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On a cold, wet and miserable Friday in May 1998, Marathon Stadium played host to a rare event in the inaugural premiership season of the National Rugby League. Due to the infamous situation of Rugby League having two separate premierships in Australia during 1997, dispute over which of the respective premiers was superior was a hot talking point over the off-season.
The Newcastle Knights had made history in the 1997 ARL Premiership by winning their inaugural Grand Final trophy, while the Brisbane Broncos comfortably accounted for Cronulla in the Super League decider.
Dubbed Rugby League?s version of American Football?s ?Super Bowl?, the impending contest was excessively hyped as the match of the season. Both clubs had impressive performances in the previous round, with Newcastle comfortably accounting for Auckland 38-14, whilst Brisbane, still smarting from an embarrassing loss to Manly in the ?Aqua-Broncos? colours the week before, obliterated the North Sydney Bears 60-6.
As Brisbane trotted onto the field, they were met with a Lang Park-esque chorus of vicious ?boos? and heckling from the Newcastle faithful. But a moment or two later, the 27,119 fans that squeezed into the ground stood as one and let out an almighty, thunderous roar when the pride of the city darted out onto playing paddock.
Then it was on.
Newcastle gained the upper hand in the early stages, and as a result the first try came as Lee Jackson crossed adjacent to the uprights.
For the next ten minutes the crowd was unforgiving, sledging and cursing in typical Novocastrian fashion. And despite being on the receiving end of the abuse, I didn?t want to be anywhere else. It is what, in my experience, enhances the atmosphere at Marathon Stadium to a level above similar venues.
As the locals got settled into the match, and began to see everything they were reading about their team?s chances during the week starting to become a reality, the Brisbane juggernaut started to move into a higher gear and eventually stole the lead from the home side. To the dismay of the Novocastrians, Brisbane out-classed their opponents with a solid 26-6 victory.
Unimpressed with the loss after the grand build up to the match, the spiteful fan versus fan rivalries came to life all around the ground.
Arguments, banter, cheering and jeering continued out of the Stadium, into the carparks, and out onto footpaths along Turton Road. A large group of Brisbane supporters broke out in song with a rather drunken rendition of Queen?s ?We Are The Champions? that had ears bleeding left, right and centre. But, soon enough, their actions consequently brought about a reaction. No less than a dozen staunch Newcastle fans retaliated, armed with a lethal combination of blow-up baseball bats and small buckets of left over sauce-socked hot chips which, despite being unorthodox, can be fairly handy and effective projectiles in battle. Fortunately enough for the group of Brisbanites, a getaway vehicle was near enough for them to escape unscathed.
But the Newcastle faithful weren?t spared moments of embarrassment either. One particular patron, who undoubtedly appeared to have gone a touch too hard on the turps for the duration of the match, made an unforgivable blunder. A friend, who was kind enough to escort him through the crowd, ended up getting more than he bargained for. A fan sporting a Broncos jersey that was keen to cast a line in a sea of Novocastrian fish decided he?d have a word or two in the man?s ear about the game?s result. The reaction was to be expected from a patriotic Knights supporter with a full tank, and the inevitable procession of ?hay-bailers? followed. Little did the aggressor realise that he was angrily walloping his own mate. No doubt the pair would leave the ground from separate exits in the years to come.
As we finally reached the car, a good ten minutes walk from the Stadium, there came an image that typifies our game?s ?mate against mate? phrase. Two fans, one wearing the Blue and Red of Newcastle and the other donning the Maroon, Gold and White of Brisbane, exchanged one last piece of friendly banter with a smile, wished each other luck for the season ahead, shook hands and then went their separate ways.
Just shows that at the end of the day however fierce our rivalries are in the bar, in the stands or out on the street, we're all untied in sharing a great passion for Rugby League.
Sources and references:
1. ?1998 NRL Round 8?, Rleague (,http://archive.rleague.com/1998/australia/nrl/nrl8.html) 2. ?Match Scores ? 1998?, Rleague (http://stats.rleague.com/rl/seas/1998.html) 3. ?Results Search? ? Brisbane Broncos Official Site (http://www.broncos.com.au/index.cfm...uID=279#Results)
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