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I was picked up for my expedition by the Samoans and we headed to the graveyard with anticipation running wild. It was Sione?s first live game watching the storm. I?d been twice before, seeing them beat my team from the mobile chook pen and leaving disillusioned both occasions. But this was different, oh hell was it different, I thought as I was handed a Schweppes bottle, frozen throughout the day and hiding the vodka marinating in it. Five eyes were on me, the sixth hopefully watching the road but it was hard to tell and I put the bottle to my lips. As the icy liquid rolled down my throat, the cheer went up?
?The graveyard for life?.
?Ow,? we hit a bump and the bottle grazed my gum.
?The graveyard for life, ow,? they repeated laughing.
?Oh Christ, I?ve walked willingly into an episode of BroTown and I?m Jeff da Maori ow,? I thought.
We found parking and with Sione?s help, you know the sort where he stands at the back of the vehicle as it?s backed in and, when it hits the car behind, he signals that you need to go forward, and managed to fit a four wheel drive into a hatchback space. I was handed my season ticket, praying I wasn?t stopped at the gates as there was no way in hell I was going to be able to pronounce my name and off we set for the stadium. We were getting looks, not surprising considering their token Maori is waka blonde and relatively fair skinned but the boys, Sione, Vale, Valea formed a protective barrier around me, and we entered the stadium without incident. Purely by luck rather than good fortune.
Now for some reason I had it in my head that the season ticket meant a seat in one of the stands but after I?d been made to haul my rather large arse up the grassy embankment, with the steps only 3 metres away, I found myself in the heart of the graveyard, the terraces, dirt floor and all. For just a moment, I thought I was back in a South Auckland market and I swear I saw jandals and a lavalava teamed with the purple and gold of a storm jersey. While jostling for position, I was knocked into the man next me. He ran his eyes over me, spotting the green eyes and Pounamu.
?Ah, Kia Ora cuz. Rotorua??
I?m used to that now, comes with the territory of being a green eyed Maori but I set him straight with my tribe. A rather unpleasant, deodorant required hug and three day old beer smell kiss later, I had four protective bodies surrounding me. My days of once were warriors after function parties are long gone and I?ve obviously lost some skills along the way as there was just no way I could hold more than one plastic cup of vodka in each hand, resulting in Valea having the third. I watched in awe as he managed to circumnavigate one cup of beer to his mouth whilst not a drop from the other four cups he was holding was wasted on that drought ridden floor. And then the Storm would score.
?The graveyard for life, OW? They were taking the piss big time.
A rather large golly flew past my head and four large men turned, causing the culprit to apologise profusely and movement around us as people anticipated a melee. I?d have moved too if I hadn?t known these men, actually I lie, if I?d had a choice and the opportunity but Vale took control of the situation.
?Not around the lady, bro.?
I looked around for said lady and realised he was referring to me. Theres a first time for everything and it was then that I realised that it was important to them that I enjoyed my experience. The next time the Storm scored, instead of watching, scrutinizing the reactions of those around me, I cheered. I felt dirty at first, a traitor to my beloved Roosters but it got easier and the smiles on their faces made it worthwhile, a small price to pay.
Did I really enjoy it? The dirt floored terraces, the cacophony of cultures, colours and sheer excitement, the odd jandal, even a misfired golly, you bet I did. So much so, I went back two weeks later. The graveyard for life? Not quite but a suitable replacement.