While trolling for sports news on Facebook, I found an impassioned letter from a long-suffering Parramatta Eels fan, asking the club for compensation for all the heartache he’s endured: the dark days of the nineties, the late nineties revival, the 2001 grand final, the massive heart of Hindy and the Kieran Foran saga. Among all this drama, one name stood out: Paul Carige, the alleged villain of the Eels’ 1998 premiership push.
With little memory of Carige, I decided to look it up. What I saw was horrifying.
Footy fans know the story; the grand final qualifier between Parramatta and Canterbury. The Eels finished fourth and were full of brim after beating the North Sydney Bears and eventual premiers Brisbane to earn a week off. Canterbury had finished ninth to qualify for the bloated 10-team finals and had knocked off St. George, North Sydney and Newcastle. Leading 18-2 with 10 minutes left, the Eels and their fullback Paul Carige looked like they’d sewn up a grand final against Brisbane.
Then Carige’s day got a whole lot worse.
With the scores locked at 18-all late in the game, Canterbury kicked towards Parramatta’s tryline. Carige put a foot over the dead ball line and waited for the rolling ball to pass him, earning a 20 metre restart. Cargie overbalanced, the ball stopped and he conceded a goal-line drop out.
With full-time approaching, Canterbury had another failed field goal attempt, which was retrieved by Carige. Rather than take the tackle, Carige kicked the ball, giving Craig Polla-Mounter a long-range field goal shot. Fortunately for Carige, it just missed.
In extra time, with Canterbury leading 19-18 (these were the days before golden point) Carige leapt to take a bomb close to his tryline – and fatally – close to the sideline.
Carige did it again in the second period of extra time (with Canterbury infront 25-18), retrieving a clearing kick, turning on his heel and stepping on the sideline.
Remember that Simpsons episode ‘The Principal and Pauper’ when Principal Skinner is revealed as Armin Tamzarian and the real Principal Skinner comes to Springfield, but proves to be a major wet blanket? Also remember the farewell scene when Skinner (hands up if you read that in Superintendent Chalmers’ voice) is tied to a train as he leaves Springfield? That’s how Carige was treated. Rightly or wrongly, Carige was the scapegoat for Parramatta’s loss. He left the club and the country seeking a fresh start.
There have been plenty of howlers in rugby league; Souths’ Steve Mavin against Canberra in 1987, Justin Hodges in Origin and Darren Lockyer against the Kiwis, but most players are forgiven. Not Carige.
You have to feel sorry for Carige. He played over 60 games for the Eels and Illawarra, Including 27 for the Eels in 1998, scoring nine tries. He did resume his footy career in the UK Super League, playing for Salford City Reds in 1999.
Regardless, Carige’s legacy is that nightmare day at the SFS.