GALLERY: Competition fierce in Oztag comp

Remember when Bill Harrigan stood, unflinchingly, almost nose to nose with Gorden Tallis, so angry that those seated in the front row could almost feel the Raging Bull snarling?

Well, sending off one of Queensland’s fiercest warriors in the State Of Origin arena might have been a stroll in the park compared to Harrigan’s latest task.

The man dubbed ‘‘Hollywood’’ was at the epicentre of some 4500 kids flashing all that velcro like an out-of-commission fashion designer looking for the latest hip garment.

Jinking and turning, passing and kicking, and racking up dives at a rate Matthew Mitcham would struggle to comprehend.

And the tents. All those tents. Scattered around the perimeter of Dalton Park like Wollongong now had its own tent embassy.

The occasion? Oztag’s 2013 Junior State Cup – and Harrigan was again pulling the strings as the tournament director.

If it felt far removed from his days as rugby league’s leading whistleblower, it probably wasn’t.

The fluro shirt was still on – although this time to signify his official off-the-field capacity rather than status on it.

The ear piece was still in – although to communicate with an army of workers at all corners of the complex.

And there was even a mascot for good measure – a Dragon nonetheless representing the horde of St George sides – most of whose players were too young to remember that video referee decision in 1999.

To put the task of Harrigan and his cohorts into perspective, you have to listen to where the Junior State Cup has come from.

‘‘Let’s go back six or seven years,’’ Harrigan said. 

‘‘We had 60 teams when we first started Junior State Cup.

‘‘Here we had 236 teams and we’re knocking teams back. We’ve got 17 fields and we’re just about running games on all of them in every timeslot. We are crazy.’’

GALLERY: Country kids 'ready to win' Oztag Cup 

Crazy enough to accommodate crowds a similar size to what Harrigan would have encountered back in his NRL days.

‘‘I reckon on any given day here there would have been 10,000 people – including players,’’ Harrigan said.

‘‘With spectators I always double it so if there was 4,500 players, you can always double it with kids and parents.’’

What is more certain is the intensity these games are played with.

You can hear it, sort of, in the hoarse voices of those coaches still barking instructions late on finals day.

‘‘It gets a bit tense there towards the end,’’ said Shellharbour’s boys 16s coach Gary Sampson, who watched his side scramble past St George 5-4 in the final with Jay Field taking man of the match honours.

‘‘To think we’ve come from a little comp down in Shellharbour with 900 kids playing to have all these teams in the state titles.

‘‘I suppose it’s that little bit slower than touch football and obviously doesn’t have the physical side that rugby league has. It really is growing in popularity.’’

So much, that Shellharbour had 14 sides across the 18 divisions and made three finals. Wollongong had 11 sides, too. Tamworth even had representation.

And when it’s all said and done, Harrigan takes one trip down memory lane.

Personally handing payment to his arsenal of referees, some of them as dirty as the players they controlled, thanking them each and sending them on their way.

‘‘We had over 50 referees each day and they worked hard,’’ Harrigan said. 

‘‘They had plenty of games and without them you don’t have competition.

‘‘I’ve always got to give a big thank you to the refs and it’s the biggest contingent of refs we’ve ever had.’’

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