20 years ago today…
May 28, 2000.
Bruce Stadium, Canberra.
An official crowd of 7,384 rocked up to witness a moment in rugbaleeg history known simply as….
THE SNOW GAME.
The only game in First Grade history played in snow… Despite many attempts from Melbourne.
In the Sydney Olympics year which saw everything start at the height of summer, Round 17 of the NRL season was held at the end of May, and the freshly merged Wests Tigers (Coached by Wayne Pearce) sat in an unlikely 2nd on the ladder, despite 2 draws and a points differential of -28, and losing captain Jarrod ‘Phil’ McCracken in a career-ending tackle against the Storm a fortnight earlier, which McCracken successfully sued the Storm, Stephen Kearney and Marcus Bai over.
The Raiders (Coached by Mal Meninga) sat in 7th, in what was Laurie Daley’s last season in the NRL, as the Green Machine were right in that phase after the glory years when they were still good enough to play finals, but never a premiership threat.
Anyway, game day rolled around, and what should’ve been a normal boring arse Sunday afternoon was added to the pages of history, when the typically freezing nation’s capital was hit by an unseasonable snow storm, causing conditions never before seen, and not really seen again until last year, in that GWS-Hawthorn game at Manuka.
Wests’ fullback Joel Caine (Who ended up as the NRL’s Leading Pointscorer in 2000) wrote an Athlete’s Voice article in 2018 about the game:
Have you ever read ‘Lord of the Flies’? The team was like that. We all started to turn on each other because scarcity was a real problem.
I’ll never forget it when we ran out – Kevin McGuinness had this undergarment like a skin garment for his arms with long sleeves. We all looked at him as if to say, ‘Oh, you arsehole, why did you get to have that?’.
It was so cold, and that undergarment was just worth a million dollars at that time.
The Tigers scored first through the speedy McGuiness 3 minutes into the game, then Caine became a victim of the conditions in the 14 minute, knocking on trying to escape the in-goal from a kick, when Ruben Wiki slid in and dislodged the ball with his knee, after which Sean Rutgerson got his hand on the loose ball, and scored the only try of his 68 game NRL career, before he went to play in England.
The Raiders piled on another 3 tries to lead 18-6 (Luke Williamson struggled kicking in 7 feet of snow, going 1/4), but Wests scored just before the half when Laloa Milford made a snow angel in the left corner, and the score was 18-10 at the half.
Caine whips out another classic anecdote:
At halftime, I think we were about 12 points down and our coach Wayne Pearce said, “Get your arses in here.”
Basically what happened was everybody just walked straight past him. It was contagious. You knew you were doing the wrong thing, but you just did it anyway. We took our jerseys off and we went straight into the warm showers.
Junior was screaming at us to come back in and no one budged. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to not thaw out in the shower. The idea of having to come out in the second half was just … ugh.
But in a way the showers were the worst thing we did, because temporarily we felt good, then were freezing cold again when we got back out there the second half.
We didn’t hear a single thing Junior said at halftime other than ‘Get your arses back out there’. He probably should have jumped in the showers with us and done the team talk there!
I don’t think there would have been many mutinies against Junior in his career, but it wasn’t anything personal. It was just the cold.
Nobody had mutinied against Junior to such a degree since he got rid of the NSW Origin drinking sessions to go horse riding…
Robbie Kearns only fell off and broke his collarbone.
The weather cleared for a seesawing second half in which Wests took the lead in the 57th minute on the back of two converted tries, but the Raiders reclaimed the lead 6 minutes from time with a converted try to Mark McLinden under the posts, and the Green Machine were able to hang on to win the memorable error-ridden contest 24-22.
It shouldn’t be surprising that a team named after pillaging, murderous Scandinavians would do so well in the snow.
The Raiders went on to make the finals and exit stage right in the Semi Finals, and if losing McCracken was hard enough, the arse really fell out of the Tigers after this bout of hypothermia, and they blew a 31-8 lead the next week against Penrith, lost a grand total of 6 of their final 8 games, and missed the Top 8.
Still, we remember this game fondly, because Canberra’s weather made us all go “Ooooooh” yet again.
And that’s all for another edition of….