Henson Park, Marrickville

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Image: Mario Facchini, mafphotography
Image: Mario Facchini, mafphotography

Flashback Friday – Newtown Jets v Melbourne Storm 2004

Each week, thanks to Schofield King Lawyers, we bring you a story from our rich history.

It was supposed to be one of the biggest days in Newtown’s modern history but, unfortunately, mother nature had other ideas.

On March 6th 2004, the star-studded Melbourne Storm was in town and Newtown was gearing up for its first clash with a top tier rugby league side since the club was expelled from the premiership 21-years earlier.

The pre-season trial had attracted plenty of press and a crowd of over 5,000 people was expected to roll through the gates at Henson Park to watch what would be the last big trial before the kick-off of the NRL season the following weekend.

Then the rains came.

“They had named a good side, blokes like Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Steve Turner and Rodney Howe were playing and we were expecting a big crowd,” says Henson Park institution John Lynch.

Matt Geyer unloads to Billy Slater at Henson Park, March 2004.

“It hadn’t rained all week and Henson Park looked an absolute picture . . . then on the Saturday, it just bucketed down.” 

By the time the game kicked off at 5pm, Sydney had been subjected to seven hours of torrential rain and both sets of players were greeted by a waterlogged pitch and a crowd of about 500 spectators.

That said, the rain did little to dampen the spirits of Newtown coach Col Murphy who elected to use 32 players across the four quarters of football, including many Newtown trialists who were unlikely to feature for the Jets during the season proper.

“Who was I going to leave out?” Murphy told Glen Dwyer in his book Taking it to the Streets: The Second Life of the Newtown RLFC.

“Which bloke who had trained his guts out for this game was going to be told by me that he wasn’t going to get a run? 

“Every one of those lads wanted to play in that game and deserved to. So I said to my staff, ‘Bugger it, let’s use every man in the whole pre-season squad.’”

“For many of them, this game was the pinnacle of their rugby league careers.”

Despite the gulf in class between the two sides, the Jets acquitted themselves well against their more fancied opposition. With their top team on the field, the Jets held the Storm to nil during the second quarter, but when Newtown’s second-stringers took the field, Melbourne ran riot, with a hat-trick to Turner helping the visitors to a 54-0 win.

Despite the disappointment of the meagre crowd and lost gate takings, there were still plenty of smiles amongst the Jets faithful. 

“The whole Storm team came back and joined us for the post-match function at the old Jets Sports club,” Lynch says.

“They were there for a few hours signing autographs and the like, they seemed like a good bunch of blokes.”

In a funny postscript, one prominent media personality was left red-faced the following day when he announced a crowd of 8,972 had attended the game after the famous figure had been published in a Sydney newspaper by a reporter who was more than familiar with the inside joke.

“Today’s official attendance ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls … is 8,972.”

Here are the names and playing backgrounds of twenty two of the Newtown Jets RLFC team that played in the game on Saturday March 6th, 2004.

Fullback: Andrew Le Breton (Former Penrith Jersey Flegg representative, with Newtown in 2003)

Wingers: Alf Duncan ( ex-Moree, Manly-Warringah, Wests-Tigers, Cronulla-Sutherland, with Newtown since 2001); Sioeli Helu (ex-Wellington NZ Bartercard Cup, New Zealand Residents representative; holds three University degrees, a bit of a rarity in Newtown club circles!!)

Centres: Nelson Leon (ex-Southport RLFC, Burleigh Bears RLFC, Queensland Schoolboys Representative); Ben Tickle (with Newtown since 2002, Parramatta junior representative player; NSW Catholic Schools rep).

Halves: Clayton Sellings (ex-Bulldogs RLFC, Kyogle RLFC); David Hall (ex-Port Kembla RLFC, referred to Newtown by Luke Goodwin)

Lock: Thomas Gemmell (ex-Wellington NZ Bartercard Cup; ex-New Zealand Residents captain)

Second Rowers: Bill Najjarin (ex-St. George and Bulldogs junior representative player; with Newtown since 2002; Jets Premier League Best and Fairest Winner in 2003); Mathieu Julia (ex-Pia RLFC, France and France “A” representative; recommended to Newtown by Craig Field, currently captain and coach of Pia).

Front Rowers: James Stosic (ex-NZ Bartercard Cup and Redcliffe RLFC in the Queensland Cup competition); Daniel Manousso (ex-South Sydney Rabbitohs and Souths Juniors)

Hooker: Adam Bennett (ex-Port Kembla, NSW Combined High Schools rep, also recommended to Newtown by Luke Goodwin)

Bench:  Clifford Manua (ex-Canterbury juniors), Chris Williams (ex-Penrith, ex-Western Suburbs, with Newtown since 1999) Peter Howie (ex-South Sydney Rabbitohs, played with Newtown in 2000); Dane Scott (ex-Kempsey RLFC),
Ben Cook (ex-Trinity Grammar School and a Combined Associated Schools Rugby representative, again a rarity in an impeccably working class club like Newtown!); David Vial (ex-Penrith Jersey Flegg representative),
Andrew Kaleopa (ex-Parramatta juniors representative, Samoan representative team); Troy Barnes (ex-South Sydney, Sydney Roosters, with Newtown since 2002), Nelson Lomi (ex-Sydney Roosters).

Coach: Colin Murphy (Newtown RLFC First Grade coach 1994-1997; Western Suburbs First Division coach 1998-1999; Newtown RLFC First Grade coach from 2000 to the present. Popularly referred to as the Kevin Sheedy of Rugby League football. One of the thirteen-a-side code’s great characters.)

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See you at the Golden Barley Hotel after this Saturday's game at Henson Park.

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Newtown Jets respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the Land and pay our respects to their Elders past and present. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on and that the land area encompassing Henson Park traditionally belonged to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.