Ladies Who League: Origin heartbreak

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

I am absolutely convinced that being a sports fan has taken years off my life.

On Wednesday night, watching State of Origin Game II took off another couple of years. 

Despite the New South Wales Blues being up 16-6 at half-time I was still nervous. I knew that the Blues were only 40 minutes away from sealing the series, but each minute in that second half felt like an hour.  Each Queensland line break and every New South Wales missed tackle had me on the edge of my seat, uncomfortable with nerves. When did putting myself through nerves like that become something that I decided I ‘enjoyed’ doing?

I wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always someone whose weekend would be spoiled if my team lost on a Friday night. I wasn’t always someone that thought that ridiculous extenuating factors (like what I wore to a game, my pre-game ritual or what colour shorts my team wore on the field) could have an impact on the final result.

While I can’t pinpoint the exact moment my love of sport went from casual fan to fully-fledged lunatic, I can remember the year that the seed was first planted.

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is: “When did you first start watching rugby league?”. My answer is always the same.

I grew up in a house with a dad and two brothers who were all crazy about sport. After mum and dad had driven all over Sydney to take us to play our own sports, we would come home and put sport on the television. As long as it was sport, it didn’t matter what it was, but my dad’s favourite was rugby league.

When I was eight years old I made a conscious decision that I wanted to spend more time with my dad and my brothers on the weekend and since they would all sit together to watch the footy, I thought this would be a good place to start.

At first I had no idea what was going on. Words were flying around like ‘offside’, ‘fifth-tackle option’, ‘prop’ and ‘knock-on’. But the more I watched, the more I learnt. I started to learn the rules, the various positions that the players played and slowly I developed the confidence to begin commenting on what was happening on the field.

From the moment I showed any interest at all in rugby league, it was inevitable. Just like every other member of my family I became a Parramatta Eels fan – and once that happened, it was all over.

The Parramatta Eels were the first team I ever loved – but over the years the teams that I loved expanded to include the Australian Jillaroos, the Australian Kangaroos and of course, the New South Wales Blues.

Over the years, these teams (some more than others) have brought with them some award-winning highs, but also plenty of pain, distress and sadness. I remember after Parramatta lost to the North Queensland Cowboys in the preliminary finals in 2005 going home, sitting in my room and listening to Fix You by Coldplay on repeat for an entire week. I’ve suffered at the hands of my Queensland friends who have made fun of me because of the lack of success of the New South Wales Blues men’s team over the last decade.

On Wednesday night as I sat at ANZ Stadium with 82,259 other fans sweating for every single minute of that second half, I reflected on what it means to be a fan and how incredible it is that something that I have absolutely no control of impacts my mood so significantly.

For me, being a fan means being part of a community. When one of my teams takes the field, I take the field with them. It is not ‘them’ and ‘me’. It is always ‘we’.

If I’m honest with myself, despite the stress of the second half on Wednesday night, I had a feeling what the final result would be before the final siren went.

Despite New South Wales having the momentum in the first 40 minutes, this did not happen in the second half. As soon as Tyson Frizell left the field, Johnathan Thurston was no longer targeted. Silly errors were made, penalties were given away and unfortunately, almost every 50/50 call in that second half went the way of the Maroons.

It wasn’t a matter of if but when, and when Dane Gagai went over with 4 minutes to go, I knew it was all over.

Despite playing with one shoulder, I knew Johnathan Thurston would kick the conversion because he is a winner. When he slotted the conversion to put the Maroons two points in front, he broke the collective hearts of over 80,000 people at ANZ Stadium.

I was shattered. I woke up on Thursday morning and felt flat. But it is a feeling I know all too well – the all too familiar funk of being disappointed after your football team has played and lost.

But being a sports fan wasn’t meant to be easy. I like to tell myself that the challenging times are sent to test me so that the good times are that much sweeter.

So while this year’s series may not end up falling in New South Wales’s favour and while my Queensland friends may have another series to hold over my head in another three weeks, I know that come June 12 I’ll find myself on the couch with my dad and brothers ready to go through it all again.

(Paul Barkley)