Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (9 May) . . Page.. 1441..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
Back in 1997 I can recall going to North Sydney with Mark Owens, who was then general manager of the Bureau of Sport and Recreation, to see the Australia Rugby Union. I must say they were quite frank and quite straight with us, which was good. They indicated that, yes, Bruce Stadium was a magnificent stadium and that the Brumbies were going very well-I detected they were somewhat surprised perhaps at how well the Brumbies were going because the ACT has always been the poor cousin compared with New South Wales and Queensland, but that is certainly changing.
They certainly conceded, "Right, it's about time you guys got something." I remember them saying, "All right, we'll give you something in 1998. It could be a double-header, and it'll probably be something like you'll play Tonga or Fiji or Samoa." I said, "Well, come on, how about a game a year for the next three years?" They settled on, "We can promise you two in three years, and maybe something like Argentina, Canada or the United States would be another game. Possibly we could give you Scotland but probably we'll leave that-it's very hard to take that away from Sydney or Brisbane."
I must admit they were true to their word, because in 1998 Australia did play Tonga in a world cup qualifier in Canberra-flogged them about 78 to 3, I think-and Fiji played Western Samoa. I recall that Fiji had got out of 15-a-side rugby, and I think that was the first time they had beaten another major island state for some years. They had been concentrating on sevens, so that game was fairly historic-and it was a very good game.
I also can personally recall being a little bit apprehensive because the Western Samoans brought out a Western Samoan old boys side, which the ACT vets played. I can remember on a Monday turning up at RMC oval and there were all these very large islanders hanging around. I thought, "Someone has made a mistake here. These blokes look like they are about 25 or 30; they look incredibly fit. Oh no, don't tell me we have to play them." I was then very relieved to see my old mate, Falamani Mafi, who had played with uni in 1992, back from Japan, representing Tonga in the second row. I knew full well that Mafi represented Tonga so that must be the Tongan national side, and I breathed this huge sigh of relief.
I went up and had a good chat to Mafi and then saw a more elderly team from the islands come out, some with grey hair, some of them more podgy perhaps than their younger counterparts from Tonga. I thought, "That's the mob we're playing." Sure enough, that was the case and we had a very good game. I don't remember the score-it is always 9-all in veterans games. I do recall, however, pulling a hamstring, thinking that if I ran fast and backed up the number 8, he would get tackled on about the 22 and I could score under the posts. I had gone about 20 metres and pulled a hamstring. I can recall getting rather bad looks from my cabinet colleagues as I hobbled into cabinet with an icepack that afternoon.
However, the staging of the games at Bruce Stadium was very successful. Australia, of course, went on to win the world cup in 1999. In 2000, we had a test match with Argentina. It was not a great spectacle as a game, but again it showed how well Canberra can host international sporting events, international rugby events. Australia won that game before a crowd of over 20,000 people. The ARU were very happy with that game because, basically, they did not think they could have got a bigger crowd elsewhere. Again, they were very happy with Canberra as a venue.