If you were watching rugby for the first time you'd think that it was a strange game where the players just flop over the ball until someone passes it or the ref blows his whistle. Football would be easier to pick up, until someone was offside. And roller derby looks like a bunch of girls in frilly panties skating fast and hitting each other. And some terrible sports reporters might think just that.
The 174-88 score line of Skate Highway One suggests something different.
New Zealand's first intercity bout featured Auckland's Pirate City All Scars [sic] and Wellington's Richter City All Stars. Richter City had agile jammers with amazing acceleration. The Pirates came with solid and well-drilled interplay between their blockers… and agile jammers with amazing acceleration. Guess who won.
Richter City's blocking has been progressing over the season but their accomplishments were for nought compared to the combinations the Pirate's skaters had built up over the years. Channels would open up for Pirate's jammers and skaters like Fia Fasi Oi ("Do you want a hiding?" in Samoan) would be through the pack before the third turn.
Pirate City also had a clear game plan that they executed straight away: get the lead jammer position, score points, stop the jam (the first jammer through the pack without cheating is the lead jammer and can call off the jam at any time). This meant that the score went up in small increments to start as the teams felt each other out. But one thing was clear for Richter City, scoring points was going to be difficult if they didn't have that lead position.
The Pirates were so ruthless they would kill the jam even if they hadn't scored themselves. The home team was so strangled by this tactic that it was fourth jam before Richter City got points on the board. The Pirates combo of Little Miss Evil, Spar Kill, and Fia Fasi Oi (easily the MVP) were racking up points like it was pinball, while Pieces of Hate and Lucy in Disguise controlled the pack.
That's not to say they had it all their own way. Richter City clawed back some of the Pirate's lead. Punk Panther especially stood out scoring some big points off power-play jams (where the opposition jammer is in the penalty box) and MEOW and Tuff Bikkies were blocking stand outs, described later by the opposition as "downright annoying". Suffer Jet had her sneaky shoulders in the mix too.
And the crowd of over 1,200 didn't quit either. When Richter got their first lead jammer the stadium shook with energy. Visiting MC Mic Riot told me later that the reaction blew him away. This wasn't some sad sack rugby crowd who would leave if their team got behind. They were there to stay and scream until the end.
The Wellington skaters kept a sense of humour too. Even forty points down Bikkies couldn't help a cheeky wave to a Pirate being sent to the box. And MEOW started dancing with Scheisse Minelli between jams. Again cementing the fact that while the hits are big, everyone's friends in reality. Even the "bad guys". The crowd had great pleasure in booing Skate the Muss (with a tasteful "cook me some eggs" t-shirt) when she was sent to the penalty box.
I really want to emphasise how impressive the level of skating was all around. Even though the score was a blow out the two teams were skating amazingly. Fia Fasi Oi was incredible and I don't think I saw her fall over once. In fact I remember seeing her get hit, spin regain control by skating sideways and the carry on at full speed.
Perky Nah Nah gets the medal for heart. She took a skate to the thigh in an early tangle and got up and kept skating (I touched the bruise after the bout and it was an impressive lump). Then in the second half she took a painful tumble and as she was getting up another skater couldn't get out of the way and kneed her in the head. Helmets, mouthguards, and knee pads: not just for show.
And all of this is the just the start of the intercity bouts. There are two leagues in Taranaki, a league in Christchurch, a league in Hamilton and a Northland league (with rumours of a Tauranga league starting up). By next year it could be a full national tournament. And you'll want to be there for that, though you may want to view the after party from a safe distance.
And yes this one isn't of skaters but it's my favourite of the night: