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The Sydney Morning Herald


Date: 26/09/1993
Words: 724
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 41
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 sword.

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 closest friends.

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 shortly afterwards.

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 excess nerves.

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.

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