Darwin Resolves God Double-booking at Ross (Sidelined Deity Sportingly Assures Perfect Weather)
Nudgee College vs. Gregory Terrace; Ross Oval; 24/8/2013
“It seems briefly possible that the uniform he’s wearing will burst spontaneously into flames…”
Report by Nicholas Turner
I am at Ross Oval, Nudgee College, at 2pm on a perfect winter Saturday. Today the school is hosting fixtures against its long-ago partitioned Catholic brother, Gregory Terrace. The crowd is keen and in the thousands. The game of choice is rugby. Seated against the picket fence among the visiting side’s spectators, I enjoy one of the more ingeniously contrived sights in GPS competition; Nudgee’s formidable, blue-blazered student mob in its home grandstand. The razor-sharp cheering from the acoustically megaphoneesque structure – in the unmistakable schoolboy complexion of voices broken and otherwise – is both spine-tinglingly physical and instinctively disconcerting. It sounds and feels like imminent lightning from over here where the visitors sit.
Most schools turn out big crowds for big home games, but the difference here is qualitative; visiting teams and their supporters are subjected to Nudgee’s crowd. Heavily subjected, in fact. This oval is known for tormenting its guests – fifty, sixty, seventy point slaughters at this highest of schoolboy levels are common enough. Visitors that do manage to win here never do so by much. For both atmosphere and sheer horticultural precision, this is also the best field in the competition, and today it will chew up the occasionally-plucky Terrace team by a laconic three or four second-half tries that look as inevitable as they are easy once a quick and organised Nudgee backline finally decides to shift into third. The post game mood from the visiting crowd is mild and not-really-bothered. The best analogy I can think of is tossing away a lottery ticket that didn’t win.
For the underdogs from the city it all starts well. A few-hundred-strong Terrace student support base is down on one knee to usher its best onto Ross. The chosen fifteen are blessed, the prayer led by an initially innocuous senior who asks God’s grace to guide the game’s code of fairness and due. The enveloping students cross themselves, repeat the lines, and fall silent, reverent. The drama is good. At that moment, bowed and humble, the Terrace boys embody the good guys, and perhaps right will be done today, perhaps. Aside from history and present standing on the table (Nudgee is 1st after five rounds, Terrace in a logjam for 2nd through 5th), the sporting truth is that you just never know; stranger things happen regularly in this schoolboy competition where just about everything is theatre.
It is now all but silent over here with the guests. Heads are still bowed. When it seems an almost too-reflective mood might have dulled the fifteen young Terrace men who are about to need to be very, very animated, the prayer-leading senior stops mid-stride, gives an awkward stage-frightened sideways glace, and turns from preacher to boy possessed; the pale, bookish, pimple-pocked face washes fierce crimson and out comes a violent and curdling squeal. The senior bounds inhumanly along the tunnel of pubescent lads from which his original sermon was delivered, arms flailing, spitting hellfire and damnation, simply wild. It seems briefly possible that the uniform he’s wearing will burst spontaneously into flames. The student mass chants and rises as an enraged clan, the players descend onto the field, brushing past the lonely figure of the senior, finally expired and inconsolable, a husk of a boy. I assume the senior is a formidable drama student but my hapless scepticism has nothing to feed on here; it was beautiful and complex performance, something more than its parts.
I can’t make out what’s been chanted since the exorcism, but it hardly matters. The point has been well made; a Terrace win would be a desperate, tooth-and-nail, chips-falling-kindly, God-blessed one that may or may not require sacrifice of a serious kind. But as they take the field, it does genuinely seem possible. This faith will turn out to be the highpoint for the black-and-red visitors this afternoon, ranked just above the first-half performance of a well-shoed fly-half and evidence of star-quality in an outside-centre that unfortunately isn’t scripted into the conclusion of enough moves in the Terrace playbook. The crimson tide has its share of opportunities to rise, but those moments pass, and Terrace rightly lose.
As for the Nudgee send-out, I’m poorly positioned to comment in detail. It seems more low-key and business like, and more private. The players appear to be paraded before the grandstand of students and nostalgic old-boys like thoroughbreds before a group race. The utterly blazered grandstand at quiet attention, looking down upon the gifted meat. Maybe they salute. The hosts will be fielding a team of big boys – that much is clear enough from the distance. The Nudgee constitution of country lads and Islanders is proven stock for this game and others. The school’s incomparable proportion of full-time boarders is also critical; the lives of these campus live-ins, in order of commonality, comprise the following activities and little else; eating, masturbating, sleeping, playing touch or tackle football on one of the schools many fields, and study. Today, having absorbed the first-half pressure of a desperate Terrace attack, it is classic boarding-house football that puts Nudgee beyond reach in a matter of minutes. Quick-hands to find a gigantic looping inside-centre, a spoil of overlaps made by disorganised and overheated defenders, switcheroos, and a set backline move in which the winger gives himself a fifty metre run-up just because he can. These have all been learned by rote, shirtless and barefoot every afternoon and weekend. Where so often in rugby the confusion between game plans and instincts prove terminal, the Nudgee boys always seem to know how to play organically. At least, that’s the feeling to watch them hit full stride.
Nudgee don’t play a perfect game today, but there are no real problems either. Ultimately they take points without suffering damage, uphold a solid defensive structure, and by so doing preserve themselves better to run a late scoring campaign. There’s good players all over the park for them; hooker, fly-half and both centres are stand-outs but a gut-feeling tells me the best might have been unnoticed at the breakdown; loose-forwards, the tradesmen. Clean ball and backline organisation wouldn’t come for free against a competent Terrace pack, and Nudgee eventually have a motza of quality possession. There’s a perfectly good reason why after sixty minutes of play the blue-and-white backline is as deep as an abyss and their jerseys appear untouched. The system is efficient; the forwards are rightly dirty.
As for those pre-game moments for the eventual winners, I never find out what really goes on over there. Amid the desperate God-fearing theatre of Gregory Terrace I don’t hear a single syllable from the other side of the field. I suspect any last-minute instructions are brief and redundant. Something like; get it done.
Match Day Burger (MDB): 7/10
MDB cost: $7.50 (w/ “The Lot”, i.e. egg & bacon)
MDB service atmosphere: 9/10
Match score: Nudgee 39 – Gregory Terrace 15
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