REDFERN: Sitting (frequently jumping to our feet) with fellow supporters at Redfern Oval on the afternoon of August 27 was a thrilling experience.
The grandstand was filled with people of all ages, united in support of a team whose commitment to each other is matched by commitment to the local community. “What this team has achieved over the past five years is extraordinary,” said one supporter who travelled from Armidale for the big game. “Dean Widders [coach and former captain] has been such a positive influence.”
Prior to kickoff the Stiff Gins led a spine-tingling English and Dharawal rendition of the national anthem. Trainers Shane Phillips and Luke Freudenstein offered words of encouragement. Team chaplain Paul Bramble smiled confidently.
The sun was shining even as the dark clouds were gathering. The forecast was for rain, perhaps hail. Drama, certainly.
When star five-eighth Kareel Phillips was first to score, the crowd was vocal. “That’s the way!” shouted one woman, pumping her fist excitedly. Unfortunately, the conversion attempt by Reegan Carr was unsuccessful. With 13 minutes of the first half remaining, the Wombats replied with an impressive cross-field kick-and-catch try under the posts, and soon led 6-4.
With six minutes to go, the All Blacks orchestrated a stunning team try, the ball movement swift and precise, the final pass from Kareel Phillips to captain Shane Nolan expertly delivered. “An unselfish pass! Beautiful!” a voice behind us cried. Reegan Carr’s conversion made it 10-6.
At half time we shared observations and analysis. The bigger All Blacks pack was dominating but “making tackles stick” would be a second-half priority. The Wombats had some wily and stylish playmakers in Shaun Dowie and Joshua Natoli, and fullback Jonathan Mitsia was proving elusive.
The temperature was dropping. We huddled closer for the final 40 minutes.
A penalty goal saw Redfern extend their lead to 12-6, before a freakish accident (three Redfern defenders falling awkwardly) saw All Blacks’ Peni Roqica lying motionless and attended by trainers. The ground announcer informed us that an ambulance had been called, “as a precautionary measure”, and play was halted for 15 minutes.
“Why is there not an ambulance at the ground already?” a worried fan asked. “This is a serious issue for the South Sydney Junior Rugby League.” A parked car blocking entrance to the oval further delayed the paramedics, but ultimately the injured Roqica was treated and safely transported from the field.* By way of applause the crowd expressed their concern and respect.
The All Blacks players had remained on the field throughout the stoppage – keeping muscles warm and minds focussed a necessity.
Play resumed, and Redfern’s defence looked impregnable. “Black and white wall, move up as one!” several fans shouted. The Wombats were pushing their passes, feeling the pressure. With just seven minutes to play, however, a Coogee-Randwick raid close to the line proved too much for the tiring defence. The scoreboard on the eastern touchline read 12-12.
The final minutes of regular time saw a flurry of errors and anxious backline movements. Dropped balls. Intercepts. Scrums. Natoli missed an attempted field goal. We brushed the first drops of rain from our shoulders.
In the third minute of extra time a third-straight premiership was won thanks to strong running by Widders (he was involved in everything), quick play-the-balls and crisp passing. Kyle Mundine fended superbly before Kareel Phillips handled and a fast-flying Rhys Haynes collected the ball and crossed at the southern end. Players and spectators rose as one, hands in the air, back-slapping, hugging and laughing.
Congratulations Redfern! The Rod Gorman Shield is ours again – the achievement down to months of dedication and discipline. We are proud of you.