I was only eight years old when I first saw a game of Rugby League on our old TV in rural NSW. It was a finals match between Balmain and Cronulla in 1988. I was intrigued by this game but it wasn’t until I heard the name of a player that was the same as mine that I became hooked.
In the tiny community I lived in, this was amazing. I thought I was the only person alive with this name. It was then that I decided I would support Cronulla. That player was Andrew Ettingshausen.
The following year I saw the game between Balmain and Souths and a young player for the Tigers who, in my 9 year old mind, would become a future test player and I instantly became a massive Tim Brasher and Balmain fan.
Ever since then I have always supported both sides, but always considered myself a Tigers fan first.
In 1996 I was given a Cronulla footy jumper for my birthday. Little did I know how important that jumper would be in my life.
Seemingly in another world far from me, the 20 year old Susan watched an NRL game between Cronulla and the Roosters with interest and immediately had a liking for Cronulla, her favourite player quickly became the Sharks winger Mat Rogers. As a Queenslander, she had always watched Origin and was brought up to follow the Broncos, but she grew tired of seeing them everywhere all the time.
Later that year she moved to Sydney before returning to Brisbane. In 2004 I left my hometown for Newcastle before relocating to Sydney later that year. It was in 2005 that Susan ventured to Sydney to watch her beloved Sharks play their rivals, the Dragons, at Kogarah. I too ventured to this game wearing my old Sharks Jumper.
It was at this game that Susan and I met. Over the next year we got engaged, moved in together and started exploring the country. We later moved to Melbourne, got married and settled down.
Along came 2013, the most promising year for premiership glory for the Sharks the entire time Susan had followed them. And then disaster struck.
An investigation into alleged illegal drug use engulfed the Sharks, which lead to the sacking of four staff and the standing down of popular coach Shane Flanagan. The developments all happened just three days prior to the Sharks first game of the year.
On Friday morning, Susan started considering a whirlwind trip to Cronulla to support her team in their opening match of the year. By Saturday morning she was adamant she wanted to be there. I was certain that I wanted to join her in her pilgrimage from the land of NRL obscurity and our home, Melbourne, to the home of the Sharks, by car.
So we set off at 5pm on Saturday afternoon, hearing and reading all about the implications of the troubles surrounding the Sharks, every hour was met with a myriad of more damaging rumours and speculation. After staying overnight in my childhood hometown, we travelled to a friends place in Wollongong in the mid-afternoon, hopped in his car and travelled to Shark Park in time for the game.
The crowd was by far the loudest, most passionate and pumped up I’d ever seen or been a part of at Shark Park. The roar they gave when the Cronulla players came onto the field to do their pre-match warm-up was the first time the players knew that they weren’t alone, that they had a 17,500 odd family who felt their pain.
I could have worn my newer Sharks jumper. I instead felt utterly compelled to wear my old Sharks jumper instead. It’s got some loose threads and it’s shrunk a lot, okay okay, I’ve added a fair amount of girth over the years, but I was with my wife, in the jumper of this club she supports solely, that brought us together.
I felt it was my duty to thank the club for inadvertently bringing us together, by being here for them when they needed support the most.
Susan was driven entirely by the unjust and unceremonious actions of the past three days. She could have travelled by air to the game, but she wanted to make a big sacrifice and go through the rigours of a long car drive to show to her club just how committed she was to them and what lengths she will go to just to support them in times of need.
The result was secondary. It was the lap of honour the players did, showing their utmost gratitude and thanks to all fans for supporting them.
Susan didn’t care that the players had no idea about how far and long she travelled for to get to the game, that didn’t matter. She wanted to be there when they needed it most.
The drive home was just as long, but seemed to be so much better. The negativity of the media had subsided substantially, the rumours had dissipated, speculation dwindled.
We both knew that this sordid affair wasn’t finished and we accepted that there may well be more to come, but we both knew that the Sharks family is a strong and close one and if any family can pull through adversity such as this, it will be theirs.