Monday, October 02, 2006

Brisbane 1, Melbourne 1

Its all square after yesterday’s intercity sporting squabble between Brisbane and Melbourne. But it wasn't reported that way in any of the Australia media. Their sports pages today were dominated by last night’s rugby league grand final. Even Melbourne’s parochial Aussie Rules dominated Herald Sun (Australia’s biggest selling newspaper) reported the Brisbane Broncos 15-8 win over their hometown team Melbourne Storm. That result won the Queensland clubs its sixth Australian rugby league grand final at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

There were 80,000 in attendance (not a full house) to watch that game. For the third year in a row, the final was played at night time, not because it suited either set of fans, (it didn’t, it is a long weekend in Sydney but not in Brisbane or Melbourne) but because Channel Nine so decreed so that the game would take place in peak TV rating time. Earlier that day down in Melbourne, 25,000 people turned up to watch a top of the league football (soccer, the name of the sport, must always remain bracketed in multi-football Australia) clash between the Melbourne Victory and the Queensland Roar. The home team won 4-1 to continue its 100% record after six games in the A-League.

Their rugby league cousins were expected to make it a southern double. They had won the “minor premiership”, the home-and-away season that in most other countries establishes a team’s credentials for it to be declared the best. But not in Australia. Here finishing first merely gives you a favourable handicap to get to the grand final. Here, regardless of sport (league, union, Aussie Rules, football, basketball, netball and probably tiddlywinks), it comes down to one game as a decider. It’s a peculiarly Aussie notion of a “grand final”. You must win a decider. And in the league decider, Brisbane were the better team. Its not the first time either. The Brisbane Broncos were formed as an expansion club in a Sydney league in 1988 and by the time they reached adulthood they were playing in their sixth premiership decider. Like all previous five times, Brisbane won. And the enigmatic Wayne Bennett has coached all six deciders.

This one had its controversial moments. In the first half two dubious penalties gave Brisbane four easy points. But it was a second defining moment which put video refereeing in the spotlight. Brisbane were leading 14-8 when the admirably woolly headed Matt King dived over the line for what would have been his second try. But the video referee wrongly ruled that teammate Ryan Hoffman had knocked the ball on in trying to grab the kick in the preceding play. Brisbane captain and talisman Darren Lockyer sealed the game with a field goal leaving Melbourne seven points adrift and two scores adrift with less than ten minutes to go. Brisbane probably deserved the win, if only to celebrate the farewell appearance of its improbably suave square-jawed prop Shane Webcke. Webcke is the proverbial brick shithouse around a country manor. He was also a Brisbane legend for 12 years and it was his fourth appearance in a grand final. Although players and officials alike pretended it wasn’t about him, he easily dominated the media coverage before and after the game.

The earlier A-league clash between Melbourne and Brisbane also had its share of dodgy refereeing decisions. The game was played at Melbourne’s Docklands stadium which was designed for Aussie Rules and has a capacity of 50,000. It was Melbourne’s second ever game at the stadium after pulling in 40,000 for their win over Sydney FC a few weeks ago. Though the crowd wasn’t quite as impressive this time round, it was still a rousing atmosphere for the 100% league leaders. Melbourne’s skipper is journeyman Kevin Muscat who was renowned as a hard man when playing in the lower English leagues for Millwall. His most famous international moment was scoring the winning penalty for Australia v Uruguay in the World Cup qualifier at the MCG in 2001. He was at it again against the Roar scoring twice from the spot after very soft decisions against the visitors.

Brazilian striker Fred came back from a three match ban to also score a goal. He is not the same Fred that scored against Australia for Brazil in the world cup. The more famous Fred plays for Lyon in France. But the fact that two Freds are scoring goals internationally is a bit of a worry for those that prefer their Brazilian names to have more of a poetic ring about them. Fred may have a prosaic name but he is an integral part of Melbourne Victory’s push to become a force in the round ball game in this country. Barely one day before, the West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans renewed their astonishingly tight rivalry in the wonderful AFL grand final with the Eagles gaining revenge for the previous year’s defeat by 1 point. But with no Melbourne team in the decider for the third straight year, the Victory are ideally placed to capitalise on the World Cup fever that struck Australia back in June. Melbourne remains Australia’s sporting capital and there are 3 million sports-mad fans waiting to hop on a successful bandwagon.

For now its congratulations to the Broncos and the West Coast Eagles. But watch out for the Victory and Roar. And watch out too for Benito Carbone. Late this afternoon, the little Italian genius, out here on a 4 game contract, destroyed Adelaide on his Sydney FC debut today, scoring one and making two other goals. And now Adelaide have signed calcio!

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