The last game Manly Savers Rugby Club played before sport was shutdown in June was a Colts semi-final against Colleagues.
With a 60km southerly buster sending horizontal ice needles across Keirle Park, the young Savers survived three second-half yellow cards and beat the visitors 19-nil to advance to the Radford Cup grand final.
Or so they thought. Within days it was off, another casualty of the deadly virus.
Savers President John “Fridge” Szaka was coach of the Colts that day. He says he’d have enjoyed the moment more had he known it was the last game of the season.
“The weather was so bad everyone just ran off,” he says. “No-one was able to really enjoy the win and hang around.
“But if someone had told me that was the last time we’d play, you’d have tried to enjoy it a bit more.
“Because here’s the thing about rugby: even the horrible days are pretty good!”
Like all sporting clubs across Sydney and beyond, the Savers, along with their “subbies” colleagues at Forest, Newport, Terrey Hills, Wakehurst, Collaroy and Dee Why, are in limbo. Each day they wait with the rest of us for Gladys’s daily doom report. Each day they speculate how long, oh lord, how long until we’re free to run about with our people again.
The answer, possibly, is November. Because Spring is coming. And hope springs eternal.
And we won’t be in this infernal indoor malarkey forever.
And so Szaka and his colleague Jake Osborne, President of Newport Breakers, have a clean slate to plan for what rugby could look like once Covid releases its grip on us.
And, in the way of a good crisis, they don’t mean to waste it.
They’re thinking gala days, 10s rugby days, a 4-week mini-competition.
There’s beach rugby. Aqua Rugby. They’re thinking of a three-day long weekend and calling it a “Festival of Rugby”.
Bottom line they want to play in 2021.
And they want to bring everyone in.
“What we need to do from a northern beaches rugby perspective is to grow some of the clubs that haven’t been as strong over the years,” Osborne says. “Looking at Dee Why, Collaroy, Terrey Hills. Wakehurst has one team.
“It could be a great opportunity to bring them all together and reinvigorate the game on the beaches.
“For a gala day or even a short competition, each of those clubs could get a number of guys together.”
Szaka points to Newport’s 10s competition that was aborted before Covid Lockdown #1 in March of 2020.
He says Newport – given they don’t share their home ground Porters Reserve with cricket – would “very capable of putting that on again”.
“And we could go to Forest and say, between the three of us, let’s put something on.”
Osborne agrees: “The appetite will be there. Maybe you keep it to first grade and Colts. Maybe play 15 minute games. Guys would be keen to get involved.
“You could keep it ‘unofficial’, if you like. Keep it light-hearted, a ‘celebration’ of rugby. You could award some sort of ad hoc cup. Get a sponsor.
“Even just a one-off thing would be great. Getting all the clubs back together. A festival of rugby. Or just one-off games. Colts kick-off at 5pm, first grade at 7pm.”
Szaka and Osborne areis spit-balling, of course. No-one knows when we’ll even be allowed outside our house let alone playing and watching rugby. Yet for those starved of it, playing again is a no-brainer once we’re out of the mire.
There’s been similar “talk” about a North Harbour and South Harbour Colts representative game. Szaka would like to see the best subbies Colts form a Northern Beaches team and take on those from other LGAs.
“It’d be great to see if there’s other like-minded rugby areas – North Shore, Inner West, The East, the Shire – and make it our LGA versus your LGA!
“Moving on we have beach touch, we’ve been doing that for 13 years, every summer, just off the Corso. It’s just about getting involved and getting a rugby ball in your hands, at the very least. It’s also very close to the Steyne Hotel, which is important!”
Running about on the beach is fine but where local subbies clubs may have an issue is grounds. The Breakers have their own at Porters Reserve. Dee Why Lions and Wakehurst have their own, also, though Manly Savers, Collaroy Cougars and Terrey Hills Wolves share with cricket.
Yet according to one cricket club president, “I can’t see it [an organised competition] starting until late November”.
Which means rugby could use those grounds.
They could ask, anyway.
“Like anything, if you don’t put your name down to use something it can get taken by someone else,” Szaka says. “It’ll be a matter of saying to cricket and Council that we’re in extraordinary times and we could create some extraordinary bonds. And that would be a good thing for sport on the beaches.”
The Savers have entered in team in the Aqua Rugby tournament that’s been rescheduled to March. Szaka says talk amongst the players is largely positive: it’ll give them the summer to get fit.
“The players really want to make a statement in season ‘22. Aqua Rugby was one of those things.
“We did a lot of work last year to make Savers rugby as fun and as exciting as we can. And we think as long as we’re on the front foot leading into summer, we can get people talking about it, and enough people keen, we’re pretty sure enough people will be keen.
“It’s very exciting. There’s a few shining lights to look forward to: Aqua Rugby, Beach Touch, the Steyne Hotel opening again!
“All the things that make rugby rugby!”