Iconic Leichhardt Oval has seen some nail-biting rugby league matches in its time but rarely has it hosted Chief of Navy in its commentary box.
Vice Admiral Tim Barrett joined 300 other fans at Leichhardt on 11 October for the final match between Australia and New Zealand in the 2014 Navy Tri-Nations Rugby League Tournament.
Earlier in the week the Royal Australian Navy team, the Navy Tridents, took on a determined and sizable Royal Navy (RN) squad. The Tridents led at half time 12-6 and then late in the second half took the lead to 18-6 but a resolute fight back by the RN towards the end resulted in a 18-12 win to the Australians.
The RN then backed up to play the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) team with both sides determined to walk away with a victory. However in the end the RNZN's quicker outside backs were able to scoot around the RN defensive line to run away with a 28-14 win although the final score of four tries to three suggested a more closely fought match.
The match between Australia and New Zealand took place in a carnival atmosphere with both teams refusing to cede ground.
The RNZN grabbed an early lead with the score 16-4 at half time with another quick try after the break taking the New Zealanders to a 22-4 lead. But the Australians fought back hard to level the scores at 22-all with eight minutes to play.
The bounce of the ball and a willing RNZN defence resulted in another try to the Kiwis. Both teams scored five tries each but a couple of extra conversions made the difference with the Kiwis ultimately crowned the Navy Tri-Nations Rugby League Champions.
Tournament organiser and President of RAN Rugby League Lieutenant Commander Darren Nembach, described the competition as an exhilarating experience.
"When the Tridents came off the field at the end they were beyond exhaustion.
“They may have gone down finally to the New Zealanders 22-26 but they still felt like winners," he said.
“Good spirits, camaraderie and self discipline by all represented true Navy character and values," he said.
Lieutenant Commander Nembach is in no doubt what gave his team that extra bounce against a competitive and determined opposition.
"Having Vice Admiral Barrett come into the dressing room shed at half time was truly inspirational,” he said.
“The men carried themselves into the second half with pride in their jersey and in their Service. They were determined to perform the best they could for their country and for the Royal Australian Navy,” he said.
The Royal Navy will host the next Navy Tri-Nations Tournament in 2018 in England.
Able Seaman Boatswains Mate James Ryan is emerging as one of rugby league’s most promising front rowers but ask him which team’s colours he wishes to wear most and his answer is simple: “It is an absolute honour to be playing for Navy”.
Posted to Armidale Class Patrol Boat crew, Assail Three, Able Seaman Ryan can be found playing in the local Darwin competition on his days off with his father and uncle travelling from their Gold Coast home to watch him play. They were also in Sydney to cheer on the Navy Tridents during Saturday’s final.
Ryan’s performance during the tournament caught the eye of selectors when he was invited to join the Combined Australian Services Rugby League (CASRL) team up against an open representative team from the NSW RL prestigious Ron Massey Cup (RMC) competition.
He was one of five Navy players who pulled their boots back on just two hours after the Tri-Nations final which also saw the RN field a team against an RMC under 23 representative side. Although both RMC teams took home the honours, the CASRL team upheld the strong reputation of the Australian Defence Force with their spirit and determination.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20143073.