AFTER covering the NRL, State of Origin and Test matches for nearly 25 years, you can forget what rugby league at the grassroots is truly like.
Blast from the past...Solomon Haumono hits the ball up for Valley United against Forestville. Picture: Brett Costello Source: The Daily Telegraph
You watch for free from a sterile press box while being fed hot food, drinks, stats and bulldust from club officials in suits.
It takes a day like yesterday at humble Ferretville Oval in Forestville to remember why rugby league engulfed my childhood.
An A-grade game in the Manly Warringah competition ended with Valley United beating Forestville 20-12.
Standing behind the rope near the sideline, you could smell the hot dogs cooking in the canteen. The two ladies running it were clapping last-placed Forestville off the field.
There were the volunteers, the kids kicking a footy in the in-goal area and a group of noisy Ferrets fans in the back of a ute drinking beer.
We were there to watch the footy comeback of former champion second-rower Solomon Haumono, who played for Valley United.
Haumono conducted our interview while changing in the carpark. But he wasn't the only familiar face on show.
Playing for the Ferrets was ex-Australian forward Richard Villasanti. He scored a try and Haumono created some damage after four years away from the game.
Injured Manly fullback Brett Stewart lay on the hill enjoying the footy and sun.
Steve Gearin, who scored the famous Canterbury try that won the 1980 grand final, was sitting near Jason Death, the ex-South Sydney and Warriors hooker.
Matt Nable, the former player who starred in The Final Winter and now works on The Matty Johns Show, was also there.
They watched a ferocious match between two highly committed teams. It was bloody tough footy.
"It was a bit of fun - I enjoyed it," Haumono said.
"My timing was out a little but I enjoy the camaraderie.
"I'll keep playing for the rest of this year but I am still boxing. I want a rematch with Justin Whitehead."
Valley coach and former Manly forward Dave Hoban called Haumono last week to talk about a comeback.
"He got back to me within an hour and a half and said he was in," Hoban said. "He ran out of match fitness today but I didn't think he went too bad.
"His speed at the play-the-ball was fantastic. You can tell he has played at the highest level. He will get better."
Villasanti and Haumono shook hands at fulltime.
"I played with Sol [Haumono] at the Tigers in 1999," Villasanti said. "In 1996, we also toured PNG together with the Samoan side.
"It's great that former NRL players can come back to A grade and give a little back to the game. I just love rugby league. Once you get the bug, it never leaves you."
Everyone had the same bug at Ferretville yesterday and I was among true footy fans.
It was an afternoon every reporter should experience.