Where we you last night, June 24th 2018? From 7:50pm onwards, do you remember where you were and what you were doing? Were you packed into ANZ stadium along with 82,222 other rugby league fans? Were you sat at home with a beer in one hand and pizza slice in the other? In a bar? Restaurant? Perhaps even dragged along to a mate’s birthday dinner with your phone in your lap draining all of your data for the month? Where were you when the New South Wales blues won game two to win the 2018 State of Origin series?
82,223 people crammed into ANZ stadium at Sydney Olympic Park on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday evening. The brisk winter air suddenly didn’t feel so cold despite the low temperature. The lines for the facilities didn’t seem so long this time around. The crowd, despite the pushiness and claustrophobic nature, wasn’t too bothersome. All of the things that would once bother a person didn’t matter anymore because the blues won. They won the series and for that evening, everything seemed good in the world.
The baby blue faithfuls have been suffering for years. We had a taste of glory in 2014 after 8 years of painful maroon victories. Jarryd Hayne ran through the in goal and jumped into the arms of his fans and for that moment we thought “this is it.” Then 2015 came along. And 2016 and then 2017. We were smacked in the face with reality and the taste of victory and winning feeling on our skin had faded very quickly. New South Wales needed a knight in shining armour…or a skivy and blazer. Enter Brad Fittler.
Just about every single player interviewed last night erupted in celebration and cries that the players and coaching staff had done it for the fans. They spoke so highly of the thousands who stuck by the team representing their state even when the hope was low at times. As corny or cliché as it may sound, we felt like family. That’s what Brad Fittler ultimately did. He created a family that would fight hard and strong for each other and do absolutely anything they could to win.
11 minutes to go on the clock and the blues were down one man due to a professional foul from the centre James Roberts. Queensland are only four behind on the scoreboard and the likes of Valentine Holmes and Dane Gagai are frothing at their mouths just dying for the chance to throw their bodies across the line to win it for their state. Suddenly the walls at ANZ start to shake, the concrete crackles ever so slightly and the “New South Wales” chant erupts through the crowd. When the men in jerseys were down one man, the fans stepped in. The applause got louder, the cheers got louder and the ticking clock on the big screen got louder and somehow even quicker. Tom Trbojevic became super human to fill the void of the man beside him, Tyrone Peachey bolted on to the field with fresh legs and James Maloney helped master class his team to victory. Queensland looked rattled and the cheers only got louder.
10 seconds to go and every New South Wales fan is on their feet. Thousands already have their phones in their hands ready to record the moment the siren is heard and victory is ours. Full time. The roar of New South Wales players and fans is absolutely deafening. It’s a moment you honestly cannot describe. The players are running and jumping on each other, tears pouring down their faces and we’re all honestly waiting for someone to wake us up because it just can’t be real. Did they really do it? Suddenly, Queensland fans quickly disappear and it’s just a blur of blue. Strangers who had never met and may never meet again are hugging and jumping up and down arm and arm. High fives are shared and the occasional sopping mess screams “NEW SOUTH WALES” in your face but you don’t care. This is your family and you’re going to celebrate with them.
As the blues players made their way around ANZ they were absolutely swarmed. An experience that they will probably never be able to explain. It’s all just too surreal. The stadium, albeit slightly emptier, is still absolutely swarmed with people. Suddenly the thought of rushing home to beat traffic doesn’t exist. The prospect of waking up early to go to work tomorrow doesn’t exist. There is nowhere else anyone would rather be. They want to be with their family and soak it all up and never let it end. The players are hugging the fans like they’ve known them their whole lives, fans are still embracing each other and the players cannot let go of one another. It’s like a family reunion that we have all been waiting for for years. Brad Fittler, our beloved father, stands proudly on the ground his boys just fought hard on and you cannot wipe the smile off his face. He continuously pauses to embrace someone new but he won’t drop his gaze off the players as they continue to walk alongside the barricades – many now wearing the Blatchys Blues wigs. On the outside of the stadium, there are still thousands of fans running alongside the stadium screaming in celebration and heckling the occasional Queensland fan who dared to wear their colours.
As he tucked himself into bed last night, Brad Fittler would have worn the smile of a proud father. The players, scattered across the hotel as their heads were most likely spinning, fell asleep next to their brothers. The fans? We’re the crazy cousins. The cousins who aren’t really cousins but feel like family so you tell everyone they’re your cousin. There’s thousands of us and it’s almost impossible to keep count but the love radiates for miles. In 3 weeks times our family will travel up to enemy territory in attempt at winning the series in a clean sweep – regardless of whether they can do that or not, they’re bringing the shield home. We are going to watch our family raise that shield above their heads and know that they did it for us. They’re coming home for us New South Wales.
No matter where you watched the game last night, there was a feeling of comradery. Thousands of fans united together on social media, throughout homes across the country or amongst the sea of fans within ANZ at Sydney Olympic Park. No matter where you watched the blues win game 2 to win the 2018 State of Origin series, you were with family.