People travel for many reasons, some business, some personal whilst others travel to follow their idols of music and sport. Whilst in the Victorian capital although they would not qualify as my first team of choice, I was more than happy to visit the Melbourne Storm Family Fun Day.
The Melbourne Storm are a rugby league team competing in the Australian national competition called the NRL. It is quite a unique franchise since Melbourne, Victoria is not a place renowned for it’s love of rugby league. In fact when it comes to sport the country of Australia is very divided. If you go to Queensland or New South Wales then rugby league is the equivalent of the national sport. Head to Victoria or South Australia and it is AFL (Australian Rules Football) all the way.
At times it really does feel like a divided country as a sporting nation. Whilst on my recent trip to Australia the rugby league world club challenge was taking place which featured 3 Australian and 3 English teams. Yet as I read the local daily newspapers in Melbourne they didn’t once discuss this. However they’d have a half page write up each on how Liverpool and Manchester City were performing in the English Premier League. (They have nothing to do with Australia.)
In spite of this lack of passion for rugby league, the Melbourne Storm have been a relatively successful team since they formed in the 1990s (23rd June 1997). The have won a number of Premierships and Grand Finals. In more recent years this success has been tarnished when it was discovered that in the earlier years some of this success came about through breaking salary cap rules.
More recently their successes have been with a squad considered to be within the rules of the game.
If anyone follows rugby league then they will be familiar with the “big 3” of players in the Storm squad. That being Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. All three are considered some of the best players in the world. Not only do they represent Melbourne Storm but also Queensland in the State of Origin series and the national Australian team (current World Champions). In fact Cameron Smith has been captain of the national team for a few years.
So it was a simple choice for me once I heard about the fun day activities which were to be held in Gosch’s Paddock.
This is a field beside the AAMI Stadium (home to the Melbourne Storm). In fact AAMI Stadium hosts a range of sporting teams including the Melbourne Rebels (the Melbourne rugby union side) and Melbourne Victory who have won the A-League (football) a few times.
The Melbourne Storm Family Fun Day Event
The Melbourne Storm Family Fun Day was a pre-season event and helps players and fans to get together. The day of fun in Melbourne was free whilst in Gosch’s Paddock.
Events appeared to include a reserve team match against the Canterbury Bulldogs (Sydney based team) reserve side, live music on stage, an introduction of the current season squad plus an opportunity to meet the cheerleaders and the club mascot (rather unimaginatively called “Storm Man”).
The highlight of course for any true fan was to meet the players.
An autograph tent was set up as people queued to meet the sporting stars.
I joined the queue and it took maybe 40-45 minutes until I got to the front. It was a glorious hot day in Melbourne yet so typical of Melbourne weather we had a short rain and thunder storm during this time. As I saw the lightning flash in the sky I saw the irony of it all.
Although I follow the NRL a little bit on TV at home I can’t confess to knowing the full Melbourne Storm squad. Seeing the “big 3” was always going to be my main objective.
I was even fortunate enough to have Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk record a personal video message for my bride at home. Here is a snippet…
Such nice lads.
Although Smith, Cronk and Slater are big names the likes of Proctor and the Bromwich brothers are not unfamiliar to me.
Part way through autograph signing some of the players (including Billy Slater) had to leave and head to the AAMI Stadium. A little bit later they were going to be in a trial match against the 1st team of Canterbury Bulldogs. (In Australia they call it a trial match whereas in the UK we tend to call them a pre-season friendly, it’s all semantics.)
Watching the trial match with first teamers was not a free event, however a reduced price of $25 meant that most people were willing to attend after the fun day activities in the paddock.
Only one stand in the ground was made available for fans. Since it was not a competitive match the crowd was never going to be large.
As we watched the players warm up and then the beginning of the match I was familiar with a few of the players from both teams.
Blake Green had recently joined the Melbourne Storm. I’d seen him play many times in England for Hull Kingston Rovers then the Wigan Warriors.
In addition, the captain of the Canterbury Bulldogs was an Englishman by the name of James Graham. This powerful red head used to play in England for St Helens.
Since the rugby league season back home in England was getting underway it was great to get my RL fix away from home. My team in England (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats) had got off to a great start this season so it was a shame to miss them because of this business trip.
This trial match between the Melbourne Storm and Canterbury Bulldogs was a great way to enjoy the new season. A close encounter in the end saw the Melbourne Storm win by 32 points to 30. It was an impressive result since they were going into the final quarter losing 30 points to 16.
As I’ve discovered before, the Melbourne Storm are very much a fan orientated club. At the end of the match the players went around the field so they could sign autographs and let fans take selfies with them.
I must admit that I am a lover of many sporting events and rugby league is one of my favourites. Admittedly the game is not truly a global sport so it is great to see the high skill levels played in Australia.
I’ve tried a few AFL matches in Australia too but I just can’t get excited about that sport.
If you are ever in Australia or England then I’d recommend that you get a taste for rugby league. A full on contact and physically demanding sport; it also has fans who make a great atmosphere.
As a result of the high level of fitness demanded from the players I even know of women admitting to going to games just to look at the players’ legs!
Here are a selection of more pictures I took that afternoon at the Melbourne Storm Family Fun Day.
Do you take the time to experience local sport when you travel? Where have you been and who have you seen? Let me know in the comments below.
The Melbourne Storm Family Fun Day was a wonderful day out ending with a Melbourne victory.