Spring is finals season, and in this year’s Barwon Darling Rugby League, Lightning Ridge made it to the grand finals in Ladies League Tag and the Under 17s. Unfortunately, Walgett, who won the men’s premiership, have “previous” (as they used to say on The Bill) and so the finals were held on neutral ground in Bourke.
I hitched a ride with some other teachers for the Big Day. We headed down the Castlereagh to Walgett, then headed west. The fields on either side were yellow with canola – or some flowering plant – that’s popped up along the roadside in recent weeks.
The football ground was about half full when we arrived, with the Under 14s just finishing. The low drrrrrr of the bouncy castle’s compressor competed with the shouts and catcalls of the crowd. We ducked round to Tito’s for a five-buck box of chips and chicken salt to prepare us for an afternoon of drinking and shouting and general yahooing.
The ladies were on first. (I’m not being old-school here: they are actually called “ladies” on the programme, not “women”.) The Lightning Ridge Redbacks’ opposition was the Cobar Roosterettes.
I was slightly perplexed by the Cobar team’s name. In my mind the -ette suffix can be used to denote small size (cigarette, kitchenette, statuette), and these Cobar ladies were not small; it can be used to denote a feminine version of a noun (suffragette, bachelorette, brunette), but surely a feminine rooster is, well, a chicken. But, as I sucked the chicken salt off a particularly long chip, I remembered the “likeness” version of the -ette suffix: leatherette, flannelette, and … um … videocassette.
By the time I’d worked all this out the game was over. The Roosterettes were just too darned good in defence for the Redbacks, who weren’t helped by a shocking penalty count against them. But well done, Lightning Ladies!
Next up were the U17s, quite a few of whom I teach. In these western leagues the teams travel immense distances just to play football; the Ridge-to-Cobar trip is five hours each way, plus playing time. Bourke Warriors had failed to field a team at the Ridge this season, maybe scraping 11 lads together for the trip north. It was disappointing, therefore, to see that they had somehow conspired to load 22 players on the programme for grand final day, against the Ridge’s hardy 14.
When our fullback was carried off about 15 minutes into the game it seemed all but over and yet the Ridge led the game for 78 minutes. It was a heart-stopping finish but, sadly, the Warriors’ fresh legs off the bench helped them over the line in (literally) the last minute for a 44 points to 40 victory. But well done, Lightning Ridge Redbacks U17s!
We didn’t stop for the men’s final between Cobar and Walgett, instead heading back to get home before dark. We crossed vast flat areas of what I described as “open box woodland”. I’m not sure if it was open box woodland but I was very pleased with myself for having come up with such a scientific-sounding descriptor, and so I defended it against the other teachers. (The best they could come up with was “floodplain”. Pfft.)
We hit Stanley just on dusk. I haven’t been in the Ridge for long and yet it still felt like home, seeing his huge emu profile rearing up against the north-eastern skyline.
So football’s over for another year. I expected Monday’s lesson’s to be a write-off, with the boys re-living every tackle and every try. But they looked pretty flat, poor things, having had the title stolen from them with barely a couple of minutes to go.
Never mind, lads and ladies. Two football platitudes: “we woz robbed”; and “there’s always next year”.