Why I love rugby league: Josh Robertson

NRL 2020 MAIN 1000px
Embed from Getty Images

Why do you love the game? What drives your passion for rugby league? With no footy for the foreseeable future, we're asking you, the fans, to share with us why you love the greatest game of all.

To share your story, email us via media@leagueunlimited.com.

This week, LU writer and Penrith fan Josh Robertson shares his story.

Josh's story

Rugby League is more than a sport for many people, it's a passion and a religion. But for me Rugby League has been something that has been even more than that. For me it was the one thing that bonded my Dad and I for a long time.

This bond was something that we shared from when I went to my first game with him in 2002 the Panthers scoring a rare victory that day against the Melbourne Storm at Penrith Stadium. In 2003 - my first full season as a Panthers member - we saw the team take both the minor premiership and the holy grail - the NRL premiership.

Over time, we did go to a few away games, but spent most of our time heading to Mulgoa Road every home game - sharing many highs, lows... and arguments - which there were many of over time.

For 15 years we would go to home games, along with occasional trips to Melbourne, and later to Bathurst for a family road-trip over the Blue Mountains to see the Panthers play in what would be our only family holiday of the year.

Our Rugby League journeys together weren't just about NRL games either - we often made our way to lower grade matchdays as well, with trips to Windsor and St Marys commonplace outside of our trips to Penrith Stadium. Our footballing journeys meant that we saw players and even referees who would come through the grades from when they started in the lower grades at venues right across Sydney.

Over time, I would go to games at other venues on my own, but would talk to Dad about everything that happened at the games and we would talk about what annoyed us, what was good and talk about what we would do. We would always make plans about where we would want to go to - but they always would stay as just plans.

Everything changed in 2019.

The Panthers' season started poorly, and eventually things changed in our personal life that would forever change my footballing passion. During the early stages of the season, Dad was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. This meant our footballing journeys would sadly come to an end.

Thankfully, we got through a few games together, but eventually his health deteriorated and although I didn't know it at the time, the Panthers pretty terrible performance against the Warriors at home in mid-May would be our last game together. It was only a few days later that Dad got his cancer diagnosis and both my personal world and Rugby League world was changed irrevocably.

Thankfully for Dad, Penrith were able to go onto a winning streak, and the last four games he lived through were all Panthers wins, which made me smile.

One of the weirdest things that happened to me during this period when the Panthers took a shock victory over the Roosters, Dad was never a gracious winner and it would always make me angry when he would get lippy. That day was the strangest feeling because, despite it always frustrating me - I missed it. It was just one of the weird little things that make up footy for me.

After he passed, the first match was one where I was certain there was plenty of intervention from upstairs. Penrith headed to Auckland to face the Warriors in a game that was filled with controversy and while they fell behind by 18-6, it was a comeback of almost miracle proportions (given some of the refereeing decisions). Eventually we prevailed through a James Maloney field goal that looked off-target for the whole way bar the final moment where it went through the posts.

Personally, my mental health suffered significantly and I developed a form of agoraphobia which meant that I struggled to deal with crowds and meant that I could only go to places that felt comfortable for me which did include the Panthers games. Games with family and some close friends have helped me a lot. And it's why I have been hit hard by this Coronavirus-enforced suspension of footy.

As those who follow me on Twitter may know, I can act like a bit of a dickhead at times about things - and for the empty stadiums decision, I know I did that again - but for me, it was driven by a fear that I would both lose my connection to Dad by not having the Footy to go to, and having him with me there. I know it sounds ridiculous, but for me footy is never just going to be about fun (and frustrations) - it was all about doing the one thing Dad and I had in common and did together.

It's partly why I take being a part of the LeagueUnlimited.com team really seriously - one of the things I found out after he passed away, was that he read everything I wrote - and had saved my LU author profile page to his favourites on his iPad.

The pause in Rugby League makes things tough, because I feel like I am letting Dad down - even though I know I'm not really doing that - and although 2020 was always going to be a difficult enough season as it is, this break does make it tougher. 

But - there is always light at the end of the tunnel and I know that whenever the NRL does resume, whether it comes either this year or in the worst case scenario in 2021, it will be a uniting force for many at the same time.

Josh Robertson
Panthers Member 5341