For anyone who has read Shane Warne's autobiography "No Spin", you will be aware his story telling isn't exactly linear. I apologise but this article is a bit the same. I'll start at the end. It's Friday September 18, 2020 and the QLD Reds are playing in the domestic Super Rugby Union Final against the Brumbies tomorrow night. While outsiders with the bookies, I give them a red hot chance to win the silverware tomorrow night.
I first truly fell in love with Rugby Union in 2000 as a year 8 student at Nudgee College. Like most, I was in awe at the sight of the First XV. In the wooden grandstand I had practised for months, I'd learnt all the chants at home so that when round 1 arrived I could scream my lungs out. The first game was a bit of a disappointment; a dull 6 all draw vs Brisbane State High School. The next week though something clicked, maybe the inclusion of the flying Muzza on the wing or the tenacious Cam Vivian at flanker, maybe it was a magic mo stroke by master coach Peter Gledhill.
Or maybe just a team united and driven by disappointment and a desire to be better. Three consecutive 50+ score lines followed as TSS, BGS and IGS were all embarrassed on Ross Oval. The superstar of the team was captain Rocky Elsom - a future wallabies captain, 86 caps and regarded as the best forward in the world for a period of time. "Rocko, Rocko, Rocko" we used to chant as the dominant number 8 barnstormed his way to 12 tries in the 8 game season.
Not the greatest quality image but arguably the greatest rugby union school team,
the 2000 NC First XV.
The 2000 NC First XV remained undefeated and six players (a record at the time), were selected for the Australian Schoolboys while all 15 made the GPS 1 and 2 sides. They were such a good side that future Wallabies Richard Brown (23 caps) and Hugh McMeniman (22 caps) had to bide their time in the 16As.
It was during this period that the Wallabies also had a golden run. The 1999 World Cup win (which I remember getting up and watching), the John Eales winning penalty in 2000 and Toutai Kefu's 80th minute try the following year meant we won the Bledisloe Cup for four consecutive years.
It was also in 2001 that a gun British and Irish Lions side toured and Australia fought back to win the best of three series 2-1, securing the decider 29-23. With John Williamson belting out Waltzing Matilda before each game, rugby union was cool in Australia!
John Eales kicks the match winning penalty after the siren (goosebumps!)
The good times kept flowing, at Nudgee a clinical first XV won another undefeated competition in 2002 with future NRL star Antonio Kaufusi and electric outside backs David Eri and Sam Satui dominating, while the Wallabies retained the Bledisloe Cup again. 2003 was when things started to turn a bit sour. Despite Elton Flately's ice cool goal kicking, it was Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal that would win England the World Cup in extra time and break Australia's hearts. From this point on the Wallabies have been a disappointment.
We haven't won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002!
Numerous scrum debacles, coaches have come and gone and all the while, the finances run dry. Every year a former Wallaby will drum up "this is our year" - but alas it is not. The game is poorly managed from the top down with grassroots mostly ignored.
Having lived in Cairns the past 9 years there is no one to talk rugby union with, it is as though the ARU's marketing pigeon (refer to the Betoota Advocate) doesn't fly north of the Sunshine Coast.
But my interest in Rugby is back this weekend! The Reds had lost me before - when they moved from Ballymore to Suncorp Stadium and played disappointing football and got terrible results in 2007. I lamented this to captain Sam Cordingley (ripper bloke) one night and he encouraged me to keep the faith, I did and kept going to the Rugby. In 2011 when the Reds won a thrilling Super Rugby Final, I have never experienced such an electric experience - big call especially as I've been fortunate to experience about a 10 State of Origin matches and a Boxing Day test!
A moltley crew Reds won in 2011 (Goosebumps!)
The late 2000s were also a great time to be watching regular rugby union. "A good game of rugby beats any other code" was the go to catch cry. Lead by the courageous Nathaniel Gendle, Brothers provided me plenty of highlights 2009 and 2010 (heartbreaks too in 2006, 2008) from Crosby Park and Ballymore. At schoolboy level there was some special talent that I watched as an eager spectator as either a student or a coach:
Karmichael Hunt (Churchie, 2003) played the best half of rugby I've ever seen, it was 20-0 at halftime and that was the final score, Churchie therefore were the champions that year.
Quade Cooper (Churchie, 2005) was unpredictable and seemed a step ahead of everyone else. He had a body guard and gun flanker in David Pocock helping him out.
James O'Connor (Nudgee, 2007) but we all called him "Rabbit". Inside Centre was his spot and he owned it. Cheeky on and off the field. The best (back) schoolboy talent I remember watching and it's no surprise he debuted for the wallabies at 18.
I'm not trying to jump on the bandwagon, but rather celebrating the renaissance of the QLD Reds. My 2015 supporter polo is ready to be worn tomorrow night. It's been a bumpy journey the past 20 years but my fingers are crossed a now mature James O'Connor (always Rabbit in my head) will deliver the Reds a trophy tomorrow!