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Category: Rugby League

Generations Butt Heads For Tex In Iconic Purtell Panther Pit (As Grassroots as Urine On Iron)

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Dave ‘Tex’ Murphy Memorial Game; Normanby Hounds vs. Normanby Old Boys; Putrell Park; 1/2/2014

“Rugby league…is a game of bashing the life out of your opponent until he is weak enough for you to pass. And so I ask; can that really be done in a friendly way?”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Purtell Park is surely one of Brisbane’s most spectacular grassroots sanctums. It feels reverent and secluded, waiting at the dead end of an unassuming route into the quiet backside of the Bardon Hills. The earth ascends amphitheatrically from the southern dead-ball line and the eastern touch; the sudden hills are crowded at the base by loping, interwoven trees, then become gradually dry, brown and balding toward their dramatic crests. There’s nothing but sky to contemplate beyond this natural stamp in the earth, and the sun seems so intent to light the field that I could almost swear the goalposts cast no shadow.

I’m also fairly confident that the place would throw back an echo if you came here on your lonesome and yodelled.

Sadly, it’s all but a spiritual ground these days, discharged from formal duty after the recent disbandment of the historic Wests Panthers rugby league club just two years shy of its centenary. Where in the past as many as eighteen thousand punters have swarmed the sidelines for top grade grand finals, today it’s probably less than two hundred (players and coaches included) as the Normanby Hounds host a memorial fixture for a fallen clubman, Dave ‘Tex’ Murphy. And that’s just fine; family and friends, club die-hards and a couple of grassroots sports reporters have come out here to see some off-season league for a good cause. Money raised from today’s game and a follow-up dinner will go to helping Tex’s 16 year old son through his schooling.

The Hounds’ competition team, from the Open Northside 2 division, will today be taking on the Normanby Old Boys (The N.O.B.s), a tight-knit collective of players of yore. In other words, the N.O.B.s (also calling themselves ‘The International XIII’) are de-commissioned clubmen, and while some are still looking pretty fit, others look flat-out wrong on the park; I note the ominous heavy-breathing from a large portion of the squad before the game has even begun. Plus, as a matter of honour, Tex’s son, the one for whose benefit today’s game is being played, has also strapped up for the International XIII. And while he’s not the wispiest sixteen year old I’ve ever seen, he’s certainly at that end of the scale.

All of which is not such a big deal if you fail to recognise that their opposition is a fully-competitive, second grade side that won the grand final last year with ease. I personally saw them mutilate a not-too-bad Sandgate Brighton Gaters team by 44-0.

So the first question I have when I see this surely lopsided affair get underway is fairly obvious and also human; is someone going to get hurt here? And furthermore, if it’s Tex’s kid that gets chopped in two, is that going to put a serious dampener on the benevolent spirit of things? Rugby league, I remind you, is the ball-sport equivalent of boxing; it is a game of bashing the life out of your opponent until he is weak enough for you to pass. And so I ask; can that really be done in a friendly way?

In the early stages of the game, physicality is not really the defining thing; the Hounds are simply more organised. Soon enough they’ve scored down the eastern boundary with an overlap that’s a good four men in number. And then they score again. The portly forty- fifty- and sixty-somethings of the International XIII have a good system of self-preservation in place – they are substituting themselves in and out of the game after sometimes just a single play in which they are not even involved; it looks like a competition to see who can get the most game time without actually playing.

Incidentally, having taken refuge from the sun in the enormous players’ shelter along the sideline, your reporter soon learns that the occasional pattering on the corrugated iron structure is not the breaking of rain; excited and/or nervous players find privacy enough to relieve themselves about a foot from my ear. Ah, the familiar charms of local sport.

The game is wisely broken into quarters, and during the breaks the International XIII’s skipper keeps spirits up – he earnestly believes the defence is weakening, and he might just be right. The International XIII lacks nothing where size is concerned (the way they carry their size is probably more to the point, however) and they’re making good yards when they punch at the line. Front-on defence has been solid too. A few players also make the point that the referee (who I assume is a clubman too) ‘wouldn’t dare’ penalise the International XIII for grubby or cynical play, and everyone seems to agree that it might be worth pushing the boundaries of legal play to neutralise the fitness advantages of the opposition.

Turns out they’re right about that too. The veterans don’t get penalised all afternoon.

In the second phase of the game the International XIII find a new way over the line; they put the ball to the boot and go to the sky. Twice they score tries this way, swinging play from east to west, the ball dropping perfectly for attacking players in the in-goal.

The afternoon goes on like this; the Hounds score occasionally through the middle, busting the line as the defence wearies. They sometimes like to ‘woof’ when they score. The International XIII snatch one back here or there, through an overlap or in the air. But the real on-field business of the afternoon, as it turns out, is a bit of score-settling between old bulls and young bulls. Much hyped intergenerational grudge-matches come to the fore and a handful of disturbing hits thunder around the park (which I now know echoes). Shoulder-charges, illegal in the modern game, are here given a kind of amnesty. But somehow, even after being the subject of certified double-whipped creamings, players seem to get up smiling, dusting off the grass and swatting away the circling tweeties.

It remains a given that the Hounds will win, and no one seems to be keeping score anyway. It goes without saying that this game’s true significance dwarfs the possible relevance of any scoreboard. In answer to my question, the players do manage to look after each other by following a law of fair square-offs that is pretty natural when you think about it. Basically, you don’t hit a guy unless he’s up to it.

And thanks to that, Tex’s kid survives the afternoon long enough to benefit from its proceeds.

MDB Score: N/A

MDB Service Atmosphere: N/A

MDB Cost: N/A

Game Score: (Estimate – no official record seems to have been made) Normanby Hounds, 37, def N.O.Bs, A.K.A. International XIII, 22.

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Cats Get Trimmed In Thriller At North Ipswich (Young Woman Misses Golden Opportunity to Upgrade from Hatch)

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Mackay Cutters v Easts Tigers; Intrust Super Cup Grand Final; North Ipswich Reserve; 29/9/2013

“The way she stands there, about to run in and kick, is roughly the way you would stand before a weird glowing entity found lying in a paddock which may or may not be an alien.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

It’s perfect live footy weather. Just under thirty and not a cloud. On the way to the ground, you might happen upon some lads drinking Mexican beers out of a car boot – tanned and tattooed arms uncovered by skimpy singlets, hip-hop rattling the chassis – and think you’re headed down to the beach. Arguably the quintessential grassroots image of the afternoon is the streets around the North Ipswich Reserve, cluttered with traffic automotive and human. There’s something parked on every blade of council turf and only a superficial respect for private land. Creative drivers have angled in to exploit slivers of daylight between bumpers, Tetris-style, plus there’s some straight-up and much less inspired double-parking. The long march from one’s unfortunately very distant park to the gates is, on the plus side, a great chance to ogle the attractive and prevalent Queenslander homes that are one of Ipswich’s charms. Presumably the inhabitants of these ones have nicked off for the afternoon or else settled down homeside, because if they want to head out over the next few hours, they’ll be walking.

It’s twenty bucks to get in, which is a bit of a surprise and probably the absolute upward cut-off for a grassroots stub. For that, at the very least, you get a real-deal holographic ticket instead of your neighbourhood stamp on the wrist. Plus, the burgers and beers are priced sympathetically. As it turns out, that twenty is pound-for-pound one of my better sporting investments, because the dance between the Mackay Cutters and the Easts Tigers will surely go down as a classic for both quality and drama. It’s the Grand Final you wish for but rarely get, and it’s pretty hard to overstate.

Technically speaking, the North Ipswich Reserve is neutral ground for both sides. But Mackay (eleven hours by car from home, as opposed to the one hour drive for Easts), is the side for which heading to this game constitutes a roadtrip. For that reason, they embody the ‘away’ spirit. Where the Tigers fans, outnumbering the opposition by at least two-to-one, are scattered fairly evenly around the park, seeking shade, bar access, vantage and personal space, the Cutters supporters instinctively form large groups and stake clear territory. It’s a phenomenon that David Attenborough has explained once or twice.  The biggest contingent of Cutters followers has settled behind the northern goal posts. In the first half they’re an excited but reserved bunch, and Easts get the bigger cheers. But that will all change once the Cutters boys start running from their supporters’ end. That’s when the theatre of the afternoon seems to fall into place.

The game starts fast and razor sharp and it really doesn’t let up. Considering the heat it’s remarkable that the full eighty minutes goes without a lull, and that neither team really gets exposed on a systemic level at any point. There are some line breaks through the forwards later in the game but they’re not exactly eye-rollers from a defensive point of view – in fact, they’re a fairly reasonable outcome when you’ve spent a long, warm afternoon attempting to catch fridges that can sprint. Easts get busy right away and score first in the south-western corner after a rather audacious switch, which seems to hang behind the advantage line too long for a game of this speed but turns out to be an essay in weight and poise. It’s nothing to shame the Cutters but an ominous sign of what the talent-rich Easts side are capable of. Since the first half is otherwise an arm-wrestle, you get the feeling that flashes like this might be what separates the teams in the end.

At half time, with a score in it, we’re told over the big speaker in no uncertain terms that they’re going to give away a car. Since the stakes are so titillatingly high, everyone in the stadium stops to watch a young woman – who announces under interview that she’s never place-kicked a football before, repeat never – attempt to slot one from forty out. If she gets it, the car is hers. The girl in question is wearing nightclub-ready painted-on pants and is pretty short now that the heels are off. She’s bubbly and breathless with the microphone in her face and is not in a million years going to get that car. The way she stands there, about to run in and kick, is roughly the way you would stand before a weird glowing entity found lying in a paddock which may or may not be an alien. Every person in the venue, maybe four thousand of them, is watching this (a fair feat considering this is prime time for toilet breaks, match day burgers, and beer – though admittedly access to all three has been pretty clean all day). From a marketing point of view, the car brand has in fact pulled off a pure swindle here. They’ve managed to generate compelling tension over a zero-probability situation. And they’ve branded that tension. How is this possible, I wonder, as the girl runs in and, flailing her right leg, manages to move the ball somewhere between the tee and the tip of the shadow the ball was casting before she struck it. It’s a little hard to tell given the subtlety of the ball’s arc, but she may have sliced it too.

In the second half I notice a too-good-to-be-true clearing just under the balcony of the main bar, and learn just a few moments after arriving why there’s a clearing under the balcony of the main bar, which is getting noisy and, incidentally, beer-soaked. As the looming reality of full-time starts to ratchet the tension of the game, and the sun begins to set behind the stand, the Cutters’ fullback goes to the bin for cynical play.  He’s had a rough afternoon already, once saved from committing the closest thing to a rugby league own goal by the grace of merciful gods. But while he’s off the field an Easts attacking error on the western flank results in a Cutters try and lead. Then Easts go for pure grunt through a barnstorming second rower that keeps putting his hand up, and they find their own way over. The game gets locked at twenty a piece.

Now it’s serious. Allegiances are clarified. On the bowl of slopes around the field, people on their feet outnumber those sitting. The main bar’s balcony, previously divided fifty/fifty between supporters, suddenly looks all Tiger, and the ‘Carn the Cutters’ banner, once proudly festooned, now hangs by a thread off the rail, lynched and unreadable. The Easts faithful have come out of the woodwork. They’re the much bigger contingent and they start to realise it. Too late to gather in one place, they start doing what they can to make themselves known. Their scattered yelling is like a frenzy of squawks from birds that have just noticed each other in a jungle canopy.

Television or radio couldn’t really explain what’s happening on the ground at this point as the whole afternoon gathers on a needlepoint. If ever there was a testament to getting out to watch live sport, this is it. The relentless attack and defence keep coming from both sides, but from ground level it’s almost as though the field has gotten smaller. I’m constantly moving a few steps to get a sight on the scoreboard and the time remaining, which is not much. When the Cutters return to the in-goal from their good deeds – a try and then a crucial field goal to put them in front – they pump their fists to wind up the crowd. And the faithful, in turn, rise and chant, transferring energy or else ammunition to keep their boys going. This spiritual overlap of crowd and players really defines the last part of the game, a palpable sort of load and fire relationship that surely can’t come through a screen or a speaker. The best stuff happens in your gut and you don’t get to keep it.

The Cutters score again with one minute to go and the clock drags them the rest of the way to the cup.

Match Day (Steak) Burger Score: 7.0

MD(S)B Price: $5.00

MD(S)B Service Atmosphere: 5.0

Game Score: Mackay Cutters 27 def. Easts Tigers 20

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Tardy Porpoise Frolics in Water Park at Bishop (Signs Indicate Hell May Have Frozen Over)

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Redcliffe Dolphins v Capalaba Warriors; Nev Blair Shield Grand Final (Under 18 Division 1, Greater Brisbane Junior Rugby League); Albert Bishop Park; 22/9/2013

“…few are without shaved legs, fluoro-coloured boots, sleeves rolled up and taped down tight to emphasise the biceps, and socks bunched around ankles in a messed but precisely-planned way. And don’t get me started on the hair styles. “

Report by G & T (Scott Gittoes & Nicholas Turner)

You can’t but marvel. There’s a seventeen-year-old kid standing deep in the pocket of the in-goal, hands on hips, and he’s pretty much game ready for the NRL, in terms of size. Tall, long-legged, with fierce arms and shoulders, he’s cut in that compressed stone way that’s particular to those who carry a hundred and ten kilos like it’s precisely nothing.

I’ve arrived late to the grand final of the Nev Blair Shield, Brisbane’s premier junior Rugby League competition, but only one team’s on the field.  The Capalaba Warriors are spread-out in formation ready to receive the kick-off and the aforementioned monster of a ‘boy’ has positioned himself right where their opponents are about to enter. There’s nothing coincidental about it. But it’s more than three minutes before the Redcliffe Dolphins actually appear, with all the aloofness of an undefeated outfit.  And they don’t have a spare glance among them for the scarecrow at the gate. There are no handshakes or formalities; the ball is airborne almost before the last of the Dolphins has taken his place behind the halfway line.  The Redcliffe boys seem to have started playing without even acknowledging the game. The Warriors are baffled and their bafflement manifests as fury.  Needless to say, the first hit of this grand final doesn’t disappoint.

These Under 18s hit with all the vigour and spite of the senior grades.  Most approach the contact making short, sharp hissing noises distinctive to Rugby League.  Perhaps the confrontation enlivens some deep-seated warrior instincts, or maybe they’re trained to expel breath on impact for some bio-physical reason, or perhaps they’ve just heard the professionals doing it.  Looking around, it’s the latter that I find most likely. The influence of today’s professionals among these young players’ cannot be dismissed; few are without shaved legs, fluoro-coloured boots, sleeves rolled up and taped down tight to emphasise the biceps, and socks bunched around ankles in a messed but precisely-planned way. And don’t get me started on the hair styles.  This is League as fashion. Sport as social code and trend. These kids are seventeen, after all.

The palm trees on top of the grassy embankments are under stress today; the northerlies are making their presence felt.  Despite some early and late attacks from their opponents, Redcliffe has the wind at their backs and a full sail for the best part of the first half.  Building on plenty of neat work in the middle from a niggling number nine, their backline runs riot down the eastern touchline, picking up at least three tries in that corner.

Turning away from the field at half-time, these grounds (home of the Norths Devils QRL team) remind me of an abandoned water park; large earthen grass-covered mounds rise along the western and southern touchlines; the classic grassy ‘hill’.  These would surely heave during a top-flight fixture but today only a few hundred are in attendance.  It’s almost as if there’s too much space here for a game like this to be atmospheric. The western ridge-line is dotted with those outdated table-chair-umbrella structures, manufactured out of some gauchely unnatural, very eighties material.  The umbrellas are like upturned beach-shells, covered in blackened mould.

The Norths Devils emblem is painted on a faraway wall.  I’ve never seen the devil look more amiable in all my life.  He’s blue for starters and without a single sharp feature, somewhere between Cupid and a Smurf, and he’s holding a decorative yellow trident with a warm, almost consoling grin from ear-to-ear.  If I go to hell, I hope this guy is running the show.  On top of the southern hill is a ‘bar and grill’, though it’s under lock and key this afternoon.  Some food can be found in the brick canteen at the northern end, in the form of a beef patty, or else a dagwood dog, the festive creation that sits somewhere next to the deep-fried Mars Bar and Fruit Loops on the food pyramid.  I give the dog a miss and opt for a humble match day burger.

Far from prospering with a second-half wind advantage, the Warriors are backpedalling from the outset. They stage a long camp-out in the opposing half but cannot manage the majors they badly need. The Dolphins clinically squeeze out hope of any second-half heroics, and the impatience of the crowd is telling.  According to the fast-food sponsor emblazoned across the referee’s shirt, he’s ‘Lovin It’, but I’m not so sure this is still the case when some folks on the sideline start to get cranky about a game that’s all but gone to the rightful winner.

Match Day Burger Score: 5.0

MDB Cost: $5.00

MDB Service Atmosphere: 5.0

Match Score: Redcliffe Dolphins 30 def. Capalaba Warriors 14

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Old Empire Dies Hard at Langlands (Tsunami Graciously Holds Off For Finals)

Valleys Diehards v Brisbane Natives; BSDRL Northern 1 Conference, Grand Final; Langlands Park; 31/8/2013

Whilst the impacts of a ‘bald veteran’ are not readily quantifiable, they are widely understood in rugby league circles…

Report by Scott Gittoes

As a keen student of world history will tell you, empires always fade.  The Fortitude Valley Diehards claimed Brisbane’s inaugural rugby league premiership in 1909 and became an indomitable twentieth-century force, once led by The King himself.  Today, decades after folding due to financial difficulties, Valleys’ record of twenty-four first-grade premierships is peerless.

Whilst collapse is certain, empires rarely meet with extinction.  The withered heart subsists; smaller, weaker, but still beating. Think of empires Ottoman, Portuguese, and Spanish.  Think Sizzler Restaurants.  Likewise, the Valleys Diehards Juniors remain; and a solitary senior team flies the royal blue out of the juniors’ clubhouse in the Brisbane Second Division Rugby League, Northern 1 Conference.  That’s what’s left of first-grade’s most successful club.

Today, the last of the empire’s soldiers, nineteen in fact, are walking out of the ‘home’ change-rooms – a formidable seventies-era brick bunker that appears capable of withstanding heavy shelling – onto a tightly-clipped Langlands Park for an afternoon Grand Final against the Brisbane Natives.  These Diehards emerge unimposing and rag-tag.  Their entrance is met with little fanfare.  The few royal blue colours I have seen in the crowd are mostly down the other end, propping up the bar.

The Brisbane Natives are adorned in black with red, gold and maroon trim – the Aboriginal Flag above their right breast and the Torres Strait Islander Flag above their left – an all-indigenous team.  Glancing at the match-day program, I spot three Natives with the same surname on the team-list.  I’m enthusiastically informed by a supporter that, yes, they are brothers.  She goes on, “they’re all related out there; uncles, nephews, cousins…” I’m not certain if the three are brothers in the traditional sense or more informally so, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s clearly a family affair.  The team-list reveals many repeated surnames: 3 x Cobbo, 2 x Kyle, 2 x Conlon, 2 x Malone.  And the extended family is proud of their team.  Supporters are alight with balloons, streamers, face-paint and team apparel, including shirts commemorating the club’s fortieth anniversary this year.  This familial culture appears to have fostered a culture of success; a long list of premierships runs the spine of the commemorative garment.

The Natives’ canter out of the ‘away’ change-rooms – a thirties-era cricket grandstand beyond the ground’s fences – through their tunnel of supporters and, at the tunnel’s conclusion, a banner made of crepe-paper.  The banner is split by their captain-coach, who debuted with the Natives back in ‘85.  Numbers and common sense determine that he couldn’t be younger than forty-five.  Veterans abound at this level but this is outstanding.

The Natives look impressive; strong, athletic and full of intensity.  At this early stage, at a glance, my money is on them.  As it turns out, these teams met in the major semi-final two weeks ago, and were separated by a mere two points at full-time.  I’m told this has been the story of their meetings all season.

Casting my gaze over the fastidiously manicured, cambered surface of Langlands Park (home to the Easts Tigers), it’s apparent that this field is treated with reverence.  It’s no coincidence that today’s BSDRL (Northern) Grand Finals are being held here, back-to-back.  This is one of the few remaining inner-city sanctuaries of grassroots rugby league.  It’s a remnant.  But not even this hallowed turf is immune.  A brand new polished-concrete two-story car park looms over the eastern touchline like an inexorable wave.  The ever-expanding Easts Leagues Club can only grow in one direction.  It’s mildly amusing when, on our arrival, the attendant asks if we are here for the footy or the club and, once informed, directs us accordingly to the open-air gravel car park out the back.   But this is commercial reality.  You either adapt and go with it, like Easts Tigers, a modern-day first grade rugby league powerhouse, or you fade away, like the Fortitude Valley Diehards.

The nineteen remaining Diehards aren’t fading today.  They are led up-front by the ‘Northern 1 Player of the Year’ and two bald veterans.  Whilst the impacts of a ‘bald veteran’ are not readily quantifiable, they are widely understood in rugby league circles; a bald veteran is reliable and unshakable.  The Diehards must feel privileged to have two on their side that every bit fill the type today.  That being said, the Natives are equally blessed with two bald veterans of their own and this balanced ledger reflects the larger picture; there really is nothing between these two teams once the pre-game histrionics are over and the pill is in play.

From the outset, the teams’ mutual respect is palpable; they’ve clearly met many times before.  Every metre and hit is genuinely hard-fought; each an attempt to reduce the health levels of the other ever-so-slightly.  Ten minutes into the second half I still cannot discern which team has the ascendancy.  This is a rarity for grassroots footy of any code.

League, even at its loosest, unbalanced worst, is an inherently physical game.  But at its raw best, when evenly matched teams are going toe-to-toe in a grand final, it’s a compelling contest of attrition between unyielding human walls.  There is no better way to put this; ball-carriers are simply running into, and attempting to move, largely unmovable (and advancing) walls.  Tight games really are won in the forwards.  And the key attribute, apart from physical strength, fitness and technique, is discipline.  Players from both sides have already been sent to the bin and I suspect that today’s victor will be the team that keeps the most men on the park for the longest time.

An incendiary red-headed prop from Valleys and a rather intimidating second rower from the Natives have been fanning the flames of conflict all game.  Surprisingly, neither has done time in the bin.  With around 20 minutes to go, the tightly balanced scales tip in favour of Valleys, who move ahead, 12 – 0.

Someone once explained to me that the art of a telling a joke involves bending the subject matter to create tension but not so far as to break it.  If it breaks, the humour is lost.  The same is true of footy-game conflict.  Niggle and confrontation is appealing, to a point, but if it goes beyond breaking point, the game’s appeal is lost.  With fifteen minutes to go a melee erupts and three Natives are sent to warm the pine.  The tension is now broken, drained, and then it’s thirteen against ten; the contest is over in more ways than one.  I hear someone behind me protest that three players should not be sent-off in a grand final, obviously channelling the same logic that expects penalty-counts to be square at full-time.  The binned players were asking for, and indeed commencing fights right under the referee’s nose.  They had to go.

Despite the anti-climatic end, it’s heartening to see opposing players, who minutes earlier were throwing haymakers and spitting vitriol, embracing and sharing a laugh as they trade post-game handshakes.  The boiled-over nature of the game seemed to have become more than sporting, so I really didn’t expect this.  But then again, the mutual respect of these sides was never really in doubt.  Their contest was real.

Match Day Burger: 6/10

MDB Cost: $6.00

MDB Service Atmosphere: 5/10

Match Score: Valleys Diehards 32 def. Brisbane Natives 0

If you enjoyed this match day report, you can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry.

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