Long before a ball is kicked at Henson Park, match day begins in Marrickville pub the Henson over an ice-cold schooner of locally brewed Young Henrys where punters discuss the day’s game and the resurgence of this beloved working class rugby league team.
“Newtown have always been the perennial battlers,” says longtime fan Luke, 28, from Canada Bay. “The community has always had that ‘Up the Jets!’ attitude."
The ‘Bluebags’, as they were originally known, have one of the most storied histories in rugby league. As one of the game’s foundation clubs, they first took to the field in 1908 alongside the likes of Eastern Suburbs and South Sydney, going on to win three premierships in the top tier (in 1910, 1933 and 1943). They were kicked out of the league in 1983 due to financial reasons and they have spent the subsequent decades playing in lower-tier rugby league competitions. One hundred years since their inception, they now find themselves in the second-tier in the Intrust Super Cup, a breeding ground for NRL’s up-and-coming talent. The future of the Jets is looking brighter than ever.
“They’ve got a good team at grassroots level and a great succession plan for juniors. The players have bought into it and l think the community has bought into it. The crowds are going to get bigger and bigger,” says Luke.
Raffle ticket seller Christine, 50, from Leichhardt, agrees. “It goes off,” she says. “The hipsters are starting to get into all that stuff [too]. They love it. It’s the whole community atmosphere – local schools run cake stalls, some of the money we raise goes to women’s refuges, it’s really solid.”
Photograph: Jed Smith
Much of Sydney’s Inner West is a working-class heartland that’s bred some of the famously tough game’s most recognisable hard men – and none more so than the Jet’s former footballer Tommy ‘Cattledog’ Raudonikus. This combination of old and new, tough and tolerant, is key to the team’s popularity.
After failing to make the finals last year, the Jets are in third place on the ladder heading into Sunday’s clash with Blacktown Workers (a feeder club for the top-tier NRL team, the Manly Sea Eagles). As the game gets underway, the Workers spring out to an early lead and desperation sets in for the fans.
“He knocked it on, dickhead!” screams a die-hard fan behind us. Her voice is hoarse, and testament to the religious fervour of a Jets fan. “Are your eyes painted on linesman?”
When halfback Kyle Flanagan kickstarts a scintillating backline movement to the left the Jets score, right under the nose of ‘hipster hill’, which means it’s showtime for Newtown local character Johnny Trad, famously rides his penny farthing round the loop every time the Jets score a try. It’s a tip of the cap to Henson Park’s history as a Velodrome, built in 1937.
Trad says he was a cameraman here for nine years, but after his camera broke he brought along a bike and the performance was a hit with the children. “We scored a try, I did a lap, and that was it – kids chasing me, high-fiving. I never brought the camera again,” he says.
As the floodlights fire up, the Jets score two tries in as many minutes. The Bluebags go hard in the last play of the game, but the Workers' winger soars higher, resulting in a 24-26 upset. The sting of defeat is softened by a beer and a burger back at the Henson, where Saturday night out in old Sydney town really gets started.
Be part of ‘hipster hill’ or join the longtime fans for the Newtown Jet’s next home game on Saturday August 18 against the NZ Warriors.