For those unfamiliar with rugby league (or the more widely popular rugby union), it's similar to American Football. The key differences are that all the players are expected to be able to attack and defend (they don't switch all their players when they have to start defending), and for most of the players, the only piece of protective gear they wear is a mouthguard. Yep, rugby league (and rugby) players are a whole lot tougher than gridiron players.
So, rugby league. From the age of 6 until 10, I played rugby league. I wasn't any good, but it was enjoyable. My local club was the Te Atatu Roosters. And due to that name, I started supporting the Sydney Roosters in the premier league competition in the world (though I prefer to call them Easts or Eastern Suburbs).
We Aucklanders are lucky. This weekend there is a 9s competition here, featuring all the clubs of the NRL. It's gonna be fantastic! And to help spread the game, on Thursday evening, each NRL club went to an Auckland club for a meet/greet with the local community. And you can guess what happened next, can't you. My favourite Easts got allocated to Te Atatu - my local club. I suppose my support of Easts has come to define me (in as much as my obsession with Doctor Who also defines me), so to have players from my favourite club coming to my junior club which initiated that Easts-supporting was pretty special.
Thursday evening rolls along. I make my way to the club. It hasn't really changed in the decade or so that I haven't played. I looked around. There were so many people there. I joined the crowd, waiting for Easts to arrive. At last, a bus pulls up. We all stare over, hoping to get that first glimpse of the players. After a short while, they disembark and make their way over to the field. The local high school's Kapa Haka group performed a powhiri / haka for them, then everybody invaded the field to meet them. I entered the fray, armed only with my camera and a determination to get photos with some of the players. Many others had the same desire, so it was a case of being patient. Slowly, surely, I got the photos. Grand final hero Shaun Kenny Dowall, who played most of the grand final with a broken jaw and scored a great try too...Aidan Guerra and Dan Tupou, who also scored tries in the grand final...Jake Friend and Mitchell Pearce - key play makers in the side.
Time ticked by, and this mad mob had to stop. The players moved over to tables, whilst us in the mad mob had to get some semblance of order and form queues for autographs. The photographs were what I was after, but that autograph session was just as special for the interaction with the players. Dylan Napa was awesome, asking whether or not I was a local. Tupou smiled a thanks when I said that his grand final try was superb. Another was asking whether I was going to watch the 9s and was winking a lot. Even just the "hi"s and "how are you"s from the others was pretty cool.
All to soon the event was over, but I got some brilliant photos and some unfor