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When it comes to rugby league I strongly believed that I had felt it all. I thought I knew what it was all about. The power, the passion, the crowds and the tribalism.
I have been wrong.
Now copy and paste that sentence some where important because it will never be uttered again. But it?s true. I have been wrong. I now know where the true heart of rugby league lies?
?.In under 7?s footy.
I look out over a miniature field, covered with the excited figures of sixteen young boys and girls. Their little bodies swimming in jersey two sizes to big and wearing head gear that actually obstructs vision when it slips down. The coach out on the grass standing right beside his or her little warriors, with a vein bulging in their forehead because if they have to scream ?RUN THAT WAY? one more time they will go insane.
I am so nervous. It?s my babies? first real game of league. I am excited, proud and terrified all at once. I realise that this is more intense than any thing I have ever felt in regards to the knights. I look down the line. Every parent looks exactly the same. All of us have our fold out chairs and umbrellas. A little bottle of Gatorade and the camera on stand by.
The game goes by in a blur. It is hilarious. After every tackle the kids have to run back into line while they hold their arms out straight yelling ?eagle arms?. Two kids came to blows while doing this?something about running backward, using arms and talking. Brain overload. One kid ran the wrong way?this of course was expected, at least once. We had tears, tantrums (under 7?s in also full of little hogs. Now, because I am writing about the positives of this experience, I choose to leave out these kinds of stories?but just quietly, the only biff you do see is between team mates) and bruises.
I have told you about what I expected and did eventually see. I know, I know?cute and adorable but hardly worth the title of the heart of rugby league. It was during the warm up that I first saw it. I saw a 7 yr old kid step someone like he was Benji Marshall on speed. It was a thing of beauty. I saw a no look flick pass! ?a flick pass from my own son. I don?t know where he learnt it but utterly stoked he did.
I felt like I was seeing the future. The core of what our sport really is?It is not unruly fans or business ventures with superstars. It is kids that love a sport. It is parents that are up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday, coffee in hand ready to cheer. I spoke to a parent at last training whose youngest child was in under 7?s. He had 2 older brothers. She had worked out that as a family; they had spent around 200 afternoons at East Leagues Jr?s. Now that is dedication. That is what a true supporter of this sport looks like. There is always some one in the kiosk, parents who take their kids to that oval 3 times a week and the committee of the club that work their butts off for little reward?simply for love of the game.
I think credit is due.
We can be wowed by the big name players and we can be caught up in origin fever in June (or now for some?.I just brought my tickets on Monday, I am so excited : ). We can even spend our time discussing in finer detail if Carmont?s pony tail was the reason for such intense hostility on this very forum but the bottom line is; if every powerful entity must have a strong base and if rugby league is the monolith we all believe it is, then surely under 7?s is its foundation.