantage point high up in the grandstand, I could see all the cars moving, people coming from lower ground up to Kaiser Stadium here. The carpark was chockers.”
Players killed time after the game by setting up the dance troup's PA and dancing in the hallways of the school gym. The all clear to return to their Waikiki Hotel did not come until 12.15am local time - scuttling celebration plans for a side made up of players below NRL level who had faced a demanding promotional schedule in the lead-up to the match.
An Australian tourist nervously kept in touch with his wife, who remained back in their hotel and was recovering from a kidney transplant. Beers were found at a local store, and consumed in the carpark in a weird back-to-front tailgating exercise.
The Queensland Indigenous side was assembled by the Arthur Beetson Foundation, which aims to improve the lot of aboriginal footballers. They travelled with a dance troup, which performed at prestigious venues such as the Ionian Palace in the lead-up to the match.
The water carrier, ex-Penrith and Warrington star Sid Domic, also designed the jerseys.
But there were unexpected expenses and commitments. They ended up paying for the PA at the match and handing out fliers in the streets as local arrangements collapsed.
"We were promised certain cost-savings as far as accommodation and support for meals and transportation that didn't eventuate," said Currie.
"Luckily the Arthur Beetson Foundation had some money there (but now) we can't outlay it in Australia with some things we wanted to do.
"We had the public address system here, I ground announced, we had to supply a touchie..."
Hull KR-bound Paterson interrupted his honeymoon to coach the local side, which lost captain Kelly McGill to a broken nose and fractured eye socket in the opening exchanges. "Everything I've tried to teach them, they've embraced," he said.
"I can't thank them enough. It's been an unreal experience.
"Australians, they play rugby league from four, five-years old and it showed tonight. But the effort that my boys put in, the guts and determination, you can't fault."
With the tsunami alert removed, jokes such like those about the Queensland "whitewash" began to emerge. As a fleet of vans carried the squad through almost deserted streets back to Waikiki, one player was heard to say: "This has been the experience of a lifetime....
"....but I don't want to do it again. That's it!"