December 9, 2014
“Australian Rules football has become un-Australian. Eighty per cent of it is basketball – keeping the ball off the other players, 15 per cent is soccer – kicking it backwards, and five per cent is rugby, with the field moving in packs.
“The game has changed to the extent that it’s unrecognisable.”
Brian Sierakowski is not one to back away from a fight.
The former St Kilda ruckman, an integral component in The Saints’ only Grand Final win in 1966, is vocal in his views on elite level footy and isn’t afraid to share them.
After all, who is going to take on a man who has gazed into the eyes of a great white shark? ‘Siera’ has a few strings to his bow – lawyer, viticulturist, VFL & WAFL star, community surf life-saving supporter, WA Community Football Council chairman. But everyone always asks about that day in 1997 when a five metre great white shark decided to take a sizeable bite out of Siera’s fibreglass surf ski while he was sitting atop it, a kilometre south from Perth’s picturesque Cottesloe beach.
“His jaws were fixed around the entire width of the ski, one and a half inches from my feet,” Siera explains. “The next thing the dorsal fin has hit me in the face and knocked me into the water.
“We just looked at each other. He then let go of the ski and went underneath me. I thought that was it. The volume of water that replaced him was amazing – it was just like a scene out of Jaws.”
With the shark somewhere below their feet Siera and fellow paddler John ‘Barney’ Hanrahan were rescued by three exceptionally brave friends who were in the water nearby.
“I was being towed behind another ski – a piece of berley! We reached the reef and I realised I was safe – it was a feeling of total exhilaration, I was laughing.”
Only ever a heartbeat away from a joke or a laugh, Siera accepted his position as an overnight media star with good humour and aplomb - “I am a bit of a media floozy,” he jokes.
And news spread fast.
“We had a party that night to celebrate and I went to bed about 1am. At 5am the phone rings and my wife tells me: “it’s Patrick from Dublin radio”. I didn’t believe her,” he laughs.
“It was front page news all over the world – including in places like Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran.”
While testing his sphincter at the time, the incident hasn’t kept Siera from the water. He is an active member of North Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club and his house overlooks the very spot where the attack occurred.
A traditionalist, teacher and coach – Siera’s passions now lie in coaching the North Cottesloe SLSC junior March Past team and getting kids involved in community football.
“Attendance at AFL matches is decreasing – there’s no doubt people are walking away from the game.
But at a community level, where the game is still being played as it’s meant to be, we are growing the game so quickly that there are insufficient facilities to cope with it.”