While Wests Tigers’ title defence in 2006 might not have gone according to plan, one highlight to emerge from the season was a young star named Chris Lawrence.
Lawrence made his debut for the joint-venture club in Round 21 against the Brisbane Broncos at just 17 years and 283 days old — making him the youngest ever player to debut for the Club — and he played a vital role to help lead the visitors to an impressive 20-6 win.
Coming into the match languishing in 12th position, few gave Wests Tigers much of a chance against a strong Broncos side — especially given that they would have to take the field in front of over 30,000 screaming Brisbane fans at Lang Park.
The absence of players such as captain Brett Hodgson and Benji Marshall, plus names like Paul Whatuira, Bryce Gibbs and Liam Fulton, forced the Club to field somewhat of a makeshift squad by the time they ran out against the Broncos.
But right from the opening whistle, it was clear that the visitors had still come to play.
Lawrence himself made that much clear in the 21st minute.
After Dean Collis picked up the ball from a David Stagg error and quickly fed the ball to the debutant, Lawrence found himself taking off down the wing, with Queensland international Shaun Berrigan coming across in cover.
It appeared that Berrigan would snuff out the attack, but as Lawrence himself said after the match, “I just thought, ‘back yourself’.” The youngster did just that and quickly accelerated past Berrigan down the wing — scoring what would be a memorable and pivotal try in his first-grade debut to give the visitors an unlikely 10-0 lead heading into half-time.
After that, it was pure heart and determination to get Wests Tigers over the line.
Having deterred the Broncos with some gritty defence to begin the half, Lawrence combined beautifully with Collis again in the 63rd minute to get the visitors across the line once more and push the lead back out beyond a converted try.
This time it was Lawrence who turned provider — feeding the ball back on the inside to Collis to beat fullback Darius Boyd and stem the home side’s momentum.
Fellow debutant Ben Jeffrey also grabbed a try for the visitors late in the match to seal the result — winning the race to a grubber from Robbie Farah — but the night clearly belonged to the bright-eyed 17-year-old from Campbelltown.
“Obviously to get a try in my first game against Brisbane in front of a big crowd at Suncorp was something special,” Lawrence recalled this week.
“I didn’t even expect to play, to be honest.
“I was playing SG Ball at the start of the year and then started playing reserve grade because there was no under-20’s at the time.
“I got called up for 18th man for the game and was just going to go and travel for a bit of experience but then Paul Whatuira got injured in the last session before we went to Brisbane so [Tim] Sheens put me in.”
Despite the years that have passed, Lawrence still remembers the game — and the celebrations that ensured — pretty clearly. And as far as post-game celebrations goes, the then 17-year-old obviously had plans different to most.
“I had exams on the Monday so I remember I actually brought some books to study on the way home,” he laughed. “But then I sat next to Chris Heighnington on the plane and he basically told me I was kidding myself if I was going to study now.
"After all, I’d just scored a try in my first game, and we won!
“Once I realised that, I put the books away and just enjoyed the flight home,” said Lawrence. “I don’t remember that exam anymore but I definitely remember that game.”
Lawrence performance saw him retain his spot the following week, and then every week until the end of the 2006 regular season.
Brisbane would go on to win the premiership that year, with Berrigan himself taking home the Clive Churchill Medal for his efforts on the night.
But he still never got any closer to catching Chris Lawrence on that memorable night in July.
Juro last edited by
That’s a good read. I had this ranked much higher in my top 15 moments.