It was a game played in two discrete halves: the 90 minutes before
3.26 pm and the 90 minutes after it.
During the first period, an Airbus could have crash-landed on the roof of
the St George Leagues Club and the noise level would not noticeably have
altered. During parts of the second, you could almost hear dust-mites scrabbling
about in the carpet.
For rank-and-file supporters like the thousands who crammed into the
Leagues Club, the Saints' spiritual home, grand final day can be a two-edged
If their side wins the premiership, the spirit of commonality soars. They
share the nectar of victory with four or five thousand of their newest and
If their side loses, there's nowhere to hide. No backyard to slink away
to. No car that suddenly needs washing. No remote control to change the channel.
At 3.26 pm yesterday, the helium-voiced "Alfie" Langer put Kevin Walters
into the clear 45m from the Saints line. Walters cut the distance to 30m before
off-loading to Chris Johns, who connected the ball with the ground adjacent to
the big sticks. Some Julian O'Neill footwork: 6-0.
In the St George club auditorium, 2,000 red-and-white fashion statements
shut up for the first time in an hour-and-a-half.
Around the room, hands were clasped to heads, fingers placed nervously on
lips, glances cast furtively about to check the reactions of others, forgotten
glasses gingerly lifted.
Before that point, pandemonium had been the party theme. After it, pensive
looks and encouraging shouts were more the norm. Cheers came, but they also
went, subsiding quickly to a thin-lipped concentration.
The fans had been a magnificent sight to behold. The shots on television
do not convey what being at the club really looks or sounds like. Science should
be working out a way to harness the energy given off by a couple of thousand
screamers in a confined space.
Well before 2 pm, the St George mob were ignoring the reserve grade
finale, preferring instead to get in some last-minute chanting practice.
When Tina Turner found her way to the stage at 2.30, they rose on cue to
sing with a gusto that somehow eluded them when the national anthem was played
With the television coverage beaming from the big screen, every glimpse of
red-and-white was met with tumultuous applause, every shot of the tunnel or the
crowd at the stadium scrutinised for a former St George great.
By the time the game started, the club-goers had shouted more than enough
to be chronically weary and collectively hoarse. Somewhere in the St George area
this morning there is a pharmacist making a killing on throat lozenges.
In fact, the anticipation and excitement was such that a few of the blokes
in the auditorium decided to have a bit of a good-natured thump at each other
just before the match, obviously helping each other to let off a little of the
For 20 minutes of the big game, every tackle was cheered like a try, every
Bronco mistake applauded as if the whole team had just died.
And then it went quiet.
Sure, there were moments in the second half when things perked up, a
15-minute span when the Dragons looked like they knew how to spell "threat".
But two of the biggest cheers were reserved for the television replay of
the Olympic bid announcement at half-time and the sudden display of Brad
Mackay's torso when his guernsey was pulled off.
And then, when the final siren sounded, there was only the smattering of
applause, the sounds of chairs being pulled back and feet shuffling towards the
door. Or the bar.