On how to improve the greatest game of all

When you’ve done life’s hard yards and made it into the grumpy years, you understand with cold and dispiriting certainty that there is no turning back the clock. But that doesn’t mean that in the face of crass, intolerable change – or ‘progress’ as the suits would wish to sell it – you should give up and fall down crying like an Italian soccer striker.

I’m a rugby league tragic from the dim and distant, a rusted-on South Sydney supporter who loves the game as much for its beauty and finesse as for its brutality and power. But there are some things that a man can no longer cop. They’re only petty issues, but they have been giving me the Edgar Britts for long enough to prompt a major whinge.

Starting at ground level, it occurred to me while watching the Bunnies on TV the other night that there is now an epidemic of sox being worn around ankles. I’m used to Issac Luke doing it – image is an important thing these days and I’m prepared to give some leeway to a bloke who can’t spell his own Christian name correctly – but, as a winger fleet of foot, Justin Hunt should know better. How fast would he travel if he pulled them up?

As for the jersey (I’ve always preferred it to ‘guernsey’) – whatever happened to sleeves? The spray-on outfit flatters the torso, George Rose excepted, but why do they have to be plastered with advertisements? It’s as ugly as it is demeaning and, if you can remember Paul Harragon playing for the Knights, it’s totally farcical. I mean really – the Chief charging into a ruck with ‘Henny Penny’ emblazoned across his chest? Give me a break.

The designs are garish enough – the marketing genius who thought of the army camouflage look to ‘celebrate’ ANZAC Day should never be let loose anywhere near Spotlight again – but the constant changes in strip run counter to a fan’s deepest need to identify with his or her tribe. Which is to say, what are Penrith’s colours? Or the Warriors’, for that matter.

As for the refs, it’s like that old song by the Pogues – ‘two wives are allowed in the navy, but one’s too many for me.’ The less said about them the better, but just in passing, at what point did they become the players’ best mates? They are quite properly addressed as ‘Sir’ (in the Northern Rivers Rugby League comp there is a female touchie who is rather endearingly appealed to as ‘Miss’), so why have they taken it upon themselves to call players by anything other than their number? To hear Matt Checchin tell the Coal Train that ‘you’re off-side, Dave’ sounds like nothing more than a major suck-up – and a futile one at that. They will only ever be considered a necessary evil, so let’s encourage them to drop the faux intimacy.

My pet peeve, however, is the on-field warm up.

The first game I ever attended was Newtown v St George. My Dad took me. We arrived for the last twenty minutes or so of the reserves. Both sides were coated with the dirt of Henson Park. The break between their departure and the emergence of the first-graders from the race below the King George V Memorial Grandstand was charged with electricity.

A tall, gangly bloke led the Dragons out. It was Norm Provan. His uniform glowed white. The number nine on his back glistened in the sun. That famous red V inspired awe. And look … there’s Johnny Raper … Reg Gasnier … the scary bald man, ‘Poppa’ Clay …

These days the players, with whom we are over familiar because they have been working out in front of us, are already grubby and sweaty when they appear – yesterday one of the Broncos took to the field with mud splattered on the back of his shorts. He looked like he’d shit himself. So much for mystique.

It’s like going to the theatre only to have that period of tingling anticipation before the curtain goes up blunted by watching the actors rehearse their scenes on stage. And worse, as the players do their drills, you’re relentlessly bombarded with ear-splitting music and inane exhortations from the ratbag PR guy who seems to think that you’ve come along to hear his amped-up drivel.

Thank gawd for the footy that follows.

Comments

  1. Mulcaster says:

    I have given up on Rugby League, it is formulaic and boring , three rucks up the middle one out wide and then a kick. The real problem in my opinion is the interchange, in the past the big players ran out of puff and the small men could make breaks, now there is no place for stamina. The game plan is to look for a mistake in defence. The scrums are a complete joke and not a contest. I agee wholeheartedly about the advertising on the guernsey, unbelievable. In the USA you would never see it on NFL shirts (or whatever they wear). The game is now so much about the business. The Brisbane Broncos, the North Queensland Cowboys ….WTF … in NQ a cowboy is the old fella who is broken in boidy and is kept on to tend the garden, milk the house cow and do what ever chores need doing on the station or a southern blow in with a big mouth and no money. The type of person they seek to portray is a “ringer”. I am a rusted on Bluebags fan, my team went out of the competition 2 years ago. If it wasn’t for Queensland crunching NSW in the origin of the species I wouldn’t watch it at all.

  2. Mulcaster says:

    Should read before I press the button Newton went out as you know 20 years ago.

  3. Ian Hauser says:

    John,

    Yes, “beauty and finesse, brutality and power” – a beautiful juxtaposition. For the former, a JT inside pass or reverse kick to the flying Mango Bowen; for the latter, the clash of the forwards in last night;s Origin II was up there with the best. It keeps us coming back.

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