THEY used to play against each other using a Coke bottle on the neighbours’ front lawn – and now a confrontation between cousins Greg Inglis and Albert Kelly has decided an NRL game.
With three minutes left and six points the difference in a sprawling, entertaining encounter before 16,118 fans at Cairns’ Barlow Park, Gold Coast halfback Albert Kelly burst into the clear and had only South Sydney fullback Inglis to beat.
Memories of childhoods spent kicking around anything they find on the NSW north coast came flooding back for both men.
“I was dreaming about it a long time ago and I got the chance to take him on, one-on-one,” said Kelly, “and I took him on.
“We always used to play together at Willis Street back in Macksville. If we didn’t have a football, we’d fill a Coke bottle up with water or some plastic AFL ball.
“We always played football – on the road, on the grass, until the lights turned on – then it was home time, dinner.
“He was always fast, he was always strong, everyone looked up to him in the family and wanted to be like Greggo. That was a good thing because he was always pushing us.
“In my debut, the first person who ran at me and my first NRL tackle was on Greggo. He tried to put the big lethal palm on me and I got him around the legs.”
Inglis was equally wistful. “They used to have an FDB down at Nambucca – Fair Dinkum Bargains,” he told Fairfax Media.
“We’d do down there and get a red plastic ball and kick that. It brought back old memoiries.”
The finale came at the end of a match which pleased fans first and coaches a distant second, with the Titans failing to complete their first six sets of the second half.
Souths scored one of the tries of the season to make it 18-18 right on the halftime bell, Nathan Merrit making a break and offloading to Bryson Goodwin who in turn found Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi and finally Adam Reynolds who kicked for centre Dylan Walker to cross.
But Rabbitohs captain John Sutton reckoned it was “one of my worst games of the year” and coach Michael Maguire described the afternoon as “frustrating”
“We didn’t play the way we have been playing and the way we’re capable of,” Maguire said. “You get burnt if you’re going to turn that much ball over.
“We were just lucky that the opposition probably did the same.”
Rival John Cartwright was cheerier. “On the back of the possession we had, I didn’t think we lost anything in comparison to them,” he said. “We made 70 more tackles and they had 30 more play-the-balls and I thought, if anything, we were finishing over the top of them.
“To not play so well and still go close, there’s a bit to be excited about.”
But skipper Nate Myles was more downbeat. “We’ve got a long way to go to be competing with teams such as Souths week-in and week-out,” he said
The sides had traded tries throughout the first half; in the second session Souths broke serve with consecutive touchdowns which gave them a 30-18 lead which they held at the 62nd minute.
Then Kelly posted the second of his tries – Inglis crossed the stripe once, too – and it all come down to that clash with his cousin.
What happened? Inglis showed Kelly the sideline, tackled him with one arm and knocked the ball out with the other.
“It was centimetres, right there,” Kelly said, pointing to a spot at his feet in the tunnel afterwards. “it was close.
“That’s why he’s the best in the game – a good defender and a good attacker.
“In my dream I scored. But just to get one-on-one with him in an NRL game is a big dream for me.He’s got a wingspan like a 747.
“I know all the family at home would probably be crying and screaming the house down.
“It would have been very loud on the mid-north coast.”
While Kelly had long imagined the moment, Inglis was just proud that they both got there.
“As a fullback, you’ve got to use the sideline as another defender,” said Inglis. “That’s what I did. He must have thought he got away from me.
“He’s a special player. I’m glad he’s seen the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m so happy for him.
“He’s always wanted to be a first grade player and that’s what he’s doing.
“I’m so glad he’s come all this way and is living his dream.”
SOUTH SYDNEY 30 (G Inglis I Luke D Walker B Teo R Asotasi tries A Reynolds 5 goals) bt GOLD COAST 24 (A Kelly 2 K Gordon W Zillman tries A Sezer 4 goals) at Barlow Park, Cairns. Referees: M Cecchin/G Atkins. Crowd: 16,118.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD