BY CURTIS WOODWARD
BY CURTIS WOODWARD
It is a date forever engrained into the memory of Western Suburbs Magpies fans – Sunday, August 29th, 1999 – the final, painful day of the club’s top flight existence.
With barely a whimper, the Magpies were flogged 60-16 at Campbelltown Stadium. Official crowd: 7793.
The final nail so deep in their coffin, the upcoming merger with Balmain in a rationalised National Rugby League couldn’t come quick enough.
There was a spirited start but before long, reality set in. This team was no hope of one last miracle. They’d lost 11 straight. This day would be no different.
Grown men, strangers, stood side-by-side, tears in their eyes as they chanted “Magpies! Magpies! Magpies!”
The visiting team kept scoring.
It would have been 72 if five-eigth John Simon kicked all his goals.
Their opponents that day is the same club they’ll play this Sunday – the Warriors.
Funnily enough, the Canterbury Cup curtain raiser between the Magpies and the Warriors this weekend will probably boast a similar crowd as fans get settled in for the NRL clash at 6.10pm.
Up somewhere high in the western grandstand will be Magpies Canterbury Cup coach Brett Hodgson – fullback for the black and white’s back in ’99.
Right there on Sunday afternoon, the past meets the present and the future.
And while their kids imitate Benji, Robbie and Brooks on the hill, decked out in their flashy new Wests Tigers merchandise, dad sits in the seat he did twenty-odd years ago as the ghosts of the doomed Magpies get caned.
Stacey Jones scored four tries, big forward Logan Swann took the last shot at goal (and kicked it).
Time was up.
Tommy Raudonikis, Magpies coach, cried as he hugged supporters in the eastern grandstand.
That 60-16 score line is a reminder of why we now have the Wests Tigers and the desperation from both the Magpies and Balmain to survive in any form.
The future is Wests Tigers and so it should be.
But there’s nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia.
BRETT HODGSON – WESTS FULLBACK
Went on to play in a grand final at Parramatta in 2001 before returning to his roots and signing for Wests Tigers. He’d star in 2005, playing a major hand in the club winning their maiden premiership. He finished his career in England and become an assistant at Widnes Vikings. He is now the Magpies Canterbury Cup coach.
STACEY JONES – WARRIORS HALFBACK
One of the greatest Kiwi players to ever pull on the boots. Steered the Warriors to a 2002 grand final appearance against the Sydney Roosters. He is now an assistant coach to Stephen Kearney’s NRL outfit.
NIGEL VAGANA – WARRIORS CENTRE
Truly made his name at the Canterbury Bulldogs in the early 2000’s as one of the supreme finishers in the game. Left Belmore at the end of 2003 with the Dogs winning the title in 2004. Scored a whopping 157 tries in 260 first grade games.
STEVE GEORGALLIS – WESTS HALF
The Magpies last ever captain would have a swansong season in 2000 with the merged club. Had a brief stint as interim NRL coach at the Penrith Panthers – now an assistant at the Bulldogs under Dean Pay.
TOM RAUDONIKIS – WESTS COACH
A Magpies legend – player and coach. Your writer sat at Mr. Raudonikis’ table at a Men of League function last year and is as cheeky as ever. Some recent health issues but is still fighting – like he always has.
MARK GRAHAM – WARRIORS COACH
The Warriors coach from 1999 to 2000 who made his name as a fearsome forward with the North Sydney Bears in the 1980’s. Recently voted into the NRL Hall of Fame.
The81stMinute Call Team returns this Sunday for the Wests Magpies versus Warriors clash – live from 3.45pm (5.45pm NZ) on Steelesports.com.au