An ode to Monday night football
After nearly a decade of fun, expect cases of 'Mondayitis' to skyrocket as people realise there will no longer be any rugby league relief to help them settle into the new working week.
It started as a revolutionary concept in the mid-1980s and was used on-and-off for over a decade, but Monday night football settled in for good in 2007 and has been a mainstay in the NRL ever since.
But from 2017 onwards, rugby league will no longer be played on Monday nights.
Instead of cursing what could have been, now is the time to reflect on the incredible moments provided over the years.
Would the Cowboys have won the competition last year had they not kicked their season into gear with a Monday night golden point win?
Where would players like Blake Ferguson (2009), Marika Koroibete (2012) and Matt Moylan (twice in 2014) have been if they hadn't kick-started their careers with eye-catching performances under Monday night lights?
How about Lote Tuqiri making his triumphant return to the game in the 2010 season, or what about Andrew Johns's final ever game in 2007? Yep, they were both Mondays.
As we feasted on take-away food and pretended it was the long weekend, Monday nights gave us the chance to forget about work and brought us a day closer to the next round of footy.
Mondays often meant sweating on a perfect round in tipping or doing the maths as you tried to cling on for a win in NRL Fantasy.
Above all, Mondays guaranteed that you would be treated to the most unpredictable match of the round with underdogs more than capable of upsetting the crème de la crème on any given night.
As the Eels and Dragons prepare to do battle in the final instalment of Monday night footy, here are the magnificent seven moments of MNF.
History is made - Bulldogs v Sea Eagles (Round 16, 1985)
It was fitting that where cricket was first played under lights, the first ever game of Monday night football between the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles took place at the grand old dame, the Sydney Cricket Ground. While only 1,408 people ventured to North Sydney Oval to watch the Bears get hammered by the Raiders the day before, more than 10,000 flooded into the SCG to watch the eventual premiers, the Bulldogs, prevail 16-12. Hooker Billy Johnstone, who scored only 14 tries in 166 top grade games, had the honour of scoring the first try on a Monday night.
Back to Belmore – Bulldogs v Storm (Round 16, 2015)
Was this the greatest game ever played? No. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a night with an atmosphere quite like it. After a 17-year wait, the Bulldogs finally returned to their spiritual home in Belmore to take on the team they last played at the venue, the Storm. From the opening whistle it was all Canterbury, and after just 13 minutes it was already 16-0 to the blue and whites. David Klemmer played like a man possessed, running for 230 metres including a charge from the kick-off that left several stunned defenders in his wake. The scenes after the game will live long in the memory banks of Bulldogs fans with the players belting out a rendition of the team song in front of the hill that sent chills down everyone in attendance. Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds has played in two grand finals and several State of Origin matches, but in a recent interview, described coming off the bench at Belmore as the greatest moment of his career.
The curse continues – Raiders v Dragons (Round 20, 2011)
While they've won their four most recent encounters, there was a time when the Dragons simply couldn't match it with the Green Machine. From 2003-2013, the Raiders won 15 from 16 against the Red V in one of the most dominant streaks in NRL history. That brings us to this classic contest from 2011. Things weren't going to script at half-time as the Dragons raced in four tries to one to take an 18-6 lead into the break. Only an off-night with the boot from Jamie Soward was keeping Canberra in the game, and the hosts made their 'bunnies' pay with back-to-back tries to draw level just after the hour mark. Having battled with his conversions, Soward had no such problems with his drop goals, nailing a 38-metre one-pointer to give the Dragons what should have been a match-winning lead with under two minutes to play. Alas, the Raiders recovered the restart, and two plays later, Josh McCrone showed nerves of steel to grubber early in the count for a flying Josh Dugan to score and extend the hoodoo.
Super Cooper shocks the Eels – Eels v Cowboys (Round 13, 2015)
Riding a nine-game winning streak, most pundits were expecting the Cowboys to make it a perfect 10 when they took on the Eels at Pirtek Stadium last year. But for the first 45 minutes, it seemed as if someone had forgotten to tell the hosts. Corey Norman set the tone early with a try inside three minutes, before Parramatta piled on three more first-half tries to hold a 24-6 lead at the break. By the time Semi Radradra backed up a break that he started near his own line, it looked as if the Eels would win by 50. Enter Gavin Cooper. In the space of seven minutes, the Cowboys back-rower turned the game on its head with three tries – all from Johnathan Thurston kicks – to somehow draw his side level. With momentum well and truly on their side, it was only a matter of time – 60 seconds to be precise – until North Queensland took the lead as Kane Linnett gathered a Lachlan Coote grubber to complete the biggest comeback in Monday night football history.
O-M-Gee - Roosters v Broncos (Round 14, 1996)
It took a moment of madness in the final minute to decide one of the greatest Monday night matches ever played. Competition heavyweights the Roosters and Broncos went toe-to-toe at the Sydney Football Stadium in game that has been remembered for one of the most infamous finishes impossible. But we'll get to that later. The first 79 minutes featured breathtaking football with the sides combining for four of the finest tries of the season. It took just three minutes for the visitors to open the scoring even though they probably didn't deserve it. Allan Langer's shortside chip kick went backwards but somehow ended up with Darren Lockyer who put on the afterburners to touch down. It didn't take long for the Chooks to respond as Peter Jorgensen showed sensational footwork and balance to evade a host of would-be defenders to help his side draw level. If you thought that was pretty, Robbie Ross's effort midway through the first half would have had you all hot and bothered as the Broncos winger finished off a set play that had more changes of angle than a Pythagoras diagram to cross under the sticks. It looked as if the Broncos would hold on for a famous win until a player very close to Ray Warren's heart stepped up to do something amazing. It's not often a commentator gets to call a player who shares their name with his or her town of birth, but that's what happened when Roosters winger Darren Junee chipped, chased, regathered and scored to level the scores four minutes from full-time. With a minute to go – and following a missed field goal from the Roosters – the match looked destined to finish 10-all. That was until Andrew Gee botched the 20-metre tap to gift the Roosters a dramatic win. Instead of releasing the ball for the tap restart, Gee maintained his grip for the place kick, allowing Ivan Cleary to step up and slot the match-winning penalty goal.
Mini Miracle – Rabbitohs v Roosters (Round 1, 2012)
Celebrity chef and food travel author Anthony Bourdain was in the house for this Round 1 meeting between the game's oldest rivals, but not even he could have cooked up what went down at ANZ Stadium. Locked at 12-all at the break, the Rabbitohs looked to have done enough when co-captain John Sutton sliced through – and rookie halfback Adam Reynolds knocked over a pair of goals – to give Souths an eight-point cushion. A crash play saw Jared Waerea-Hargreaves slash the deficit with two minutes to play, but not even the staunchest fans could have hoped for another Roosters try. Enter the Italian Stallion. It started with a crabbing run from Mitchell Pearce, a right-foot step from Mitchell Aubusson and then a speculative kick from Boyd Cordner. The result? A perfect bounce for the stampeding Anthony Minichiello who regathered and scored to pull off the great escape.
Souths pull a rabbit out of the hat - Roosters v Rabbitohs (Round 19, 2012)
They say that you can never beat the original. And while that might be true 99 per cent of the time, there are a few exceptions to the rule. In cinematic circles, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers proved to be superior sequels. In the culinary world, Hot 'n' spicy trumps original recipe chicken while TV critics will tell you that the second coming of Australian Survivor has surpassed the failed attempt from a decade ago. Rugby league is no different; you think you've seen everything and then Adam Reynolds goes and scores an absurd try from the kick-off to sink the Roosters in the most unimaginable way possible. Stinging from their Round 1 defeat earlier in the year, Souths looked done and dusted when Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce crossed to make it 22-12 with five minutes to play. That should have been the end of it. It wasn't. Nathan Merritt backed up a Chris McQueen run to narrow the gap in the 79th minute, but that still left the Rabbitohs needing to go 100 metres to steal the two competition points. A wonderful notion, but not even the people in Hollywood could script such a result. Unless of course you have Russell Crowe on your side. It started with a rampaging David Taylor, a pass to McQueen, an inside ball to the ever-present Merritt and then quick hands to find Issac Luke. The hooker could have taken the tackle, but adrenalin told him otherwise. Instead, he dumped a ball out the back more in hope than anything else. It could have bounced anywhere. It chose to sit up for Adam Reynolds. He scored. He kicked the goal. The scenes? Indescribable. Fox Sports commentator Warren Smith summed up the pandemonium at Allianz Stadium, and in essence, paid tribute to the countless twists and turns Monday night football have thrown up over the years:
"You can take me now, I have seen it all."
This article first appeared on NRL.COM