This story was first written for and published by NRL.com.
One thing that always brings me back to rugby league is the live game experience.
Over the years of supporting my various teams (whether that be the Parramatta Eels, the Australian Kangaroos, the Australian Jillaroos or the New South Wales Blues) I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the place watching footy. I’ve been to Canberra, I’ve been to Darwin, I’ve been to Auckland and I’ve been to Newcastle. And I’ve been to plenty more.
When I reflect on my time as a footy fan though there are a couple of rugby league experiences that really stand out in my mind. If you haven’t had the chance to visit these places, then they are an absolute ‘must’ for your rugby league bucket list.
Is there anything more wonderful than going to watch the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on a Sunday afternoon?
I only went for the first time last year and Leichhardt is everything a suburban ground should be.
When I was a little girl, one of my favourite things about Parramatta Stadium was the hill. I would occasionally go with my dad to watch all three grades of football and sit at the top of the hill and roll my way down to the bottom. I don’t remember many results from those days, but I remember going home covered in grass and exhausted from a fun day at the footy. I also remember being bitterly disappointed when a decision was made to get rid of the grass on the hill and cover it with seats.
So when I go to Leichhardt, my favourite place to sit is on the hill. It’s always full of Tigers fans and there’s always plenty of lively chatter. People stand together, brought together by nothing more than their love of the Tigers. It’s always the most enjoyable when the ground is so close to capacity that you can almost feel it heaving.
When you go to Leichhardt you are always guaranteed plenty of retro jerseys and an ice cream van which is always parked inside the Stadium. And if the Tigers win – it’s pure magic.
Handy hint: If you go to Leichhardt Oval make sure you get there early. Parking can be a bit tricky!
Plenty of people talk about State of Origin at Suncorp Stadium as a ‘bucket-list’ item. When I decided to go up for State of Origin Game II last year, I thought the experience would be good. But I didn’t realise just how good it would be.
There has been plenty of commentary about how State of Origin is just different in Queensland. And it’s true. On State of Origin day people wear their Queensland jersey’s to work. Plenty of people get an early mark and wander over to Caxton Street to get ready and enjoy the pre-match atmosphere. I’m surprised the day after State of Origin has not been declared a public holiday.
All this atmosphere and you haven’t even arrived at the stadium. When you walk into the Cauldron, the roar is absolutely deafening and the distaste of all things sky blue is made very clear.
The best thing about Suncorp Stadium is that you can sit almost anywhere in the stadium and have a fantastic view of the action. The stadium is also built in such a way that no matter how high up you are, you still feel very close to what is happening on the field. Sometimes large stadiums are criticised for lack of atmosphere. This is not a problem when you go to Suncorp Stadium.
Handy hint: Given Queensland’s dominance, if you want to experience a New South Wales win at Suncorp I would give it a couple more years…
But of course, the purest and most authentic rugby league experience of all is going to watch the Newtown Jets at Henson Park.
You all know at least some of the history of the Jets – first established on January 8, 1908 at a public meeting at Newtown Town Hall, later to be suspended from the NSW Rugby League Premiership in late 1983.
Despite this suspension, Newtown continued to support rugby league at a junior level and the team was admitted back into the NSWRL First Division Competition back in 2004.
When Newtown play a home game, they always play at Henson Park on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm.
It’s one of the few rugby league venues in the country where you can still buy cans of beer and mixed lolly bags at the canteen.
It’s also a place where families like to go to watch the football. When you go to Henson Park you are guaranteed plenty of football dogs and plenty of kids lying on picnic rugs with their parents.
A good friend of mine has often lamented that most rugby league venues do not let fans onto the field at full time. According to him, getting the opportunity to go onto the field after a loss always makes him feel better.
At Henson Park not only do you get to go onto the field at full time, but also before the game and at half time too. So welcome are children and families on the field, that the ground announcer usually lets people stay on the field right until a ball is kicked off and the players run onto the field amongst a sea of people all having a good time.
When Newtown scores a try, there is also a gentleman on a penny farthing that rides around the field. Arms flailing. Cheering. Kids chasing him. Of course, Jet Man is not far behind.
Then the crowd is announced and it is always 8972 – the same crowd that went to watch Newton play their last official game in the NSW Rugby League Premiership.
Children laughing. Sausage sandwiches. Beer on the hill. Players who meet and greet the fans after the game and a scratchy old PA. An afternoon at Henson is always my kind of afternoon.
Handy hint: Be sure to learn the words to the Newtown Jets theme song – it’s played over the PA whether the Jets win or lose.
I encourage all of you to tick these items off your rugby league bucket list. There’s only two rounds left so you can start with the Jets this Saturday afternoon and then head to Leichhardt next Sunday to watch the Tigers in their final home game of the year.