Speedway is the sleeper hit of the 2012 sporting year.
An exciting evening was had by all at Western Springs when the old girl hosted the opening round of this year's world series. Long may the Speedway GP come to this country.
Provincial sorts delight in blanketing Auckland with a Jafa reputation, but subcultures abound. Go to the movies in Epsom and you will be smothered in white, older and middle-class - New Zealand the way it used to seem to be. Go to the Speedway and the blue rinse is replaced by the black leather waistcoat.
Saturday night was like being plonked in the middle of Outrageous Fortune. So older blokes really do wear shiny leather trousers. While this wasn't a formal occasion, black attire ruled. You sensed the western motorway had just been given a decent workout.
Speedway is the king of motorsport with a working-class image. It is brilliantly short and sharp, down and dirty. The sport has eschewed high-tech innovation, so retains a traditional feel even though some riders wish otherwise. Skill rules, although tinkering with the engines is important.
It's head-to-head-to-head-to-head in four-man heats, a kind of boxing on wheels, with amazing skills, reactions and courage needed to keep the bikes upright and find the best lines. Strike a good heat, and the action is breathtaking.
The wild Dane Nicki Pedersen went tumbling towards the fence, just avoided being run over, lay prone, dusted himself down, and ended up in the final. English Premier League soccer players make more fuss about doing handshakes.
All was not perfect on Saturday night with two major problems, one easier to fix than the other.
First, there wasn't a Kiwi rider involved. Jason Bunyan wore the colours, but he's not world class nor is he really a New Zealander. A slight con job passed off the Brit - a regular to our shores - as the local wildcard. An acquaintance was a touch confused about Bunyan.
"I heard him on the radio and he sure didn't sound like a New Zealander," my mate reckoned.
The track announcer lauded the Australian crowd support and implored the locals to get noisy. This missed a key point - there wasn't anyone to back, whereas the Aussies had two strong contenders.
This problem is nigh on impossible to fix quickly. The GP would have been more interesting and wildly noisy if a young Ivan Mauger had been out there challenging the best of the best, including eventual winner and current world champion Greg Hancock. The 41-year-old American was superb, from whoa to go. He seemed faster than the rest, and untroubled in kicking off his bid for a third world title in style. In glory days long gone, he would have had a top-notch Kiwi and a roaring crowd to beat.
Second problem: the "big" scoreboard was impossible to decipher from the opposite side of the track.
"The big scoreboard isn't big enough," said the bloke next to me.
Compared with the publicity other sports we could mention get, world-class speedway came to town in a typically down-to-earth way. Let's hope the city helps ensure that promoter Bill Buckley can bring the event back for two more years, as his contract allows. Speedway is trying to push the boundaries globally, so the opportunity exists to make a world series round permanent in Auckland, although doubts over Western Springs' future won't help.
There will be issues, as there always are with a new event. But there is no issue around the thrill that is speedway.
Warriors get a pecking
The Warriors were awful against the Roosters. Apart from being disorganised and low-skilled, they were intimidated by a fired-up Roosters pack led by the aggressive Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
There was no rhythm, from dummy half to defence. Little things that went against the Roosters prevented the 18-point margin being much greater. James Maloney deserved a small tick and most of the rest crosses. (The thought of Maloney departing at the end of the season becomes more distressing by the week).
Until the weekend, the Warriors' wins were against the two worst teams in the NRL (Titans and Eels) but then the Eels shocked the champion Manly Sea Eagles. Clutching at straws, the win over the Eels takes on a new meaning, which is about the only positive for the Warriors from the weekend's action.
The start to Brian McClennan's NRL career was likely to be paved with potholes, but finding one this deep is a worry.
Rousing night for PhoenixA goal glut brought a dramatic end to the Phoenix's playoff win over Sydney FC. The crowds may not be huge at Westpac Stadium but they sure know how to let themselves go and make a noise. The support for the Phoenix on Friday night was amazing.
Take your pick out of the tries from the Hurricanes and Cheetahs, who are very un-South African in their flamboyant approach to the game. Hard to believe they are coached by a couple of old Springbok forwards.By Chris Rattue Email Chris