Home away from home. Goodbye the Shire, hello Taupo.‏

Dragons tragic Steven Gallagher writes for us again- this time, talking about his experience watching the Warriors in Taupo, NZ.

It was a 350 kilometre journey for myself and two friends on the weekend. With the Cronulla Sharks bringing their home game to Taupo, New Zealand to play the Warriors it was a must-take road trip. My two friends are mad Warriors fans, and with the Warriors being the main league focus in this country it’s not hard to know what’s going on for them. Being a Kiwi they take a second focus for me and I enjoy watching them play. Being the league fanatic I am I do watch the majority of the games each week but getting along to an NRL game for me is rare living out of Wellington. So when the chance came up to head along, I took it with both hands.

We arrived in Taupo just before midday. Driving through the city centre their were fans with Warriors jerseys everywhere. The community had gotten behind the fixture with shop front windows covered with paintings of Cronulla emblems and welcoming them to the area. It was really good to see. Making Cronulla feel at home away from home must have been a really wonderful thing to see for the boys from the Shire. The sun was shining, so you couldn’t have asked for more considering the forecast all week was overcast and occasional showers.

As we got to Owen Delany Park, it was a snail’s pace. It had seemed every man and his dog were out to make the most of this game. Owen Delany Park is usually host to domestic rugby and cricket. The last time any international fixture was played there was back in 2001 where the New Zealand cricket side played a One Day International. This time it was marked out for league and there was a buzz in the air. It was a really great sight.

We arrived to watch the second half of the National Youth Competition match. To see a crowd of around 5,000 people already at the ground was something which made me smile. The crowd cheered and really got behind the Junior Warriors, as they prevailed to win comfortably in their Toyota Cup game. The cluster of fans started to flood in, with the bank being filled up slowly and the grandstand near maximum capacity.

Looking around I saw a vast array of rugby league jerseys. Some old Cronulla tops that hadn’t been worn since the days of Steve Rogers had been dusted off and worn to the ground to get behind the Sharks. Fans wearing blue and black colours overwhelmed the green of the grass. Flags of Warriors and Sharks being waved in the sunlight. It was approaching game time and the crowd were really enjoying the occasion.

It was hard to tell who got a bigger cheer, the Warriors or the Sharks as they emerged from the tunnel. I wasn’t too sure but the anticipation of kick-off seemed to have everyone on their feet raring for 80 minutes of rugby league. As the whistle went, an eruption of noise rung out and it was on. Fans all around the ground were getting behind it. From the toddlers running around, to the elderly perched on their blankets on the embankment. It was phenomenal.

The Warriors managed to prevail, taking their first win of the season by 26-18 and only their third win from 13 appearances elsewhere in New Zealand away from their home of Mount Smart. At the end of the day, rugby league was the winner. The game was a huge success in Taupo. The Warriors fans went home happy, the Cronulla fans still had a smile on their face despite not getting the desired result.

As we walked back with the masses to our car, those surrounding us couldn’t stop talking about the game. Lots of people were mentioning how they’d love to see another NRL fixture here in 2012. As we got into the car, it was slow going yet again but a line of cars waving flags and fans yahooing and cheering it didn’t matter. It was a major success and everyone loved it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *