Rugby league: The ultimate in do-or-die sporting spirit
Here we go. Another footy season, another pointless attempt to instruct trust-fund millionaires and insecure South Australians on the superior qualities of league over union and AFL.
I spent Saturday afternoon on the hill at Henson Park, a hell of a footy ground in the back streets of Sydney’s Marrickville and home to the mighty Newtown Jets. It’s a pure league experience – four bucks for parking, six bucks for admission (kids free) and cans of KB Lager. While the standard isn’t exactly first-class, there are aspects of Henson Park that you just don’t get at the big stadiums.
My favourite part of league is not the collisions or deft plays in attack, but watching a team pull together in adversity. It’s the theatre of watching 13 blokes lift themselves off the deck and put in for each other, regardless of the scoreboard. You see this sometimes in AFL, but almost never in Australian rugby union, where the backs and forwards don’t even train together, which is why the Wallabies will never beat the All Blacks with any regularity.
I watched from behind the dead-ball line on Saturday, the North Sydney Bears huddled near the tryline, hands on hips and eyes to the ground, having just let the Jets through yet again.
“For f…‘s sake Johnno, what are you doing? They’re killing ya on the inside,” the captain screamed.
“Don’t be sorry. Bash these c…ts from the kick off. Give it to ‘em.”
With superb exchanges like this, rugby league will live long. Slater, Inglis, Hayne and Hindmarsh are the great artists of the game, but the canvas is a do-or-die spirit that other codes can’t match.
Let’s deal with Colgo and rugby first. Now Colgo’s a good fella, but his outpourings on rugby read more like a cry for help than a reasoned defence. The game consists of “serious and subtle tactics, individual brilliance and a range of skills,” he says.
You’re right Colgo. The tactics are so subtle they’re imperceptible. The aim seems to be catch the ball and kick it, half the time off the side of the boot, so the lumbering forwards can take a five-minute breather and pack another scrum. When we finally get around to this, the halfback seems confused about which hole to put it in and the props, tired of waiting, collapse it to the ground.
A word on the forwards: surely, to be considered an elite athlete, you should reasonably be expected to run, say, 5km without stopping. Some of those props look gone before they strike up the national anthem.
This is not a serious sport. As my brother-in-law Sammy likes to say, it’s force-em-backs between millionaires. For AFL fans, you might call it a game of kick-to-kick between blokes with double-barreled surnames.
You know, the ones who needed a way to fill in time at Sydney Uni while the rest of us were working at Pizza Hut.
And AFL? Well, as a Sydneysider I’m thoroughly enjoying the code’s “incursion” into our league heartland. So far, the only fight Kevin Sheedy has managed to pick is with Paul Roos, who’s understandably furious at the AFL’s wrongheaded decision to set up two teams in the nation’s premier city when there’s barely tolerance for one. The league community looks on with a wry smile. Sheedy in Sydney reminds me of Oliver Twist in London, walking around the big smoke like an aimless waif, making friends with anyone who will have him. I heard the other day he’s hooked up with ousted Parramatta Eels boss Denis Fitzgerald, who is to league what John Elliott is to AFL.
The game itself has far more going for it than union, but as a TV spectacle it’s utter rubbish. Part of the problem is goals are scored every couple of minutes, when we stop for another Toyota ad and wonder how it got to 11pm with a quarter of play to go. Sure, there’s plenty of skill and speed at the top level, but little physicality. There’s plenty of skill in polo, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good.
“We are learning about, and in some cases learning to love, each other’s codes,” writes Anthony Sharwood.
Bugger that for a joke.
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