TONY Chalmers, now a fixture on the sideline at NRL games as Channel Nine’s floor manager but once a flying winger, remembers the coach’s speech the first time a premiership side touched down in Perth to play a rugby league game.
“Times have changed,” says Chalmers, who scored the first try of the historic Parramatta-Balmain Panasonic Cup match at the WACA.
“Warren Ryan was the coach. We went over there three days before the game and he said to us “if you blokes don’t get out on the sauce tonight, you’re not having a crack’. Hahaha.”
Playing against his former Parramatta team-mates for the first time, Chalmers was stunned by the ferocity of their defence. He scored off a Ben Elias pass, was soon concussed and the Tigers went down 22-12 to an Eels side wearing jerseys purchased from a local sports store because their own sponsored jumpers had been lost en route.
Peter Sterling was man of the match.
This Sunday, 24 years later at the plush, rectangular, nib Stadium, the South Sydney will play the Warriors. Premiership matches in Perth aren’t exactly a dime a dozen these days but the Perth Reds have come and gone and clubs know exactly how much they can charge for tickets and how many fans are likely to show up.
It’s a big weekend for the league outside its NSW and Queensland heartlands. The blue ribbon Melbourne-Brisbane clash is on at AAMI Park on Friday, TIO Stadium in Darwin hosts Gold Coast v Penrith on Saturday and on Sunday – as well as the clash in the wild west – Canterbury plays Newcastle in Mackay.
Why are all these games on the same weekend? Actually, it’s just co-incidence. Queensland and the Northern Territory governments approached the NRL and were put in contact with the clubs involved.
In the case of South Sydney – who have been taking home games to WA for five years now – the deals have been stitched up with the WARL and then presented to the NRL for assistance.
The NRL agreed and has come to the party with marketing assistance, travel and accommodation. Promotions for the game were shown during the Origin coverage on Perth TV.
Nib Stadium say their biggest drawing Western Force home game is Canterbury Crusaders because of the expat Kiwis in the city and a full house is anticipated.
But in future, “co-incidences” like the one that makes this a bit of a Leyland Brothers round will not occur. The NRL will negotiate with venues and state governments and allocate games the expansion areas themselves.
“There are games that will jump out of the draw as ones that are suitable to be moved,” explains South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson said.
“They are matches that, for whatever reason, would not be huge draws at the home ground of the home team but would be very attractive somewhere else.
“For instance, there are many New Zealand provinces interested in hosting Warriors ‘away’ games.
“In the past we’ve all done our own deals, hid our cards, and thought to ourselves ‘we negotiated the best conditions’ but we didn’t actually know. In future, it will be all up front because the NRL will be negotiating, not us.”
And how is this done without alienating members? With reciprocal deals.
“If we welcome members of, say, Parramatta, the Roosters, the Bulldogs and the Dragons to our home games and they let our members in for free, you still get the same number of games as part of your season ticket,” Richardson explains.
“So we can take that number of games away to places like Cairns and Perth.”
The result is likely to be a greater number of matches played over the entire season at non-heartland venues next season.
The reasons are altruistic – spreading the gospel, etc – and pragmatic. The recent South Sydney-Gold Coast game in Cairns injected a reported $1.7 million into the local economy , justifying the money spent by local authorities to attract the event.
Richardson said Nine did not want to cover the game because of the expense, “and it was clearly the best game of the afternoon”.
And while George Burgess might disagree, the change of scenery is also welcome for players in the middle of a long season.
“For us, Perth was like another country,” Chalmers recalls. “On the way over, I admit I was thinking ‘why are we going there’ but when I saw the support, I could see the benefit of it.
“But I didn’t understand why my mates who I’d played with just the year before were hitting me so hard. They just gave it to me.
“However, after the game we all went to the casino and had a few beers together and everything was fine.”
This weekend rugby league, just like the Tigers of ’89, his “having a crack”.
Premiership Matches in Perth, Darwin and Mackay 1989-2012* (from League Information Services)
Canberra defeated Canterbury 18-14 at WACA, August 11, 1989
Canberra defeated Manly 29-12 at WACA, May 18, 1990
Parramatta defeated Cronulla 22-12 at WACA, May 17, 1991
Parramatta defeated Canterbury 18-12 at WACA, May 8, 1992
Canberra defeated Easts 15-10 at WACA, May 7, 1993
Manly defeated Cronulla 26-6 at WACA, July 9, 1993
Penrith defeated Balmain 24-0 at WACA, April 15, 1994
Norths defeated Easts 28-8 at WACA, July 22, 1994
Melbourne defeated Wests 62-6 at Lathlain Oval, May 8, 1999
Cronulla defeated Warriors 28-24 at Perth Oval, May 7, 2005
Melbourne defeated Souths 28-22 at Members Equity Stadium, June 13, 2009
Souths defeated Melbourne 16-14 at ME Stadium, June 26, 2010
Souths defeated Brisbane 16-12 at NIB Stadium, June 24, 2011
Brisbane defeated Souths 20-12 at nib Stadium, March 23, 2012
Manly defeated Warriors 24-22 at Patersons Stadium, July 28, 2012
Penrith defeated Balmain 14-0 at Richardson Park, April 19, 1991
Penrith defeated Souths 24-20 at Richardson Park, July 11, 1992
Wests defeated Sydney City 44-16 at Richardson Park, April 8, 1995
North Queensland defeated Sydney Roosters 50-12 at TIO Stadium, April 14, 2012
Canterbury defeated Melbourne 20-4 at Virgin Australia Stadium, June 24, 2012
* Does not include Western Reds matches in Perth 1995-97
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK