It was one of the greatest things that has ever happened in a game of rugby league, but at what cost, asks Calum Henderson.
Fullback Ben Barba scored two first half tries to lead the Cronulla Sharks to a 26-10 victory over the Penrith Panthers at Pepper Stadium on Sunday afternoon – the team’s 13th win in a row – but his tryscoring feats were overshadowed by the rare and joyous sight of a cat on the pitch.
Eight-and-a-half minutes into the second half, with the understrength Sharks holding onto a narrow 8-6 lead, commentator Andrew Johns interrupted proceedings with a major announcement: “I just saw a cat runnin’ down the field,” he spluttered, “I’m sure it was!”
Could it be true? Or was Johns suffering some kind of terrifying hallucination? A slow-motion replay soon proved Johns was right – there really had been a cat on the pitch.
A black medium-haired domestic cat was shown running along the halfway line before performing an abrupt 90 degree turn to sprint along the touchline towards goal, as if on its way to score a magnificent breakaway try. It slowed only after crossing the dead ball line before disappearing from camera shot.
— NRL (@NRL) July 10, 2016
Little information was immediately available about the Pepper Stadium cat. Where did it come from, and where did it go? Did it successfully find its way out of the stadium and to safety? What is the cat’s name? Who are the cat’s owners? Or was it a stray? Perhaps, as Johns speculated, it was “a miniature panther”?
On Monday afternoon the club released a statement titled ‘Black Cat Update‘ saying the cat is believed to be a local stray, and that this was not the first time it had been sighted at Pepper Stadium.
What the statement failed to address was the fact that since the cat ran onto the pitch, the Penrith Panthers have not won a game.
The Sharks, missing six first team players due to injury or State of Origin commitments, pulled away shortly afterwards, with a pair of tries to Mitch Brown and Joseph Paulo coming in the 51st and 54th minutes. Another to Luke Lewis in the 69th minute put the result beyond doubt, and secured the Sharks’ position at the top of the NRL table.
The Panthers, who went into the game as favourites and had dominated the first half, spurned a golden chance to leapfrog the Warriors on the table and consolidate their foothold in the top 8.
There is only one reasonable explanation for their second half capitulation, and it is the cat.
The black cat, who somehow got onto the pitch at Pepper Stadium, and put a curse on the Penrith Panthers.