My first season as a born-again Jets fan is over. Newtown missed the eight in the VB Premier League, finishing in tenth spot on 23 points. Conceding 696 points in 24 games is not a good way to do things, but rather better than the club I used to follow in its NRL days, North Sydney, who allowed 1024 points in 24 matches, almost 43 per game.
I got to see Newtown play at Henson Park four times this year: March 27, when they lost 26-14 to St George reserve grade in round three; May 8, when they beat North Sydney 42(right on average)-20 in round nine; June 5, when they beat Balmain 20-12 in round thirteen; and July 31, when they beat the Roosters reserves 22-20 in a thrilling round twenty-one clash.
The North Sydney clash was the second leg of the three-match Frank Hyde Trophy series. (Alas, Norths won the trophy 2-1 by winning the third game.) That particular provided a real highlight for me, when Frank Hyde himself, now about 88 years old, spoke to the crowd at half-time and even attempted to croon a few bars of "Danny Boy", his hit single from the early 1970s. Frank first played for Newtown back in 1934, before joining Balmain and North Sydney, and for one season Waratah-Mayfield in the Newcastle comp. Ironically, the Tahs folded in the week before Frank made that Henson Park appearance.
There's one thing that Frank Hyde said that day that drew a big round of applause from the crowd, when he said that he believed rugby league players should go back to being part-time professionals and have a full-time job outside of the game. A comment on the spoiled brats of today.
The Newtown rugby league club has come back virtually from the dead in recent years. They'll never be an NRL side again - and frankly, I don't think they should. For all the adventure and romance of the South Sydney victory against Big Business, their three years back in the NRL fold have had all of the feel of "Hey we won! Now what do we do?" Consequently, the Rabbitohs are wooden spooners for 2004, losing their last premiership game of the year 62-22 to Canberra.
The Newtown Jets fill a niche that the NRL behemoths cannot. An unpretentious suburban club pursuing a local community following, studded with competent part-time players and not an easybeat side. I hope that their affiliation with Cronulla next year, when they effectively become the Sharks' reserve grade side, doesn't undermine that charm.
Newtown RLFC have been promoting themselves in ads and flyers with the line "Come see Rugby League the way it used to be." Certainly, whenever they play at Henson Park it feels like it is 1983 again and the crowd is always 8972.
Some Newtown match facts:
- This year was the fiftieth anniversary of their penultimate first grade grand final (their last being in 1981).
- The number 8972 was the official attendance at the Jets' last first grade home game before they were kicked out of the premiership in 1983 (they went broke), and at every Henson Park home game these days, the ground announcer always says "today's official attendance is eight thousand, nine hundred and seventy-two". They were even selling T-shirts with that crowd figure on them this year. (A normal home game attendance would be in the realm of 500-1000).
- Newtown's second XIII also finished in tenth place in the Jim Beam Cup, which these days is a cross between the Metropolitan Cup and the old Group 12 Central Coast comp.
Newtown's official website is at www.newtownjets.com, but be warned that there is annoying ad that loads up on the home page without warning which features the sound of a telephone ringing. Not a good campaign for the telco responsible, in my opinion.