Heart-pounding Friday night
My team, Parramatta Eels, finished 5th for the season so our first playoff game was against the Auckland Warriors in New Zealand. They got the home game as they finished 4th and let me tell you the kiwis know how to be a formidable opponent and spectator. The Prime Minister called for a “black out” – requesting everyone get to the game and wear the black colour of the Warriors. Watching it unfold on TV was amazing, the Parramatta supporters (all 3 or 4 of them) were so easily spotted in the sea of black.
This was the first playoff game and the score was 0-0 at half-time which is remarkable for two young attacking teams. Both the Eels and Warriors have had amazing games this year racking up points galore but with that youthful inexperience came some losses as well. The fact that these are two great sides but finished with a 13-11 and 13-1-10 record respectively tells you how close the competition was and how they both had their fair share of losses.
The Warriors scored first and led 4-0 for a good portion of the 2nd half. Our defense was outstanding despite the try, they really could have put up 20 points in this phase of the game. There was a period of about 10 minutes where the ball was deep in our own half with the Warriors executing raid after raid on our line. Every time they looked certain to score someone put their hand up and pulled off the needed tackle. It was finals footy to a T. Watching the game I had no idea how we were going to hold them out and when we got the ball back we made mistakes that gave the ball back to them. There was so much pressure. I had no belief that we were going to be able to score, so dominating were the Warriors.
Somehow we eventually worked the ball to the other end and scored in the 64th minute off a kick, a bit freakish as a player tipped it back to another to score and with the conversion we led 6-4. With renewed vigour we scored another fantastic try off the boot 6 minutes later to lead 12-4 and only 10 minutes to play. It was quite a turnaround of events.
I had some nervous last few minutes as New Zealand were awarded a highly controversial penalty try as one of their players was tackled a touch early before he could receive the ball. Highly controversial as a penalty try can only be awarded if there was absolutely no doubt he would have scored if not for the infringement. The guy was still about 5 meters out from our line so there is no way one could say he “would have” scored, there was too much doubt. The commentators were going ballistic, Phil Gould had to be going purple screaming “NO! NO! NO! NO!” as the referee was handing out the award. It didn’t help me that the commentators agreed it was a massively controversial call, what was done was done and it was now 12-10 with a few minutes to play. A loss here would have been heart breaking but we held on in the end. The photo below is watching those last few minutes, I’m clearly nervous and shaken and hoping, praying for the result to finish my way.