David Clegg Relives The Climax To The Million Pound Game In The Company Of The Key Players Involved
Having been thwarted, by his opposite number, from scoring himself, Niall’s quick play-the-ball, seconds before the hooter, enabled the ball to be moved inside, where Mark Flanagan took the game by the scruff of the neck. The fact that the hooter sounded whilst he still had hold of the ball, must have been fright enough to cause panic in many of us, but Mark is made of much sterner stuff. Far from panicking he realised it was the last throw of the dye and determined to make it count.
And count it did! With the pass he calls The Sydney Harbour Bridge Pass, which, in distance was as effective as a moderate kick, and delivered with the accuracy of in-built laser-guidance, he sent the ball to the very place the Rovers’ defence was at its thinnest, with left winger Mantellato still detaching himself from the ruck on the other side of the field, where he had been forced to take up the role of marker for Niall’s play-the-ball.
“It was one of those times in the game where you’ve just got to try something,” is Mark’s judgement, “I knew with our having broken down the left, there was going to be space on the right. I do like passing, and having the ball in my hands.
“I have played stand-off in the past, so have a few of those skills up my sleeve, and I do try to keep them sharp in training. I had, in fact, been throwing out that particular pass in warm-ups, over the two or three weeks before the game, and they seemed to keep coming off, so on the spur of the moment I just threw it, and said a quick prayer. I don’t think it was forward.”
That, too, was the opinion of touch judge, Warren Turley, who was directly in line with it, and he had no hesitation in giving referee, Phil Bentham, the nod for the try, which followed.
As far as the impact of the hooter going whilst he had hold of the ball, he says, “You can’t go down wondering, so, when I saw Ben [Murdoch-Masila] I just backed myself, gave it all my strength, and the ball ended up in his hands. I knew then that we were going to win. Even when the kick was being lined up, I knew that whether it were successful or not we would go on to win.
“Momentum is a massive thing in rugby league. When you get that going for you it becomes very difficult for the opposition to stop it.”
On the face of it Ben Murdoch-Massilla had a simple task in merely having to catch the pass and send it on to Greg Johnson, on the wing. Sometimes, however, the simple thing is most difficult to do, purely because of its simplicity. How often, for example, has a younger, less experienced player, in similar circumstances, had a red mist descend over him, gone for glory, and failed? We all should be thankful that it was someone as level-headed as Ben who thought of nothing other than doing his job efficiently.
“”I was so involved concentrating on the developing play, I didn’t even hear the hooter,” he admits. “I just saw the ball coming over from a very long pass, and had to make sure I took it cleanly. During my time in the NRL the practice of taking the ball and getting it out to the wing was instilled in us, and that is what I did automatically.
“I never remotely thought of trying to go over, myself, because I am very much a team player. I had seen Greg Johnson out of the corner of my eye and just tipped it on to him. I’d also seen someone in front of me so I held the ball for a moment, until he had committed himself to coming towards me.”
So it only remained for Greg to take advantage of the bonus seconds afforded by the ball having been kept alive.
“I’d seen Josh Griffin breaking through and we’d seen the Hull KR boys moving across,” he explains, “so by the time Niall had played the ball we were all screaming for the ball to be passed over to us. Then Mark Flanagan did that miracle pass to Benny, and as he moved it on to me, my main thought was just to get the job done.
“Since then I’ve watched it back on video, six times in the first week, and I still find it thrilling to watch, even now. Each time I see it I’ve just been so thankful it was a simple pass to take, because that made sure there were no problems. For one moment, I did have the thought of dummying the grounding and then going closer in towards the sticks, but then I thought better of it, which was just as well because, thanks to Gareth O’Brien, he got us that magnificent drop goal.”
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