And the winner is ... Brisbane | The Sydney team may have got the
Games, but it still could not win the one game that would have rounded a
wonderful weekend of celebrations for the world's newest Olympic City.
In a repeat of last year's rugby league grand final, Brisbane spoiled the
Sydneysiders' party by beating St George 14-6 at the Sydney Football Stadium.
The margin was narrower than last season's 28-8, but only briefly did the
uncharacteristically sloppy Saints threaten to stop the stampeding Broncos.
It was a historic win for Brisbane. They overcame injuries, another
hostile hometown crowd and a gruelling schedule of games to become the first
team to leapfrog from fifth place to premiers.
The scene was set for something really special. The sun shone brightly on
a record crowd of 42,329, still high on Olympics euphoria and happy to sing,
chant and wave (Mexican-style, of course) for the cameras.
The grand old lady of rugby league, Tina Turner, made her first appearance
at a footy match, staying on stage only 4 minutes 20 seconds to give "simply
the briefest" performance of league's anthem, Simply the Best. And home, to the
biggest cheer of the afternoon, were the heroes of Sydney's successful bid to
stage the Olympics of the Millennium.
"In the Year 2000," the Premier told the crowd at halftime, "twice as many
of you will be able to watch the football grand final in our new Olympics
stadium at Homebush."
By then, perhaps, Sydney will have produced a team capable of winning its
own premiership. But the signs are not encouraging. Disregarding the mountain
men of Penrith who won in 1991, a Sydney club has now not won the premiership
since Canterbury beat Balmain in 1988.
Within minutes of yesterday's deserved victory, Brisbane boss John Ribot
was pledging to strengthen his star-studded team in a bid to win three
consecutive grand finals. Worse for the Sydney clubs - some of whom are
struggling to survive - from 1995, they face additional competition from tough,
new out-of-towners, including the awesomely rich Auckland Warriors.
"We did it," was the jubilant message on the huge Sydney bid flag brought
on the ground. The point was, could the Dragons?
That they would not - and could not - was depressingly clear long before a
message came over the public address system asking "a Mr Reg Gasnier (the
former St George great) to please phone extension 461". A fresh reserve,
perhaps? How coach Brian Smith missed the inspiration and control of this man of
sainted memory in a first half when his modern-day saints performed like
sinners, spilling the ball and missing crucial tackles.
They waited until 20 seconds from half-time before posting their first
points, from a penalty. Try as they might, they could not carry the ball across
"The only positive to come from this," Smith said afterwards, "was the
knowledge that we can play a whole lot better."
Brisbane, who scored three tries to none, really did not have to play
Prompted by their pocket-sized captain, Allan Langer, who surely suffered
the most unusual football final injury when he walked into a steel post at the
Doomben races on Saturday, never looked like being beaten.
Only for about 10 minutes when they kicked their way back into the game at
6-10 with 15 minutes to go, did St George revive hopes that this was The Year
of the Dragon. The famous club won the last of its 15 premierships in 1979.
Saints supporter Senator Graham Richardson, no doubt looking for the sort of win
that might have encouraged his Government to call a snap Budget, had warned
beforehand: "Those bastards from Queensland will drive us mad if they beat us
In fact, in what was a strangely anti-climactic finish after the momentous
events of the past few days, the coaches were magnanimous in victory and
gracious in defeat. "I thought we were always in control," said coach Wayne
Bennett afterwards. No-one was prepared to argue.
After the game, two men were arrested for running onto the playing field.
And one woman was escorted on: Tina Turner. She said she had been "more excited
than expected" by the footy (which surely gives some indication of how little
league she watches) and, having swapped her black leather pants for something a
little more demure, then larked around with the two teams for photographers.
Significantly, in the St George shot she was the only one smiling.
In the reserve grade final, North Sydney won their third consecutive
premiership, beating Newcastle 5-4, while in President's Cup, Eastern Suburbs
beat Cronulla 17-4.