On May 28 last year, Gold Coast Suns rugby league recruit Karmichael Hunt kicked his first AFL goal. We put a story up the Sunday morning after that fateful Saturday night, so we thought we’d better extend Israel Folau the same courtesy this morning.
Folau’s goal won’t go down as one of the great goals in AFL history, but it may be remembered as one of the most significant. If this former NRL high flyer can convert his skills to AFL, his new club will take Giant steps towards mainstream acceptance in Sydney.
Wily Giants coach Kevin Sheedy did something extremely interesting this week. To borrow a political phrase, he dog whistled. After the Giants’ loss to the West Coast Eagles, he said that Folau could have kicked three goals if his team-mates had actually passed him the ball. He made this statement to the media, but in effect, he was saying it for the benefit of his own players.
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Some battle. If this is “code war”, then it’s being fought with fairy floss and honeycorn and a giant G-Man foam creature which looks about as menacing as a smurf.
Sunday afternoon at Blacktown Olympic Sportspark, and the AFL’s latest attempt at national domination doesn’t feel like a shot across rugby league’s bow. There is no scent of Zeitgeist, of regime change, of revolution. You wouldn’t even know there’s a game on until you see a small trickle of orange-clad supporters filing into the small stadium set among bushland 39km from Sydney’s CBD.
The 10,000 capacity ground is the Greater Western Sydney Giants’ training base, and a temporary match day venue until the renovated 25,000 capacity Sydney Showground Main Arena (Skoda Stadium) opens in May. The tiny ground is far from full. That’s not to slap Andrew Demetriou or the incredibly hard-working Kevin Sheedy and his GWS team across the face. It’s just how it is.
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The AFL season kicked off in Sydney this weekend, with the Swans/Giants showdown at the old Olympic Stadium. Not that you’d have known in Sydney’s inner south, where I live.
At my two local pubs, both of which are firmly in NRL Dragons territory, every single TV monitor was tuned to the live NRL match between the Dragons and Sea Eagles. I would sooner have ordered a Pimms and Lemonade than ask the bar staff to change the channel.
The AFL won’t despair over this. Their main target market isn’t the over-30s who’ll likely never pay any attention to the scrappy, unmanly sport from the southern states.
Today’s NRL State of the Game report revealed a particularly impressive set of figures, which NRL CEO David Gallop didn’t hesitate to fire straight across the bow of the AFL.
In particular, Gallop drew attention to the number of close matches in the NRL this year. As Gallop and the despairing AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou would know only too well, the AFL has had more blowouts than Summernats this year. And a lopsided competition is a predictable competition is a dull competition.
While the NRL still lags well behind the AFL in terms of attendance, one of its key advantages is its dominance in subscription TV, where it boasts 74 of the top 100 programs so far in 2011.
Flames, biffo, Bon Jovi, a sneaky Benji Marshall flick pass, more flames, more biffo, more Bon Jovi, more spectacular tries, then to top it all off, Todd Carney puffing out his chest in what may be an expression of his feelings about the drink driving laws.
Oof! Bam! Thwok! Rugby league is back, and the NRL has cleverly ushered in the new season with an ad which is preaching to the converted, reaching out to the inner bogan in all sports fans.
The 2009 official AFL ad, where AFL players mimicked the skills found in such sporting arenas as a bullring, the Hong Kong races and the Paris Dakar rally, was undoubtedly both clever and brilliantly executed. But in retrospect, it was nudging that wanky ball of string territory. Not so this year’s NRL ad.
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