Match Day Burger

Grassroots Sports Reportage. Grain-fed, well read.

Dog Day Afternoon As Students Throw The Book In The West (Deflated Lady Beckons Literary Gusto To Save Mismatch)

"Looks like Fido just chased his last ball..."

“Well I don’t know about you doctor, but I’d say Fido just chased his last ball…”

University of Queensland vs Western Districts; Queensland Premier Rugby, Round 13; UQ Field 7; 11/6/2016 

“…the scrum is probably the only place where the disparity of this contest can actually be pointed and snickered at…the ball shuffling around in there like it’s some kind of random fate generator that basically always has bad news for the dogs.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

The University of Queensland are hosting the Western Districts Bulldogs and no one is really looking forward to it. Approaching the half-way point of the competition’s second round, these teams are a whole ladder and more than 300 for/against differential points apart. The dogs have won just a single game this season. And the only side to beat the students did so in the first game of the year and just got vengefully and very thoroughly lynched in the second round rematch.  UQ are going to win and Wests are going to go home sore and disappointed. Everybody knows this at breakfast time. It doesn’t even qualify as prophesy.

The Gods, who evidently don’t give two hoots whose playing, have served up a belter of an afternoon. Cool and luminous, the sun uprooting the shadows of everything as it descends toward the stadium’s rear, with a neat little Champagne-chill breeze over a virtually neon green varsity pitch. To which you can add the tacky pitter-patter of spindly runners working up and down the straights of the field-encircling synthetic track amid the perpetual hum of a jumping castle keeping kids amused up near the steeple-chase pit. Sometime around the toss a magpie cracks the shits with a crow and chases it tauntingly – all clicks and claps – in a giant, florid, south-north arc the length of the field.

Game on.

For a few minutes nobody scores. Then Uni does, repeatedly and systematically and unrepentantly, for the next hour. They annihilate the dogs. The final score is 49-19, but all of West’s points come in a late bundle after most of UQ’s key players have been put back in cotton wool. Make no mistake; it’s an old-fashioned blood bath.

This of course leaves your correspondent with the seriously creative literary task of teasing out a good siren-to-siren yarn of what went down out there, the game having, truth be told, all the emotional intensity of a blow-up doll. And so in the interest of not just exhaling a whole bunch of rhetorical wind into a limp sack of plastic and making a one-way mockery of passion, what seems more appropriate is to drag the carcass of this game into a sterile room, throw on a white lab-coat, and perform a kind of CSI-type autopsy of a ruthless and indifferent slaughter.  To learn a little about the John Doe and the perp.

(Your correspondent will play the part of that smart-ass investigator that removes his glasses and strikes puns.)

It must be said, first up, that this was not one of those open slather games wherein some radical mismatch of individual size and/or skill makes for a long, unbroken blooper reel of dopey tackles and absurd, individual, Lomuesque tries. Wests, though undoubtedly the victim and the inferior unit here, are, man-for-man and cheek-to-cheek, pretty much UQ’s equal. Their defence is upfront and hard, they run unflinchingly with ball in hand, and they are determined, if nothing else, to make the students work.  With a little broken play, they have players capable of stealing big meters; 8 and 13 being especially good ball carriers.

In fact, the scrum is probably the only place where the disparity of this contest can actually be pointed and snickered at, Wests taking a backwards walk all day, the ball shuffling around in there like it’s some kind of random fate generator that basically always has bad news for the dogs. And maybe for a scrum specialist this would all seem much more granular, but for the rest of us a ‘Funniest Home Videos’-type voice-over probably qualifies as hard analysis. UQ’s first try comes through a casual eight-man stroll, arm-in-arm, from fifteen meters out. The halfback’s job of scoring is as close to a formality as you get.

UQ’s real dominance is ‘meta’ and must be appreciated across clumps of game-time if not the entire game. This is a win that they construct. They’re a smarter, better organised team, indifferent and disciplined as worker ants. They string together these long skeins of phases that unwind their opponents’ guard like some slippery cult-leader’s utopian promises.  Their second try is a pitch-perfect example of what practised, well-drilled sides like this do best; sitting well within their own defensive half, their opponents with plenty of field to defend, the students nonchalantly go about what looks like a fairly thoughtless attack, playing short pick-and-drives, a few one-outs, occasionally throwing flankers at centres. But over time they basically mine the structure right out of Wests’ backline defence so that it keeps compacting toward the ruck. Suddenly UQ flicks it wide to a deep, patient backline that never flinched or flattened all the while.

Which is one of the oldest tricks in the book. But so perfectly is this executed here, and so thoroughly have Wests consumed the proverbial Kool Aid, that from almost seventy metres out, and without yet technically having passed a single defensive player, the moment the fullback catches the ball he is home. There’s no question, no razzle-dazzle required. Just an afternoon cruise around the out-positioned winger who already knows he’s beat. Keep in mind that this is not a counterattack; there is no broken play here. Wests are basically ready. At least they probably think they are. And yet the last man on the field, the deepest player in his own territory, which is to say the furthest from the scoring zone, manages to receive the ball in such a way that he is already somehow undefendable. The students have effectively bent the advantage line toward themselves.

While it’s not exactly the thing of You Tube, purists will tell you that it takes a special sort of structural dominance to achieve this. But for it to go off this smoothly you’ve really got to be facing an opposition that buys the entire shebang wholesale, and in bulk. Wests, today, are evidently ripe for the plucking.

In fact, the dogs even manage to attack in a subordinate way. Late in the first half they win an offensive line out and finally have a chance to unleash some clean ball theatre on their own terms. Sadly the crescendo of this inglorious three-phase opus is a one-out pass to a vast blind-side where just two lonely props are standing in each other’s pockets and as flat footed as a pair of ducks looking over a cliff. The UQ defenders descend like ravenous hyenas on a pair of sunbathing hippos and come out with the pill that’s soon enough over the try line.

It’s the day’s low point for the visitors, who, though unquestionably valiant, are ultimately neither creative nor organised enough to handle the hosts. They’re caught in a web that enwraps them more thoroughly as they writhe. Which is of course the web’s genius.

The students are in their own sort of crow’s nest atop the Queensland Premier Rugby ladder.

 

Match Result: University of Queensland 49 – Western Districts 19

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Riverview’s Fiefdom Defended Against Coming Of The Kings (Blue Poles, Stubborn Tomatoes and Howling Carpets; A Rhyme For The Times)

pollock_5

Reporter emerges from Motorway

St Ignatius College, Riverview vs. The King’s School; AAGPS (NSW) 1st XV Rugby, Round 4; Riverview No. 1; 28/05/2016

“The hosting team are lead through a tunnel of students by (in this order) a multi-rotor drone, a large flag bearing the Riverview emblem, the drummer, and finally a student wearing a discarded floor rug with teeth that it takes some deduction to realise is supposed to be a wolf costume.”

Report by Scott Gittoes

Exiting the M2 Motorway into Lane Cove is like stepping from a blizzard into a warm log cabin. The terror of Sydney’s arterial road network – a Jackson Pollack of multi-lane, eye-twitching anxiety – is now but the pillow-sweat of a bad dream from this bosom of expansive, rolling-lawn affluence.  From here, the car itself seems to sigh and ease into a sort of mechanical canter as it moves along an ever descending ridge into the immaculately hedge-rowed suburb of Riverview, a horseshoe shaped enclave carved in the east and west by wooded creeks that flow to two sparkling boat-loaded bays of the Lane Cove River.  It’s one gingerbread house away from a nursery-rhyme.  At the horseshoe’s southernmost tip, behind sandstone pillars on a landholding that would make a feudal lord flinch, lies St Ignatius College, best known by the name of the suburb in which its not insubstantial acres reside.

Today Riverview is hosting rugby fixtures against The King’s School and with respective first fifteen sides both undefeated, the afternoon’s final fixture has a big red ring around it for those closely following the premiership.

A bass drum thunders through suburban avenues, washing out the avian cries and the whisper of wind-swept leaves. The repeated boom beckons your correspondent and all those about him, lemming-like, downhill.  Riverview’s terrain (and not just the school but the suburb itself) sinks into a green basin that is the main oval of today’s contest. The first breaths of winter have recently brought rains and with tag-shoed feet churning the moist topsoil since the dew-sweeping slog-outs of the early AM, the oval has come to resemble a dill pickle slice, dark green on the fringes graduating to a paler, yellowing centre. The ellipse is divided in two; a rugby field closest to the western hill that rises up and under the university-scale campus buildings, and a soccer field to the east.  Into the hillside is set a concrete-block structure roughly 15 metres square; canteen and change rooms.  Recessed into the base of this building is an eight-row grandstand. White-shirted, dark blue-blazered students are crammed in there like rows of teeth set into a jaw.  As the showpiece game approaches, they spill out either side onto the wet grass like thickening strands of spittle, roaring in unison when prompted.  Teachers hover like anxious birds waiting to pick the gums of a yawning crocodile.

When Riverview’s first fifteen do appear, silence descends. They all but float down the hill on the autumnal breeze, between old gum trees, glimpsed but largely out of sight, before truly disappearing again into the change rooms behind the grandstand.  The student supporters promptly organise themselves for the send-out.  If one were in any doubt as to the coveted nature of the bass drummer role, maker of that near subconscious murmur that hitherto has themed the pre-game titillation, it becomes plain enough when the instrument is given to he who is preordained to thump its belly for the main game. The hand-over ceremony has all the quiet grandeur and gravity of a father receiving a blood- and placenta-speckled first-born.

The hosting team are lead through a tunnel of students by (in this order) a multi-rotor drone, a large flag bearing the Riverview emblem, the drummer, and finally a student wearing a discarded floor rug with teeth that it takes some deduction to realise is supposed to be a wolf costume. The visitors’ fifteen are released through a tunnel that is equally long but much leaner on fanfare.  Playing strips are identical but for the varied shade of blue hoop on guernsey and sock. It’s all and only white and Oxbridge blues out there.

In the opening stage of sporting contests there’s a ghostly uncertainty that stirs somewhere inside most participants. In rugby, it’s present in those moments when the players, technically ‘playing’ but as yet awaiting first contact with pill or opponent – milling with clean uniforms on the fringes of rucks or basking in the backline breeze – find themselves unable to express their excitement, a little lost, and generally jittery. Some players get yappy, others jump up and down or rub their hands together. Some go quiet. The scientific name for this condition is nerves. Transitioning fully into a game is, funnily enough, where evenly matched contests can be won or lost, and today this phenomenon appears to be up for proving.  Within three minutes, the visitors are on the receiving end of tries in either corner.  The first is a mercurial kick and recover individual effort from Riverview’s right winger.  The second germinates from some fundamental drawing and passing that creates space for a left wing who knows what to do with all that daylight and has the jets to act on his impulses.  To steal a military phrase – and with all that bass drumming and bellicose war-crying it’s surely not out of place – Riverview has seized the initiative.

Following those first ten unconverted points, in what proves to be a consistent theme throughout the remainder of the fixture, the team conceding a try immediately goes on the offensive. It’s as though the players are expecting an even contest and are intent on honouring the script.  King’s set up camp for a prolonged period inside Riverview’s quarter and leave with three points. Were it not for repeated infringements – albeit not repetitive enough for today’s official to reach for something yellow – King’s may have ended this stretch of honest toil with more.  As it is, the score remains locked at 10 – 3 and will remain so for all but the last dying minutes of the half.

Some patterns have emerged. Firstly, it’s evident that the backlines are willing to play expansively, but their skill in execution, primarily passing, is not in step with their plans.  Passes are lofted and frequently terminate below or behind the man.  Perhaps it’s the greasy pill.  Secondly, and possibly in support of the greasy pill theory (hereafter, the GPT), expansive forays are far outnumbered by hard, welfare-be-damned running at the advantage line, principally executed by hulking lock forwards and two fearless, fast moving inside centres, all of whom latch onto halve-fed shortballs with a bloodlust for metres.  Last, and by no means least (and approaching absolute proof of the GPT), the offensive commitment at the gainline is similarly matched in defence and it’s here that the (greasy) pill pops out regularly in all directions like a cherry tomato under force of a blunt fork.  And so it is that the teams spend the best part of the rest of the half trading blows in this fashion, mostly in neutral territory.  That is until the visitors’ rangy fullback, who’s shown flashes of his deceptive speed – long legs taking slow-cadenced but yard-devouring strides – swoops on loose ruck ball to run untouched to the line for seven equalling points.

The twilight of a rugby game’s first half is another one of those ghostly periods in which things can – and often do – go haywire. Here the nerves are a problem in reverse; certain players shelve the excitement one or two plays early, assured of a job more-or-less done. It’s as dangerous, if not more, than those opening minutes. And it’s just as often here, in these fatigue-filled final seconds, that tight games turn.  Indeed, in what proves to be the last play of the half, Riverview smell complacency and dump a heap of coal on the furnace. They get seven points for cunning, their right wing collecting a brace.

At halftime, relatives and alumni compare notes. They’re scattered across the western hill, donning oilskins or brandname outdoorsman jackets.  Most wear caps.  Behind them, ten or so men busy themselves on the grills.  In the canteen, women serve the sweet stuff.  And over on the eastern touchline, squinting into the lowhanging sun, middle-to-late aged old-boys talk commerce, mostly finance and real estate, or trade stories on their sons’ achievements.  And when play resumes, they’re not afraid to wear their old-school-allegiances on their sleeves, boisterous but reverent.

Much of the second half proceeds like the first. That is, repeated one or two-off kamikazes at the gainline that end in audible collisions or else mistimed ball movement when it does go wide.  In either case, the GPT is in full articulation and the ball develops a near-monogamous intimacy with the grass.  Riverview’s flyhalf squanders a couple of opportunities to extend the lead off the tee (he ends the game with 2 from 7 attempts).  Conversely, King’s take the only three points that are really on offer for them, their halfback knocking it over from forty metres to bring the visitors within four points and give them a sniff.  But it’s not to last.  The hosts shun a very kickable penalty, opting instead for the line, and one wonders whether it’s a decision born of genuine confidence or a kicker with an ever-worsening case of the yips.  The hypothetical proves moot.  Riverview apply more pressure, steal a defensive lineout a few plays later and cross for a try that is converted by the barest of margins.  In step with the game’s theme, King’s are instantly and intensely on the attack. They do enough to cross the line but fumble the ball just before the vinegar stroke. Riverview close out a deserved victory and take their place unaccompanied and undefeated at the top of the table after four rounds.

As triumphant drumbeats hark across a picturesque pocket of Sydney, your correspondent takes a deep breath and ascends into the harrowing truth of abstract impressionism.

Match Day Burger Rating: 6/10

MDB Service Atmosphere: 6/10

MDB Cost: $8.00

Match Result: Riverview 24 def. The King’s School 13

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Brother Francis Bears Witness As Maxi-Pads Supersoak Marist College’s Cotton Curse

bandage

Marist College Ashgrove vs. Padua College; AIC 1st XV Rugby, Round 3; Brother Francis McMahon Oval; 14/5/2016

“From the moment the visitors began their warm up on the field’s far side – tackle bags wheezing and whistling like emphysema-riddled geriatrics escaping house fires – it was pretty clear that they were a bunch of butchers ready to do unspeakable things to whatever flesh they got their steel-gloved mitts on.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

The annals of bonehead sporting plays are a long and sordid record, and it is the quiet desire of all competitors to go undocumented therein. Sport is a contest first, but it’s also a performance, sometimes even a spectacle, and an unforced failure will make the most seasoned competitor wish she was water for the turf to drink up and vanquish forever. And if there is a stage more intimate and personal than schoolboy competition, your correspondent considers it rare indeed. Indeed, the Padua College 1st XV’s burly hooker is not the first player to upend a defenceless receiver in the echo of a rugby game’s opening whistle. He’s not the first to have a fixture brought to an affected halt before the pill has so much as kissed the grass. But as he waddles head-in-hands to the sideline, there’s little doubting he feels like an original kind of idiot.

In the context of a game here that matters mucho to his team and the thousand or so supporters that have travelled across the city to see them battle the spiritual giants of Marist College Ashgrove, to call this an ‘unfortunate brain-explosion’ would be seriously underselling it. Even for a dispassionate observer with a notepad and pen, the compelling hypothetical thrown up by the team sheets and history books for today’s contest between table-topping AIC teams seems to lose its titillating hiss and unveil an awkward silence, like a Webber that someone forgot to replace the gas-bottle for before a long weekend away.

For one, the home side of Ashgrove are not a team that requires extra confidence. At the beginning of the third round of the AIC 1st XV competition they have scored 136 points and conceded zero. Nor does any opponent especially want to kick the rather magnificent hive of destiny that is their history of success. In the sixteen years of the refined, eight-team AIC competition, Ashgrove have won ten premierships, seven of which were outright and undefeated. It has finished the race worse than second only twice, and never finished outside fourth. And nor, finally, does one wish to give them a special invitation to put on an exhibition for a big home crowd that isn’t used to concession speeches. Indeed, something self-fulfilling really does seem to be happening when after a few minutes of firing a potent-looking backline at a reeling defence that stumbles backward, helpless, the Ashgrove boys claim a seven pointer that looks, well, ominous.

You never in your life saw a sixteen year old boy who wished more that he was made of the kind of matter that could evaporate. The hooker’s ten minutes in the sinbin looks like it might get eternal.

It’s a cool twenty-two degrees, cloudless and crisp, one of those pseudo-wintery Brisbane days where it’s so nice in the stands that you could literally watch the grass grow. And Ashgrove’s home turf is a beauty. Beset on a sunny crest in the suburban north-west, its immediate surrounds describe a Neenish tart of tranquil Catholic school grounds abounding in pointy buildings and monuments, and a charmed neighbourhood of trees and stilted cottages lined up like dominoes. The playing surface’s fine, short-grassed ellipse of tree-snake green appears so rich and healthy it looks like the field is silently breathing. The western grandstand is teeming with mums and dads and boys in uniforms distracted by girls not in uniforms. While to the east two opposing wolf-packs of old-boys in thongs observe a cautious truce on either side of a picturesque scoreboard. Plenty of blazered schoolboys are scoffing down the output of a well oiled canteen production-line the way only teenage boys can scoff. Those non-uniformed girls try not to look disgusted.

The field is encircled by sinuous driveways across which C-Class’s and SUVs pump boys in and out of the place on a busy Saturday afternoon of hosting sport. But no doubt the more dramatic way to approach and appreciate the real estate here is to make the back-door pilgrimage from Enoggera Creek, compelled up a steep goat track and across a dramatic giant’s-footprint of a second field by the haunting vision of a bone-white 1930s seminary hanging in the clouds. One gets to feel the air as it thins.

As ten agonising minutes end for the banished hooker and he begins again to stalk the sidelines, the seven point deficit offers relative mercy to his shame. He soon gets right down to business, putting the blunt finishing touches on an utter scrum dominance that even a seven-man forward pack had begun imposing on the leaner Ashgrove frontline. As yet unmentioned, and absolutely crucial to understanding how today’s contest unfolds, is the almost exhaustive physical superiority of the leviathan Padua forwards; from the moment the visitors began their warm up on the field’s far side – tackle bags wheezing and whistling like emphysema-riddled geriatrics escaping house fires – it was pretty clear that they were a bunch of butchers ready to do unspeakable things to whatever flesh they got their steel-gloved mitts on. And without exactly needing to put eyeholes in your newspaper and sit inconspicuously to grasp the hubbub, one was aware long before the whistle that any spare spiritual currency among the Ashgrove supporters was paying for prayers that Padua didn’t really know how to manage all that heft.

And this small but critical bit of psychological second-guessing is why the hooker’s madness in the game’s opening moments almost blew the whole ambush that his team had conceived for their opponents. Because one has the distinct sense that Padua’s plan was to come out firebombing villages before their enemies could so much as get out of bed, and now there’s a thumb-twiddling sense of having to sit back and wait for a trooper that’s fallen out of line. And you just know that up here on Ashgrove’s thin-aired patch of paradise the home side aren’t going to sit around waiting to be incinerated once they’re wide awake.

No, sir. Instead the Ashgrove team down a heady elixir of their own favouritism and gravitas and bolt out with pitchforks. Their halves play like a pair of old friends that can call a three phase move with a wink. And the uphill task of stealing a win up here on the toughest roadtrip in the comp gets significantly graver for Padua.

When a full thirty boys are back on the park the game hits its stride, and spectator asses separate from seats. Big hits go off hither and thither like landmines. Padua’s towering forwards go straight for the stubborn, outsized Ashgrove defenders who, desperately protecting an expectation of success, punish any high running with ball-and-all tacking that more often than not earns them scrum feeds. Which scrums, unfortunately, turn out to be not much of a victory for them because they’re basically a hockey puck going one direction and Padua might as well just put out their hands and be given free kicks directly.

While the contest remains dogged and compelling all afternoon, pure rugby’s flow-chart of virtuous play is in a state of systematic frustration. Ashgrove simply can’t win a set piece, and their much-touted backline barely sees the clean ball they so very much need to rack up points. On the other hand, Padua for all their power up front don’t seem to have a line out, so while they charge up the field through scrum penalties, more often than not they relinquish the advantage anyway.

Scattered running rugby punctuates all this but is frankly at a high premium. Ashgrove’s fly-half is a talent that requires a maximum-security prisoner’s attention round the clock, while Padua’s fullback makes two individual efforts that ought bookend any decent highlight reel of the match. Throughout passages of broken play, both teams tempt the sidelines, the torch passing again and again to eager, fleet-footed runners. Desperate defence scrambles, and the one try that does come on the flanks is belatedly disallowed to the bemusement of everyone but the touch judge. Even the scoreboard has to be wound back.

At the twenty minute mark Padua level the scores in a surge at the line that puts the game back in parity where it at very least belongs. In fact, Padua’s rugby is proving simply better. Their size has well and truly been legitimised and their battery life looks good. Ashgrove’s backs have bugger all chances to throw their much talked-up smoke around. And the best the home side have come up with for the scrums is to make them a lottery; the hooker swings the heel to the effect of a sort of pinball machine from which the pill could emerge just about anywhere. The odds of winning from the feed move back to even, which is indeed a solution of a kind.

But if the interest of the game has an epicentre now it is the question of Padua’s mettle and nerve. Their suitability to victory. Because if the visitors really are still underdogs it is not for reasons of rugby merit. Though here at the centre-stage of schoolboy rah-rah there is always some kind of meddler that ain’t on any team-sheet or game-day program, so as the half-time whistle looms Padua find themselves mystically on the back foot again. Ashgrove marches toward the line through short, tide-defying runs, taking the field piece by piece until a single human effort is enough to cross. And then suddenly, like a bolt of lightning on the clearest of days, a pair of legs involuntarily breech from the smouldering bodies, and the trilling of the referee’s whistle signals more trouble for Padua.

The net result is three conceded points and another forward in the bin for ten. But what’s perhaps most cruel, and most telling of the histrionics that engulf all aspects of this occasion, is the way this feels among the Padua supporters. Kind of necessary, or foretold. Like old Sisyphus watching the boulder roll back down the hill again.  The colour of the half time atmosphere is uncommitted, barely off-white. Despite everything they’ve already shown, the second half finds Padua at ground zero, burdened with the luggage of their own ill-discipline, and with everything and more left to do.

Yet to their undeniable credit they emerge unflustered and intent. Their first milestone is to keep Ashgrove scoreless during the manpower disadvantage. Which they do. The next is to find some points. To this end they launch an unbroken sequence of forward assaults that rock defenders one after another, the pick of the ball-carriers a brutal tighthead with all the hallmarks of a mobile, modern front-rower. One suddenly realises that Padua has been overly loyal to the underdog’s uniform, constricted by its no-longer-suitable cut. Now, in their most explosive phase of the afternoon, which culminates in a try, the whole heavy outfit drops off like an old skin and they play freely and very much like the superior side they are today. More points are certainly coming.

In a last bid at hoodoo, at the height of his side’s capitulation the Ashgrove flyhalf emerges from the sideline and shuffles eerily back into position. Unrecognisable following the rearrangement of something on his face, he is all blood and eyes and white bandages now, like some sort of life-sized cotton bud that’s just been drawn from a horrific wound. This blinking, running, run-calling horror – half athlete, half surgical-aid – seems for a moment like a kind of imp that’s come to put one more curse on the visitors’ improbable campaign. But by then the Padua boys have decided to deal only in material things. A superb run from their fullback to beat three if not four bemused defenders puts the game beyond a score and the visitors in a position to win that it seems they only now have permitted themselves to really occupy.

And not long after that an age-old rock finds a place to rest up there in the hills of Ashgrove. Scenes ensue.

MDB: untested

Match Result: Padua College 19 def Marist College Ashgrove 17

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ENJOY THE PROSE? You can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry.

 

Students Wield The Cane As Beastie Boys Turned Back To The Bay (Parentheses Overhaul: Thanks For Staying Hungry – We’re Back Baby!)

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Sydney University’s members toast new grandstand.

Sydney University v Eastern Suburbs, Shute Shield, Round 7; University Oval No.2; 30/4/2016   

“Early in the second half, Uni’s fullback lines up for an absolute gimme….a kick whose sole plausible difficulty lays in the risk of letting oneself be distracted by the absolute shame of discovering a way to miss it.  Which he does.”

Report by Scott Gittoes

Sydney University are warming up.  There’s about thirty of them all told, including coaches and support staff.  The players stand in two tight circles, observing rugby’s most fundamental of divisions, forwards and backs, each man interlocked about the waist of his neighbour via thick arms and bloodless hands, to the overall effect of big, crudely woven baskets of polycotton and flesh.  An incessant, almost quarrelsome din rises from these huddles, reverberating through the near-empty courts and corridors of a university campus on weekend hiatus.  Bass or baritone is the vocal delivery of choice, feigned or otherwise, always harried and ideally raspy.  From a distance of less than fifty feet, the only intelligible word that one can reliably discern is the f-bomb or its myriad not-so-Shakespearean derivatives.  One wonders at the innocent ears of a four year old girl playing in the grass nearby. But she’s more compelled by bugs.

The warm up itself, the actual movement of bodies and ball, exudes the same nervy intensity. Today Uni is hosting Eastern Suburbs, the boys in navy, red and white from Rose Bay, known locally as ‘the Beasties’.  Both teams have four wins to date and mid-season confidence and ascendency are the prize.  The University coach now admonishes a prop for spending a moment too long on his back.  He’s an archetypal (even old-fashioned) front-rower; flesh lumping out at the fissure between an undersized training shirt and the waistband of footy shorts, neck extending seamlessly to mug.  All horizontal power.  To the harangue he pays not too much heed.  The captain yells repeatedly, hoarsely, and to no one in particular.  Something about fitness.

Over at the main oval, the playing field is quarantined and obscured by a ring of temporary fencing that challenges spectators to choose between one of two entrances: one, into the new grandstand on the western flank or, two, into the sun-drenched north-eastern corner where a melange of perfume, liquor, hay bales and hormones spills from under a marquee tent.  Today is ‘Ladies’ Day’.  It’s also an inner-city derby so, in theory, the ladies haven’t had to cross the harbour or venture far beyond the gilded avenues of Sydney’s most prosperous suburbs to get here. They’ve certainly dressed for a good time.

University’s game plan seems obvious enough from the outset; run from anywhere and back your fitness.  And it seems to work.  Aside from a fullback who habitually passes left to right without looking, the Students’ backs possess dexterity and speed and the forwards’ doggedness is both authentic and admirable.  Uni’s wingers are a contrast of complexion – one ghostly white, the other dark Mediterranean olive – but otherwise they’re virtual twins; short, stocky, spatially savvy and blisteringly fast.  They find the ball regularly and are stymied only temporarily by Easts’ desperate last-line defence.  After ten minutes, the left wing crosses in the north-west corner, the recipient of a selfless pass from a hooker who in the heat of the moment shows a flyhalf’s touch.

What makes the opening quarter of this fixture rather mouth-watering is that Easts – whilst occasionally kicking to open corners for easy territory – display a similar inclination to play expansively with ball in hand.  Their outside centre runs from deep starts, connecting with the ball at just the right times and at just the right angles, the realisation of some sort of beautiful intersection on a physicist’s graph.  In fact, the outside backs from both teams do this as habit; he’s merely the pick of them and has an enviable knack of exploiting half-gaps.  With all this deep running and speed at the advantage line, opposing defenders are lining up with bulging eyes, spring-loading their bodies in anticipation.  Colours fly in many-a fleeting gain-line encounter, though genuine hits are relatively rare. So far it’s a game of attack.

Easts cross in the south-east corner in much the same way their opponents had in the north-west; through unremitting, opportunistic support play.  It’s compelling, skill-and-speed-fuelled rugby, eye-candy for both the purist and the novice.  The Students respond shortly thereafter, left wing and hooker again combining, the latter flicking a no-look back-of-the-hands pass to pave the winger’s way to the line.  As half-time approaches the rhythm of the game inevitably slows and poor decision-making creeps in.  Uni skies a number of aimless bombs, straying from their ball-in-hand play.  Easts’ fullback hobbles, injured, and their prop is left stranded in cover, forced to kick for touch for perhaps the first, and hopefully last time in his career. The Students lead 13 – 10 at the break.  And in case you were wondering, the prop chose the banana kick.

Sydney University’s 1200-seat capacity grandstand is new, barely out of its wrapping, and the air of pride among the club’s administrators and supporters is as palpable and powdery as a mouthful of misaimed deodorant.  A grandstand attendant presses a finger to his radio earpiece, eyeing a crowd which includes the most senior ARU brass and plenty of silver hair and gold watches.  This is a club patronised by notable men, with seven premierships from their previous ten attempts. Their record of success in the new millennium is equal to that of the Randwick sides from the eighties and nineties.  The new grandstand is a bricks-and-mortar embodiment of an underlying power that has a certain sort of foregone success written all over it.  Behind the blue theatre ropes that demarcate an area either side of halfway, spectators are waited on with bottles of champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

Early in the second half, Uni’s fullback lines up for an absolute gimme.  A penalty attempt; directly in-front and so close that the girl previously spotted on the grass would be odds-on to nail it. A kick whose sole plausible difficulty lays in the risk of letting oneself be distracted by the absolute shame of discovering a way to miss it.  Which he does.  Thereafter, goalkicking duties are assumed by the left wing, the scorer of Uni’s two first-half majors, who ends the game with four tries, three penalties and two conversions to his name.

Easts score no further points.  Although the Beasties continue to move the ball around, their passes fall flat and possession is squandered.  Conversely, the Students’ fitness and ball retention is telling.  Forwards hold and recycle, wingers seize their opportunities.  Their pack is fit enough and inside backs well drilled enough to support outside backs when they’re on the deck. Rarely are Uni’s speedsters found isolated, despite testing outside shoulders and running many metres into space and away from the scrimmage.  As both sides tire and the realisation of defeat washes over Easts, individual confrontations and frustrations simmer. And so the referee – whose hair is cut cleaner and tighter than the edges of the Sydney University Quadrangle – reaches twice into his pocket.  The home side squeezes the game to a clinical conclusion.

Over in the north-eastern corner, the Ladies’ Day revellers have hitherto been formerly delineated along the touchline into distinct tranches of clubmen and women. As the whistle blows the genders now dissolve into each other like two parts of a cocktail that needs little shaking. The men are no longer preoccupied or feigning preoccupation with the fixture.  Some ladies depart, friends leading wearier-legged friends home.  Most stay.  In the long shadow of a grandstand where cleaners lurk like ibises, scooping up empty Moet bottles and oyster shells, the evening begins.

Match Day Burger Rating:  N/A

MDB Service Atmosphere:  N/A

MDB Cost: N/A

Match Result: Sydney University 33 def. Eastern Suburbs 10

Enjoy it? You can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry.

Shameless Plug Indulged as MDB’s Correspondent Launches Book in Brisbane (Borderline Spam From Usually Credible Outlet Brings Patience of World’s Most Loyal Amateur Sports Readership To Its Proverbial Knees)

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“Come one, come all…”

Match Day Burger’s own Nicholas (John, excuse us!) Turner will be launching his book of highbrow fiction at Brisbane’s ‘Avid Reader’ bookshop next Wednesday the, 13th of April.

As well as reading from the book and signing copies, Turner will be chewing the rhetorical fat with none other than Luke Stegemann, a man with literary credentials coming out of his ears (former editor of The Adelaide Review & Melbourne Review, and author of mucho esteem; now associate publisher of The Griffith Review) and much, much more compellingly, a devoted amateur boxing referee and judge (NOW we’re talking).

You never know, if the MDB fanatics outnumber the bookworms and start banging on the aluminium fences, these two hard-bodies might even punch on to satisfy the bloodlust.

Breast-and-or-ass-cheek-signing has/have been pre-approved by Avid Reader’s management, so make sure your MDB tattoos are buffed.

Keen punters should register here – though the event is FREE.  Kick-off is at 6pm. Avid Reader is located at 193 Boundary Street, West End, Brisbane.

Your support is, naturally, enormously appreciated.

MDB correspondent publishes long awaited feast of delicious literary fiction – get in line for a hot one!

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Turner’s opus hits the shelves. Hiatus explained…

It is with anthemic, hat-on-heart pride that Match Day Burger announces the publication of a work of fiction by one of our founding contributors, Nicholas (John) Turner. We’re enough thrilled to have birthed this little baby among our ranks that MBD today appears for the first time with a lick of colour- the swirling, facially suggestive Oxford and Cambridge blue of this tome’s tidy cover.

In a spirit of disclosure for those devoted MBD readers tonguing for electrolytic grassroots sporting elixir or a few post-match, elbow-on-mahogany, chortle-inducing war-stories, Turner wishes to make the following declaration, here paraphrased: “This is NOT a book about sport. It’s not even funny. In fact this is flat out high-brow. More grass- than grain-fed if you know what I mean. Wagyu, really. Japanese. Don’t even talk to me about marble scores.”

To give you an idea of what it’s about, we’ve stolen a few words from publisher Savage Motif‘s page:

The debut collection of fiction by Nicholas John Turner describes a world on the fringes of great art; editors, audiences, academics, amateurs, lovers, failures, onlookers and innocent bystanders.

Written predominantly in first person, each of these elusive stories emerges from its narrator’s mind and works its way under the reader’s skin. From a Centenarian stuck in a shrinking Parisian apartment, to twins arranging escorts on the Caribbean Coast; in place of clear narratives, straightforward logic, and neatly extractable meaning, Turner imposes the strange and irreducible philosophies of his marginal narrators. The effect is a series of curious and intimate profiles that brings an unnerving denominator to the surface, and takes the reader where mere pointing will not.

Darkly comic, intellectually playful, its complexity unfolding with originality and deftness, ‘Hang Him When He Is Not There’ is a meditation on the relationship between artists and subjects, creations and beholders, and ultimately between violence and victims.

 

So if that sounds like your kind of bun-filler, grab your tongs and whip one off the grill.

Available  at independent bookshops across MDB’s locale:

Avid Reader (West End, Brisbane); Little Gnome (Wynnum); Berkelouw Books (Eumundi)

And for interstate, internationals, and the inherently lazy…

AMAZON

 

Oh, and since this little literary nugget has finally left the lower intestine, MDB is coming back.

Thanks for #stayinghungry!

 

Match Day Burger Appearing At The Brisbane Writer’s Festival, TODAY (Hibernating Scribblers Go Half-Cocked Into Battle At Literary Chin-Wag In State Library)

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Going in blind – Match Day Burger, live and unedited…

Apologies to those of our loyal readers with shirtfronts drenched in Pavlovian drool for a big, tasty burger amid the sheer starvation rations of our off-season. This, sadly, is not a genuine MDB; instead, it is a bit of news, which we consider to be of reasonable public interest for those in receipt.

Match Day Burger will be appearing at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival – and on your radios – at 2pm TODAY! (Friday, 5th of September)

MDB will be sitting on a sportswriting panel called ‘IM YOUR FAN’, along with real-deal public entities, Geoff Woolcock, Lee McGowan, and Kelly Higgins-Devine. The panel endeavors to talk turkey about what it’s like to write on sport, the nature of being a fan, and how well these things go together. It’s a free event, as part of the annual Brisbane Writer’s Festival, and will also be broadcast live on ABC radio (612 AM).

We’ll be sending along our contributor, Nicholas Turner, to talk his way around the subject and harvest a healthy crop of dead air. So please do come along.

When: TODAY, 5th September

Where: State Library, Auditorium 1, South Brisbane

How Much: FREE

Broadcast: Live on 612 AM

 

Stay Hungry.

 

Masked Cowboys Hogtied As Hopping Hamburgers Impress At Brookfield (Of Meat and Men: The Secret In The Stool)

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National Rodeo Association Brookfield Show Bull Ride; Brookfield Showground; 16/5/2014 

“the rider…is about as influential over the bull as a grasshopper is over the truck to whose windscreen it has attached itself.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Ozone is led into a roofless cage of about his own dimensions, and then a man climbs over the cage and lowers himself down onto Ozone’s back. The man is skinny, dirt-faced and stubbly. He smells of cigarettes and gum, and he wears glittery chaps and a tight checked shirt and one of those metal-grilled goalie masks they wear for ice hockey. Ozone does not like being sat upon. And now lots of faceless people make themselves busy helping the man fix himself onto Ozone’s back, their limbs working through the cage like robot arms making a Japanese car part. Ozone would prefer not to be touched at all, not by any of them. One of the helpers, a burly fellow with forearms like Christmas hams, is using a leather strap to fasten the man with the chaps’ hand flat onto Ozone’s back, right between the shoulder blades; the strap goes all the way around Ozone’s ribs and is so tight it needs someone with forearms like Christmas hams to hold it. And plus the guy that’s getting strapped to Ozone is starting to clamp his legs around Ozone’s ribs too in a way that says he plans to stay there for a while. Ozone finds this both disagreeable and ominous, and he gives a little shrug that’s more ‘point of interest’ than attempt to actually fix things – Ozone’s own version of an omen – though when you’re weighing in at just under a tonne even a shrug is enough to make your metal cage and all the metal cages attached to it shake like shrubs so that everyone perched on them clings for life as they sway in the night air for a few moments.  Now someone else is synching another strap around Ozone’s belly, just under his ribs. This strap is not the worst of Ozone’s issues but it’s annoying for sure, and the annoyances are really starting to stack up. Ozone’s eyes are slender and dopey, and amid all this the right one wanders out of the cage and to the big, floodlit expanse of dirt that’s all pocked and rippled and patterned with shadows like the surface of the moon, which Ozone, whose seriously disposed to the head-down comforts and general quiet of herd life, isn’t real keen on the ‘centre stage’ vibe of either.

Once they open the gate, Ozone troubleshoots all this with the efficacy of a high-priced consultant. First, he darts quickly right, buries his front legs in the ground, and then throws his head down at something invisible, like he’s head-butting a rat (to death, it probably goes without saying). The effect is that all of Ozone’s monstrous weight rocks forward and down and then shudders a little as he flicks his head just a little up and right (if you’re still following the imaginary rat, it’s landing in the next suburb by now) and stops dead, and the rider, who probably feels like he’s straddling a hi-speed train that’s just put on the emergency brakes, goes flinging forward and all but finds himself eye-to-eye with Ozone over the proverbial handlebars. Still, he clings on, uneasily, and so Ozone goes to the air, head first, and then the whole of him is suspended a metre off the ground. The rider’s thrown back and onto Ozone’s hind, which in turn kicks up and throws him forward again, and with a tiny rotation from Ozone he ends up slipping to the side this time, and once he’s off-centre, Ozone spins and kicks and finishes him off.

This all happens at the Brookfield Show Rodeo, in front of a small spectator’s hill with long runs of hardwood sleepers that sort the earth into tiers that make for rustic seating, behind which the woozy lumi-cocktail of sideshow alley throws a glow into an overcast sky of a morphing colour scheme best described as bubblegum rainbow. Experienced punters have brought along picnic rugs and arranged themselves in family pods on the grass, territory strewn with showbags and inflatable hammers and massive bears stuffed with squeaky Styrofoam balls. The suburb of Brookfield, nestled against a long, northward stretch of protected forestry, is surely the most convincingly semi-rural land within Brisbane’s sub-urban ring. It enjoys a glut of tall trees and clean air and windy, traffic-lightless roads, the kind you throw your high-beams across late at night while you flick the radio over to a mellower channel.  It’s not any real surprise that it acts a little like its own small town in matters of spirit, and has a society that puts on a cosy weekend show every year with rides and candy, and where horticulture and woodwork and baking and all sorts of arts and crafts compete for ‘best-in-show’ sashes.

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Moving down from the upper tiers toward the rodeo’s fenced arena, one first spots at its murky far end what looks like blood cells under a microscope – a sort of shifting huddle of pale, soft, ovalesque things that bump and move and spin. These turn out to be the near uniformly white cowboy hats upon the head of every rider, helper, gate-mover, prodder, wife and child of the good folk who’ve blown into town to put on the show. Though tonight will be a night on which the bulls do most of the impressing; by the time the emcee bids us adieu after two full rounds of competition, no rider in the adult classes of Novice or Open will have registered an eight second ride.

The ‘behind-the-scenes’ area is a labyrinth of tall fences and gates that somehow sort all the bulls into the places they need to be without anyone having the get in there and actually push them. When the cowboys (and possibly the cowgirls, though none was witnessed) climb over the fences they almost always balance a packet of cigarettes and sometimes a wallet on top of the fence while they straddle it, then pick them up again to jump back down. There’s a series of at least ten Australian flags raised at the opposite side of the arena and the emcee is a quick-talking funnybox of one-liners (e.g. “rodeo is all about thrills, spills and medical bills”, “he’s off like a five-day old hotdog”, “how about these hopping hamburgers”, “that bull’s got more moves than a King’s Cross pole dancer”, etc.) who’s both shamelessly partisan and seriously determined to spread the fairly implausible opinion that all the bulls are cranky tonight because of the recent federal budget’s general tight-assedness. Music over the loudspeakers ranges from AC/DC to country and back to AC/DC again. The country songs are thematically fairly one dimensional (e.g. ‘Ladies Love Country Boys’ and ‘Chicks Dig It’) and all songs, in terms of vocal delivery, lyrical dexterity and poetics, are largely Nickelbackian.

Like many capital cities in largely rural states, Brisbane is teeming with country folk who’ve made the move to the big smoke at some stage, and who tend to step out in boots and jeans and mingle with their own when these shows come to town. Your correspondent is fortunate to have tonight’s competition footnoted by one such farmer’s son who drifted in on the nor’ westerly for a decade of schooling from before the onset of puberty, and as yet has not returned. He’s a leggy blonde with big hands and a refined drawl, and though you’ll sometimes catch him in rolled-up chinos and suede loafers his preferred footwear is R.M. Williams and brown. He’s posted up in the bar area with a prime view of the bullring amid lots of real and current country folk with bull tags in their Akubras.

Which is helpful, because understanding what makes for a virtuous bull-ride is not something you can pick up by simply looking. It all happens so fast that your camera can barely get a still image, and there are virtually no clear moments at which one can analyse the decision-making of the rider, who really is about as influential over the bull as a grasshopper is over the truck to whose windscreen it has attached itself. According to the chaperone, a good rider will keep his eyes down on the bull’s head, reading and preparing for what its horns’ current direction says about the body’s next movement. And, of course, the rider must negotiate with gravity. Furthermore, he must keep his backside right down on the bull, because bulls have a lot of skin that’ll just roll around them like a loose sock unless the rider’s got his legs basically wrapped right around his belly and his heels digging back up at the guts.

When Ozone the bull finishes the first of his two rides tonight, a gate at the side of the arena is opened by a big fellow with a pink shirt, and since Ozone isn’t keen on the arena and its fishbowl atmosphere, he heads for the opening quick smart. There’s then another narrow passage through which he’d like to go, and since he’s got a clear run at it, he does. But suddenly a hidden gate slams in his face, and another right behind his rear, and now he’s got nothing to do but stand there and blow off steam in yet another enclosure that’s not big enough to turn around in. The wise, wily tricksters who managed to outwit Ozone here are around ten and twelve years old respectively, and they are wearing boots and cowboy outfits that one must constantly remind one’s self are not costumes.

It’s then, within spitting distance of your correspondent, that Ozone lets go an oozy stool about the colour of French mustard, which slides out of his anus and then cascades down the three or four metal bars of the gate behind him on its way to the ground. It’s at this very moment, and not before, that it becomes plausible to think of Ozone as a being rather than a bit of entertainment or a toy. To really actually admire the unfathomable physical display that this animal just smeared across three seconds of real time (the ride, that is, not the excrement). Because rodeo is one of those things that’s positively frozen in stereotype, and those (including your correspondent) who’ve seen it a thousand times on TV and movies probably think they know what it is. And even when you do sit in the stands and watch one jump and buck and throw a rider, it all seems to happen under a kind of anti-critical cinematic or televisual glass, and you really don’t allow yourself to be impressed the way you should be until you get up real close and just have a good old ogle at one of these things and a think about how unbelievable it is that they can move the way they do.

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Ozone’s a creamy, yellowy, white colour with a strange dark shape that runs across his side like a long, low cloud. His eyes are cool and timeless and patient, like some kind of wet, black, volcanic orb that’s so svelte and soft you couldn’t hold it in your hand. There’s a deadpan look on his face, as inextricably sorrowful as the blues, and his forehead is wide and flat and as big as an opened hand, the place you’d most want to pat him if you could. Inside his ears is a kind of long mohair that stretches right across the funnel-like opening, which turns like a satellite dish sometimes. It’s not so much that he’s big but that he embodies a sort of compressed, concentrated, brutal brand of bigness. It takes a while to register that he is basically a muscle with horns, and then to further realise that all manner of machines have been built and then sculpted in a way that shamelessly emulates this kind of purity of power. That there’s a reason people stick horns on their rear-view mirrors, and talk about the ‘grunt’ of their ride. And that a muscle car is basically a mechanical tribute to a bull.

The sight of Ozone’s stool dripping from one metal bar to the next also jolts one into thinking about just how much real energy he spent in the few seconds it takes him to shrug off the guy in chaps. Because it’s just as easy to forget how much weight a tonne is, and that Ozone is not some kind of machine that exerts energy without suffering for it. This is an animal that can toss about ten refrigerators (its own weight) plus whatever’s on top of it (let’s say, another two-thirds of a refrigerator) into the air and around in circles at heights and speeds that leave an iphone with nothing but blurry Francis Bacon-type images. Another way of looking at it is that Ozone takes about four times the heaviest ever clean-and-jerk weightlift achieved by a human being, and repeatedly leaps into the air with it, for as long as required. We’re talking about an animal that weighs as much as a car and jumps around like a squirrel in a panic. What really seems to occur at his rear end in the few seconds after Ozone exits the arena is that a kind of thick, liquid adrenalin passes out of his system.

When you get your meat under plastic and on pillows that spare you the sight of blood, it’s actually very difficult to reengage with the living beings that get slaughtered to allow that to happen. And the same thing applies to the use of bulls in rodeo, wherein, whatever the semantic flim-flam of the devotees and promoters, these animals are taunted (or else stressed, at very least) for entertainment. The chaperone’s mum sends his raw meat down in Eskys every month or so with a handful of kangaroos tails for his dog. If you’re ever with him near a cargo train line and he suddenly lifts his head and takes a big breath and smiles like he’s just figured something out, it’s because a cattle truck is passing within nostril-shot. And tonight he watches the rodeo with almost no attention to the rider and serious admiration for the animal, trying to put words to his marvelling because he knows your correspondent needs help. And when – after a long and compelling conversation about the head-shaking magnificence of the bull – he’s asked about what happens to them when they’re retired, he shrugs and says ‘probably sausages’ without the nature of his smile taking any perceptible turn.

But when a cattle-truck passes what your correspondent gets in his nostrils is shit and grass and hair. And when he looks at a bull like Ozone, his mind flicks radically between a sort of spiritual admiration and/or affinity and a cold recognition of it as food and/or entertainment. And the conceptual middle ground is a moral mess, productive mostly of pity and guilt, the kind of feeling you get in your gut when a mentally retarded thirty-something man wanders away from his mum and tries to take your hand at the supermarket. A feeling of not knowing how to feel, which you just know is some kind of indication that you’re living in a state of quite unbelievable naivety and/or embarrassing privilege.

Match Day Burger Score: (Satay House Special Plate; inc. satay chicken, vegetable curry & rice) 8/10

MDSHSP Service Atmosphere: 8/10

MDSHSP Price: $12.00

Results: Open Division (1st – David Kennedy, 86 points; Tied 2nd – Fraser Babbington, John Foster, David Mawhinney, 77 points); Novice (No scoring rides)

Enjoy it? You can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry. 

Colonel’s Men Go Fishing In Busted Deep-Fryer Derby (Woodchopper Gets Scaled As Spaniard Spends Chilly Night Feeding Skipper)

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Queensland Breakers v Brisbane Barracudas, National Water Polo League, Round 11; Valley Pool; 3/5/2014

“He’s on fire for the rest of the night, to the point of it becoming near impossible to drag your eyes away, and one begins to imagine that it’s infinitely hard to look anything but good dancing in a chicken suit.”

Report by Scott Gittoes

It’s just after 8pm and the good burghers of Brisbane hardly know what’s hit them.  A premature winter has descended without so much as an introduction; one can almost taste southern Australia’s virgin snowfalls in the carnivorous sou’westerly wind.  On an evening when most are dusting off their heaters and fireplaces and otherwise doing everything humanly possible to keep warm and bone dry, we’re at the Valley Pool with four hundred or so other spectators for a bit of water-sport, namely, the National Water Polo League’s final round game between the Queensland Breakers and the Brisbane Barracudas.  For the Breakers it’s a must-win, their finals prospects teetering on the outcome of this and other fixtures.  The Barracudas, on the other hand, have barely dropped a game all year.  Tonight though, in the context of a local derby, such mathematical calculations are merely academic; territorial bragging rights are the real bounty.

The pool itself is obscured from street-view behind a near century-old three story red brick façade signed in large lettering “Municipal Swimming Bath”.  From outside one imagines moustachioed men in striped cotton one-piece bathing costumes frolicking in the shallows and springing from the high-board.  In reality, a modern, Olympic-sized swimming pool lies beyond, shadowed along its southern length by a grandstand that meets the façade for height and has the effect of reducing the pool’s size and forming, in a word, a ‘cauldron’.  (The KFC sponsored Breakers, who are at pains to give their fast-food benefactor utmost coverage – even going as far as to remodel their logo this season from a breaking wave to a rooster – colloquially refer to this, their home venue, as “the Deep Fryer”, rather apt were the mercury not falling toward single digits this evening).  Ten or so metres from each end, the pool is bisected crossways by lane-ropes connected to a netted goal, ensuring the ‘playing field’ is centred for ideal viewing.

On the palm tree lined grassy verge opposite the stand a couple of preppy-dressed ‘disc-jockeys’ are reeling off samples from near every infectious, atmospheric chart-topping track released since charts first started to be topped.  The Breakers’ rooster-suited mascot is pacing the pool and at first appears somewhat uncomfortable, even shy, in his new skin, but as the contagious music and perhaps a few cans’ of Bundaberg’s finest kick in, the crowd is treated to a dance routine right out of the vintage Travolta textbook.  He’s on fire for the rest of the night, to the point of it becoming near impossible to drag your eyes away, and one begins to imagine that it’s infinitely hard to look anything but good dancing in a chicken suit.  The jiving cock is shadowed at all times by a younger, fresher version of Colonel Sanders replete with pony-tail and sneakers, whose crowd-pleasing go-to is to cast a fishing rod into the pool at the breaks and stamp on cardboard cut outs of Barracuda fish.  Three or four small, colourful onesie-wearing Barracudas’ supporters are full of beans, perhaps ‘magic’ beans judging by their relentless hyperactivity and proclivity to mob their players before and after the game (it must be said that none of their outfits in any way resemble the predatory fish).

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Nearby, players have commenced a land-based warm up with an almost single-minded focus on their throwing arms.  Some yank on elastic bands tied to trees or posts or else stretch against fences, others toss polo balls between themselves; at all times the emphasis remains on the operative muscles of just one upper limb.  Once in the water, they move with that graceful effortlessness universal among proficient swimmers; you know the ones – all but born with gills and fins who’ve thus spent a great deal of time immersed.  But unlike elite, competitive swimmers, who challenge calliper-wielding sports scientists to find but an ounce of body fat on their lean, shaven bodies, water polo players are not all clean-cut frames and corrugated abdominals; some are just plain big, burly, barrel-chested, fur-coated men carrying a little extra weight around the middle, recalling images of diesel-fitters and lumberjacks.  Most of them, invariably well over six feet in height, are not so much fast but strong in the water and for good reason; the rulebook is filled with minutiae on fouls of brutality and the match oft-cited as the most famous in history is simply known as “Blood in the Water”.  Water polo is quite obviously a physical contest, equal parts physical endurance and sheer physicality.  To describe it as ‘water rugby’ is doubtless a crude comparison, but there’s some truth in it, not least reflected in the fashions and dispositions of this evening’s crowd.

The best example of the classic diesel-fitter look tonight is the Barracudas’ number five, their centre-forward.  He contrasts sharply with their captain, a golden locked, pin-up with beady, ref-imploring eyes.  In the opening exchanges, they appear to form an ominous partnership, complemented by an ever reliable veteran who’s played at least a couple of hundred league games.  Evidently, the Breakers have done their homework and make a habit of frustrating these key playmakers.  Their centre-forward captain and wily, uncharacteristically short number ten are chief among the protagonists, engaging in what becomes a match-long and increasingly embittered battle with the diesel-fitter.  Their encounters often culminate in a boil-up of white-water, one of the combatants hooked like a big-game fish, body almost entirely out of the water, flailing and thrashing.

To an uninitiated correspondent, knowing what is and isn’t legal is pure guesswork, but with a rulebook that lists over forty types of fouls split into three sub-categories, I’m almost certain many sins go unpunished.  In fact, it’s an obvious but almost entirely unique aspect of this sport that spectators, and referees for that matter, simply cannot see the crimes that are being committed under the water.  Consequently, the following seems both inevitable and true: (a) a player is nothing without a good measure of rat-cunning to go with his requisite endurance and strength; (b) referees need to regularly make judgment calls; (c) further to (b), referee satisfaction rates – be it among players, coaches or spectators – must rank as the lowest of any sport, period; and (d) further again to (b), out-and-out dissent towards referees (and tolerance by referees thereof) – be it by players, coaches or spectators – must rank among the highest of any sport, period.  Tonight, as the contest becomes increasingly hostile, at the sound of the whistle not one, not two but most players look to the referee with guilty eyes, some with palms up in a vain attempt to protest their underwater innocence.  Which is frankly almost always doubtful.

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A couple of exclusion fouls called on the Barracudas’ captain in the first quarter prompt both he and his coach to share their disagreement with the referee; the coach receives a yellow card and it seems their understanding of human behaviour is either poor or, more likely, clouded by the emotional heat of the contest.  Between these early verbal stoushes and some vocal Barracudas’ supporters who aren’t afraid to call the officials out by name, to an impartial viewer it appears unlikely that this referee will give any favours to the Barracudas on the frequent fifty-fifty judgment calls that inherently form part of this sport.

The Breakers are too busy netting goals to get on the wrong side of the officials, their captain in centre-forward and their star Spanish import putting on a deft display of skill, the Spaniard repeatedly setting-up the former, whose own speed, aggression and vision opens space for multiple scores.  But perhaps the difference tonight is the Breakers’ goalkeeper, who leaves this correspondent with no doubt as to why he’s a triple Olympian.  Despite somewhat of a second half comeback by the visitors, the Breakers’ continue with enough niggle and drive to close it out, the Barracudas seemingly the victims of their own frustrations.

Match Day Burger Rating: 6/10

MDB Service Atmosphere: 7/10

MDB Cost: $6

Match Result: Queensland Breakers 11 def. Brisbane Barracudas 7

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Undressed And Contemplating Dance As Sport Amid Blackjack And Craps At Jupiters (In Which Everyone Who Gets In Line May Be King For a Snap)

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2014 Dancesport National Championships; Pavillion Ballroom, Jupiters Casino, Gold Coast; 20/4/14

The woman folds herself right back, saved from toppling only by the man’s grip, as though he were attempting to feed her a spoonful of something that is fatal if ingested.

Report by Nicholas Turner

It’s just before morning-tea time on Easter Sunday and the Gold Coast’s Jupiters Casino is positively teeming. Beneath its infinite ceiling the foyer is jammed; smack in the middle, affecting a sieve of all human traffic, is a ten-foot depiction of Las Vegas with holes where the heads of Elvis and two showgirls would otherwise be. Tourists are queuing to be the King or one of his scantily dressed ladies, and the only way through is via the memory stick of some Chinese woman’s digital SLR, apologising.

Ignorant to the ways and means of national dancesport competition, and dressed still for an early morning dip at the beach that is not a potato-gun’s strike from the casino itself, your correspondent seeks out the little tucked-away room in this glittery, coin-clattering hive where a humble ballroom dancing comp should already be underway. The foyer and its full-chested guards are making his salty hair and shorts and loose t-shirt and sandals seem a little underdone. After inquiring at the box-office, he is directed to the Pavillion Ballroom, the name of which alone is enough to forewarn a monstrous faux pas that is very much nigh, and then well and truly upon him.

It only gets worse. The ‘Ballroom’ is exactly what it sounds like; replete with mirror-ball and black velvet curtained walls and galactic lighting, round tables for the VIPs, elegant table settings, stiff-backed waiters and Champagne. Already a few hundred are in attendance for an event whose finals will go well into the night, and not a male soul – not even the few restless sub ten year old boys about – is without long trousers and a coat. There is, by the looks of it, an unspoken zero-tolerance policy on round-necked t-shirts with team logos on the back. Reminded suddenly of a thick helping of Zinc still smeared across his nose, your correspondent feels approximately as though he has stepped out of a cold shower and – biblically naked – into the sacred chambers of…you get the drift – I feel like an asshole.

Naturally, your correspondent decides to be in and out of this comp like a cat burglar, as they say, focussing on the first decisive dancing contest that the program throws his way; incidentally, the Juvenile Open Latin final, which by the way the schedule is going is probably a couple of hours off.  This is time enough to catch some top-flight heat competition and peruse the dancer’s market, an integrated part of the event wherein all manner of dance-specific shoes and jewellery and couture and make-up and sticky tape and stitch-in breast cups and such and such are available for sale.  You might think dancing, an ancient ritual of that demands only a wealth of passion, would be a light-on sort of enterprise from a fiscal point of view. I can report, very much on the contrary, that a women’s dress (comprising >0.1m2 of actual material) fetches around $1200. And I don’t want to even guess how much money goes into the make-up and fake tans and teeth-whitening and hairspray and whatever else goes into making these dancing women (and, to a lesser extent but surely, men) look less like painted humans than animated dolls.

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Dancesport is curious to new eyes, and I think at least part of the confusion is what seems to be the antithetical strangeness of it as a ‘higher’ form of what we lay folk know to be dancing. By which I mean the bump and grind or hold and sway which is either a precept to or public adjunct to sex, or else just something nice to do with someone you care for enough to share breath. The salient point is that the dancing of social custom is something implicitly and explicitly intimate. But here, formalised as competition, it doesn’t really look like that. The ‘Standard’ dances (Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep), have in common the fact that the man and woman contrast the extreme proximity of their middle torsos with maximum separation of their heads. The woman folds herself right back, saved from toppling only by the man’s grip, as though he were attempting to feed her a spoonful of something that is fatal if ingested. In addition, each dancer, by means a despondent and distant facial expression (likened best to those sideshow clown heads that take ping-pong balls orally), makes it seem as though they don’t notice that they are actually dancing with a partner. In other words, competitive dancing disguises the emotion of the act, or else buries it in the technical prowess and the synchrony of the bodily movements. Which may well be the natural progress of dancing as competition, but it nonetheless leaves your novice viewer with a sense that it’s all a bit cold. That no one out there on the floor is getting any spiritually closer by dancing.

When the two pairs of Juvenile dancers eventually take the floor for the Latin final, a now routine hush floods the whopping room. In purple and black, the soft-faced Asian pair begin with a nightmare stutter; the little lady tumbles down the stage’s final step, face planting before the presenter’s nose. Nerves, one has to guess. Once she’s scooped up, the contending Caucasians in green and white descend without mishap. The latter pair is slightly taller perhaps. All four dancers are under thirteen years of age, and a certain ‘stiffness’ of the older competitors is biologically denied them. Whereas in the adult competition the near-comical frigidity seems to be a virtue of technique, here for obvious reasons the absence of it doesn’t register.

In the first few bars of the Samba, neither pair moves a muscle, and it briefly seems as though stage-fright has struck them all. But soon they count themselves into it and the colourful costumes paint the floor in broad, child-like strokes. The couple in purple are immediately more compelling, full of jittery reflections of the inner rhythms of the music. By contrast, the two in green think through their steps, counting a carefully contrived set of one, two, three, fours. You can almost see the boy mentally mapping a small section of the very big stage. In all four disciplines, this trend continues; the purple combination flow relatively freely, throwing themselves cheerfully into it. By the time the Cha Cha Cha is underway, they’re pretty clearly the superior pair.

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What really separates the winners, however, is that undeniable dynamism that results from a strong male lead. The Asian boy, kind-faced, slim and yet solid looking, upright in everything he does, really works his partner around the polished wood. His subtle, pillaresque domination of the dance creates a genuine sense of cat and mouse, of high and low, in and out, a sense of play in which male physicality is not there to squander but to highlight feminine finesse, to give it something to refract against.

Where these two pairs of dancers ultimately diverge is probably the point at which the inter-sexual nature of dancing becomes something truly relevant. The purple pair, clearly, have begun to ‘play’ – indeed, to dance – in a way that is at least a feint sketch of the world of adulthood.  A drama exists between them; it’s effect is creative. On the other hand, their competitors still dance as though the purpose of doing so were to perform perfectly as two distinct entities, to strive for excellence in parallel. In an odd sort of way, this exhibition says some compelling stuff about how grown-up couples really do become more than the sum of their parts.

 

Match Day Burger Rating: Deep-fried (!) burrito in casino bistro, 2/10

MD(D-F)B Price: $9.90

MD(D-F)B Service Atmosphere: 3/10

Results: Lucas Cheng & Ashley Huynh, 4 def Aiden Falzon & Hannah Smart, 8 (lowest score wins)

 

Enjoy it? You can follow us by entering your email in the ‘follow us’ box at the end of the page or by clicking on the black ‘follow’ tab in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.  You’ll then receive our reports fresh from the grill to your inbox.  Stay hungry.  

 

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