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My father, a dedicated League fan and an ex-bush player, who had once played against the great Poppa Clay, decided that his 13-year-old son, a dedicated League fan and semi-dedicated Soccer player, should try League. After much parental ?convincing?, his son agreed to his request. A quick call to the local under 14?s coach later and my Rugby League career was born.
Damn it. I loved watching Rugby League but I had never played it apart from the odd game at and after school with my mates. Soccer was a doddle; a brisk walk in the park with a ball to kick around to break the monotony and Rugby League wasn?t. I was basically afraid of playing Rugby League. So I hatched a plan, a devious and cunning plan so devious and so cunning that those two words were probably invented just to describe it. I was going to be the worst Rugby League player of all time.
The following Tuesday afternoon, I walked to Whitlam Park, sidled up to the Coach and told him who I was. The coach looked me up and down, cursed under his breath at my lack of weight and height, cursed again at the favour he was doing and asked me if I could run. ?No? I replied. A race against the team speedster was hastily arranged and off we went. The speedster was practicing his kicking when I eventually finished the race. Obviously unimpressed with my speed, the coach barked ?Tackle that bag son?. The bag duly won the confrontation.
The coach then asked me to tackle a moving target, obviously ignoring the tackling bag?s recent victory. I looked at my intended target. 15 yards in front of me was a Neanderthal posing as a 13-year-old. He outweighed me by 40 pounds and had the beginnings of a handle bar moustache already. He trotted at about ? pace, grinning like a circus clown. The look on his face as he pranced toward me like a 13 stone Julian Clary changed my plan momentarily and I launched myself at him. Every muscle strained and every sinew stretched as I dived headlong into the startled oaf. Before he had time to react he went backwards as though hit by a cannonball and slammed into the dirt. He looked up in disbelief and mumbled that I wouldn?t get the same target next time. I winked at him and avoided him for the rest of the session.
In the 90 minutes that followed I dropped the ball more than a trainee Juggler and missed more tackles than Preston Campbell misses in a season. My feigned ineptitude was impressive in its intensity.
I was chosen on the Wing for our first game, despite my insistence that the bench was my preferred position. The Wing was reasonably good news though; I could easily ensure the success of my plan on the Wing. Back in the early 1970?s, that was the place you put the hopeless kids. Like Goalkeepers in Soccer, League flankers were the inordinately untalented, the gormless, sans-talent cretins. I would be right at home there.
The weekend came and the game began in heavy rain. All was going according to plan until late in the second half. We had the opposition pinned down in their own quarter when their half back decided to punt the heavy ball downfield. The ball sliced from his boot and like a dart honing in on the treble 20, it arced toward its unintended target, me. My arms stretched outward, almost begrudgingly, as if they were someone else?s arms trying to catch the ball on my behalf. The ball plopped into my hands like a 5 pound Mackerel into a Fishmonger?s leathery mitts. I dragged the ball to my chest and took off, not out of desire to score or even to do something reasonably helpful for the team; I took off toward our opponent?s try-line out of sheer, unadulterated terror. Given the choice to be there, or on the sun with only a 5+ sunscreen for protection, I?d have chosen the latter. It was the safer and less violent option.
I accelerated toward the try-line, panicked to full pace by the ever-loudening squelching boots of the pursuing horde. With the screams from the sidelines ringing in my ears, I dived over from 2 yards out and slid across for the try untouched.
Them 48, Us 3.
My League career had begun in earnest and the grand plan was forever shelved.
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