Old stars, young guns bring footy back with a bang
Flat tops made a comeback on the weekend.
So too did the runaround, the Australia v New Zealand series, and the lean, mean green machine – at least that's what the DJ was playing when Ken Nagas and his chicken legs made their way onto Eden Park.
"I'm going to pull back now, pull right back," the 1994 premiership-winning player said after his first game.
Someone who didn't pull back though – complete with his trademark 'fro in fully frivolous dysfunction – was Rabbitohs ambassador Matt King, who scored a try on day one and followed it with this: "Twenty minutes games, one weekend a year, I reckon I can handle," King said. "But if I had to play 80 minute games for 26 weeks straight it'd be a different kettle of fish I reckon."
But by Sunday night he was once again the Matt King of the NSW Origin glory years, lasting long enough during the epic golden try period in the final against Cronulla to cross for the tournament-winner. If Nagas made the fairytale comeback, then King was the Auckland Nines' Cinderella.
"He hasn't done a whole heap of training either has he, 'Bull'?" victorious Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire asked Nines skipper Issac Luke during the post-tournament press conference.
"I'm not sure what he thought he was going to do either, but to see the smile on the face at the end of the end there is typical Matty King style with the fluffy hair. But I think he'd probably retire that jersey now, hang it up on the wall after that finish."
But the best comeback of them all, and we mean this with the utmost respect to Nagas and King, was the footy.
Because for every Matt King there was an Angus Crichton, and for every Ken Nagas there was a Jack Bird. For the first time in probably ever, rugby league returned in January. And almost 80,000 people inside Eden Park over two days – and hundreds of thousands more on television – proved that it couldn't have come early enough.
"I'm used to playing school games with school kids in front of me. To play on the big stage at Eden Park, an actual stadium, is something completely new to me and something absolutely wild," Crichton said.
"I never knew I'd be playing in front of a crowd like this, playing in a game like this, with these kinds of blokes around me. I'm just very grateful to come out here and play with these boys."
Bird, who was one of Cronulla's best over the weekend, summed it up best: "The atmosphere was the best thing I've ever seen in my whole entire life. I'll never forget this moment. Hopefully there's a lot more to come."
There is. It's only January.