THE Steamers and Waratahs describe their relationship as being about mutual respect but that wasn’t always the case.
The rivalry between tomorrow’s combatants in the Southern Inland Rugby Union grand final was frosty at best in the early noughties, even bitter.
An on-field incident that festered into off-field pot shots marred the relationship and has taken time to rebuild.
The pair meet for the third time this season tomorrow — the ledger standing at one apiece.
In 1987, the Tahs were unbackable favourites to take the title but were beaten 12-3 in what was the blue and gold’s first premiership.
Then, in 2004 with a minute left on the clock and the scores locked at 18-all, the Steamers gave away a penalty about 45 metres out — the Waratahs’ kicker making no mistake to take the title.
Steamers president Justin Clancy describes it as a strong rivalry.
“There is little love between the Wagga clubs and Albury,” he said.
“Waratahs would be without question the most decorated club in the competition and I guess that rivalry, because of their reputation, is a little more intense.
“There is also a few of us — myself, Dan Hogg, Nathan Bright and Mick Alexander — who were part of the team beaten on the bell in 2004.
“There was a period when there was a bit of niggle but it’s fair to say that it’s respect now.”
Tahs president Paul Meggison was part of the beaten grand-final team in 1987.
“That year the Steamers hijacked our aspirations and we are hoping to do something similar on Saturday,” he said.
“Admittedly, this team from Albury-Wodonga has remained undefeated all year and posted huge winning margins.
“But we have been the quiet achievers and carry plenty of team spirit — if there is a team that can beat the Steamers, it’s our boys.”