A town called Tingha

  • by Willow
  • October 13 2004 12:00AM

Tingha has a population of just 850 people. Nestled 25 kilometres from Inverell and 689 kilometres from Sydney, Tingha is remote enough. A trip to the beach means an all day drive just to get there. Tingha may be small but they have a Rugby League field and in recent times, have produced some great players including Preston ?Presto? Campbell and Owen ?Owie? Craigie.

But only one player carries the nickname of ?Tingha?.

Born in 1976, Nathan ?Tingha? Blacklock played with the Tingha Tigers. A home town sensation, news soon spread about this youngster who possessed a sharp turn of speed and knew his way to the try line. Nathan briefly got his chance with Easts in 1995, scoring one try before being invited to look elsewhere.

In 1997, the Tingha Tiger joined the St.George Dragons.

Records speak for themselves

A winger with a roaming commission, ?Tingha? would often mix it with the forwards, scoring both sides of the ruck. 1998: 20 tries, top Dragons try scorer. 1999: 24 tries, top NRL try scorer. 2000: 25 tries, top NRL try scorer. 2001: 27 tries, top NRL try scorer. 2003: 14 tries, top Dragons try scorer.

Nathan Blacklock is the only player to score 20 tries or more for four consecutive seasons. He topped the League?s try scorers list for three years running, equalling Benny Wearing?s 1920s record. Blacklock?s 27 tries (2001) broke a St.George record, previously held by Tommy Ryan (1957). In all, ?Tingha? has scored 121 tries in 142 club appearances.

Tingha: ??it is very important to place a priority on children?

In 2000, Blackock was honoured with the Ken Stephen Memorial Award for his off-field work with kids. He was instrumental in funding a community pool for Tingha, replacing an unsafe dam. Additionally, he set up the 'Tingha Blacklock Youth Trust' assisting indigenous children in country areas with sport and literacy in education.

Tries, hat-tricks and backflips

In 1999, ?Tingha? scored a sensational grand-final try when he pounce on the ball, ran through the defensive line and raced 60 metres up middle of the park to score. He celebrated with a superb aerial back-flip, much to the delight of the massive crowd.

In 2001, he pulled off one of his many hat-tricks against Wests Tigers, including a breath-taking match-winner right on fulltime, and it brought the house down.

This was Blacklock?s best season but in a decision which stunned the rugby league community, he was snubbed by NSW selectors. In contrast, the Australian selectors had no hesitation in selecting Blacklock for the Kangaroo tour of 2001. In October, he played two Tests, scoring two tries.

In May 2002, Blacklock scored his 100th career try before suffering a knee strain. He was sidelined for two weeks and for the first time since 1998, a Dragons team took the field without Nathan Blacklock.

Tingha: ?I no longer have the passion for the game..."

In June 2002, Blacklock lost his passion for Rugby League. In a widely publicised move, Saints granted a release and 'Tingha' was quickly snapped up by Rugby Union. In March 2003, Blacklock was selected for the Waratahs, scoring a tremendous try, opening up a match-winning lead for NSW.

Numerous theories emerged about this switch to Union. Some said Blacklock was unhappy after being overlooked by NSW Origin selectors. Closer scrutiny reveals that Nathan was coming to terms with his father?s death and a relationship breakdown with his partner. During interviews, Nathan played down his personal problems stating, ?these things happen to people every day.? It should have been left at that.

But rumour manifests itself in varying ways. Some went looking for fault and cited the woefully inept ?walkabout? criticism. Still others, in a league of their own stupidity, claimed the record breaking try-scorer had betrayed the game.

Meanwhile, there were moves to get ?Tingha? back to Rugby League. The Dragons, who willingly released Blacklock, were finding the NSWRU to be less accommodating. But in May 2003, negotiations finalised and ?Tingha? returned home, scoring 14 tries in 12 matches.

In August 2004 with injuries starting to niggle, Blacklock accepted a lucrative two-year deal with UK club, Hull. But he saved one of his best performances for his last home game at Kogarah, scoring two stunning tries in a match-winning performance.

We?re going to miss this bloke. We just don?t fully realise it yet. At least we?re the lucky ones? in years to come we?ll be able to say, ?I saw Nathan Blacklock play.?

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