Richard Saniga’s name was first engraved on the Endeavour Hills honour board in 1985/86, having won the First XI batting average.
In the 36 years that have elapsed since, he’s established a local cricket CV rivalled by few. It includes seven Club Championships, seven President’s Trophies, six First XI bowling averages, third all-time club leading wicket-taker (340), ten five-wicket hauls, five First XI batting averages, all-time club leading run-scorer (6800), five centuries, and 28 half-centuries.
“I played a lot of cricket to do that,” Saniga quipped when read those figures, typically humble. “No, I’m rapt.”
“I was never the best cricketer going around, when I started under 12’s I used to bat 10 and 11 with my mate. Couldn’t hold a bat,” Saniga says.
What makes his numbers even more impressive is Saniga’s Endeavour Hills career was punctured by stints playing Premier cricket for Ringwood, as well as moves to Queensland, Perth, England, and Scotland.
Yet no matter how far across the country, or globe, life has taken him, he’s always returned to his boyhood club.
And Saniga’s reasoning is simple: “I grew up there and I’m just a loyal person.”
“Everywhere I’ve been, when I’ve come back, I’ve always gone to Endeavour Hills,” he says.
“I had one year at Cranbourne because my kids were playing sport for Wesley College, and they played Saturday’s and Subbies was too far to travel. I had one year off, but I always came back, always went back.”
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His loyalty came despite many a luckless season for the Eagles, the toughest of those coming in recent years as the club failed in its efforts to abandon the depths of the Victorian Sub-District Cricket Association ladder, taking four wooden spoons in five seasons.
But this season was very different. A bevvy of high-profile recruits saw Endeavour Hills people walking taller, starting to believe. There was a distinct buzz around the club.
Once a scarce commodity, wins became frequent. And Saniga’s pipedream of retiring a premiership player, less than a year ago unfathomable, became tangible.
“I was gonna retire last year, but Kus (Second XI captain) asked me to hang around one more year, and I said ‘ok, but I wanna go out with a bang,’” he says.
“I tried my hardest to try and make sure we made finals for a start, because I wanted to go out with a bang.”
And on the day of the Second XI grand final, Saniga took to Sydney Pargeter Reserve in his 315th and final game for Endeavour Hills.
He would leave the ground hoisted upon his clubmen’s shoulders, premiership medal slung around his neck, smile beaming, applause all-encompassing.
Saniga chaired off a premiership player
Finishes don’t come more fitting. Scripts don’t come more poetic.
For Saniga has been rewarded for a fierce loyalty few possess. For sticking by his boyhood club when success seemed so distant. And for doing it all with a smile on his face.
At 54 years of age, he was no passenger in this premiership either. Called upon to bowl the final over of the decider’s first innings off two steps as his worn achilles clung on desperately, Saniga would finish with 1-20 from six overs. A typical performance from the revered veteran who claimed 15 Second XI and two First XI wickets this season – at age 54 mind you.
Saniga reflects on the Seconds round 11 fixture at Preston, where the Eagles chased down 207, as the day he knew the team could achieve something special.
“When we won at Preston, I wasn’t playing that day, but I was watching the scores and I just thought we had a good all-round team,” he says.
“Anybody could win the game for us on their day, that’s why we did so well.
“So finishing fifth out of top-six, to win it from there, you have to have a good team. And we had the wood on Mount Waverley (who the Eagles beat in the first week of finals and grand final) which was even better.”
It was a long time between drinks for Saniga, who’s only other Endeavour Hills flag came back in 1995 when he was head coach. The club still competed in the DDCA back then, claiming the Turf 2 title to win promotion into the coveted Turf 1.
He says it was long overdue, estimating they lost four grand finals before finally tasting success.
Despite his retirement from senior cricket, Saniga couldn’t give the game that’s followed him for the entirety of his adult life up completely, continuing to play over 50’s for the newly established South-East Kangaroos, with which he claimed another piece of silverware this season, in the form of the Veterans Cricket Victoria Over 50s premiership.
Kangaroos celebrate flag success in their inaugural season
“Last year we lost (the grand final), we got smashed against Geelong. And then this year we beat them by a run… everybody chipped in and did their role, and Geelong were the team to beat,” he recalls.
“We always wanted to be like them or better.”
Veterans cricket has boomed over the last few years, and it took Saniga to South Africa to represent Australia at the Over 50s World Cup in 2020, an experience he describes as “unreal.”
“I knew nothing about ‘Vets’ cricket, and then Rob Wilson got us involved. First year I made the Vic One’s team and we went over to Perth and won out on the WACA,” Saniga says.
Victorian Over 50s reign triumphant on the WACA
“We won that and did really well and [I] got selected in the Australia team. Went to South Africa, played three games, and then got called back because of Covid of course, but got the baggy green, the blazer and all that, so it was fantastic.
Saniga (right) in his Australian blazer
“At our age now you think cricket’s finished, you’re done and dusted, but to still represent your state for a start, and then play for Australia, it’s fantastic mate.
“So for anybody our age now, you’ve still got heaps of cricket to go if you’re passionate and want to go as high as you can.”
Saniga being presented his Australian Over 50s cap
But for all his other journeys and endeavours, Saniga’s influence will never be lost on Endeavour Hills.
Second XI captain Kusal Panditharatne, who spent his whole Endeavour Hills life under the tutelage of Saniga, summed it up best.
“Impossible to put in a few words how much of an influence Richie was around the club,” Panditharatne says.
“There’s not many blokes that are Endeavour Hills through and through for me, but Richie Saniga would be at the top of the list if you had to pick someone to represent what the club stands for.
“He’s been through it all thick and thin and has put the club first in every decision he’s made. An absolute gentleman of the game and a truly deserving life member of this great club.”