Editors note: When ‘big city sport’ comes to the country something other than ‘just a game’ unfolds. Steve and Ryan Judd have captured that beautifully for you and Region Media. Steve is a local police officer and Ryan is a year eight high school student who loves a ball. This father and son ran with our brief – cover the game from a community perspective. Thanks fellas!
The 23rd of February was marked on the calendar several months ago, when the Canberra Raiders announced that they’d play a trial game in Bega, against the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, in the lead up to the 2019 season.
It’s been quite a few years since the last time the NRL came to the Sapphire Coast, so there was a bit of anticipation around our place as the game got closer.
Even though the actual game was played on a Saturday evening, the fun started a few days earlier. Both the Raiders and Bulldogs clubs made a big effort to get out in the community, to support local events and school football, with the Raiders players even running water for the kids in their gala day last Thursday. So, after heaps of autographs and photos with the fans, it was finally time to play.
With the gates opening at 12:30 pm, there was an air of excitement along Carp Street as fans in their respective colours of green, or blue and white, streamed into the Bega Recreation Ground.
There was even a stream of neutral fans showing their own team colours with Parramatta, Penrith, and Newcastle jerseys, amongst others.
With the Monaro Colts playing the Greater Southern Region Tigers (Macarthur) in the lead up under 16 and under 18 games you got the sense that fans had travelled far wide to get to the game. But, a gentle reminder that we were in the Bega Valley, were all the local league jerseys on display, with adults and kids alike proudly displaying their towns colours.
As the afternoon and the lead-up footy played on, we got hungry, but this isn’t the big smoke, this is the country, so what do you do? Yep, get some local footy clubs to run the BBQ! Two minutes after leaving my seat, I’m back there again, steak sandwich and can of drink in hand. A big tick for the locals. But, fear not, there were numerous other food and drink options available, and the bar opened at 3 pm. You could have a beer, but by games end, there wasn’t enough time to have “too many beers”, again, big tick.
With players going through their warm-up drills before the main game kick off at 5 pm, we were given another reminder that we were in the country, with a flock of cockatoos flying over the ground. Somehow I couldn’t imagine that happening at the Olympic Stadium in Homebush!
After an ‘official’ pre-game presentation of a Raiders jersey to local identity Ben Harrop, even though he declared his allegiance to the Newcastle Knights, and said he was hoping for a Canterbury win today! Again, this is the country and we’ll do things our way thanks. Anyway, as I was saying it was time to play.
With the players lead out by kids representing local rugby league clubs, and after a wonderfully said ‘welcome to country’, it was game on.
Whilst it was a trial game it was clear that after several months of pre-season training the players were eager to get on with it. The runs were hard and the tackles were strong. But to remind us this was also a few days of fun, it was good to see Tathra junior, and Canterbury player, Adam Elliott along with Dylan Napa, high fiving kids, shaking hands, and having photos taken as they made their way around the ground after being subbed off 20 minutes into the first half. A small gesture by them but a big moment for the kids.
Back to the game, Canterbury took a 22-6 lead into half time. Canberra came out with a bit more intent in the second half, with several late tries giving them a 28-22 win. The old saying “it was a game of two halves” probably fits in here. However, the result doesn’t really matter. I think both sides got something out of the game.
Importantly though, the game of rugby league itself got even more out of the game. After an offseason of negative headlines, it felt like the game was brought back to the fans and we could enjoy it again. The players staying on the field after the game, for yet more selfies with kids, and autographs, and interaction. Again, only small gestures, but lasting moments.
Words and pictures by Steve and Ryan Judd.