Is Carlton v Collingwood still Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry or is it now the rugby league State of Origin?


Is Carlton vs Collingwood still Australia’s greatest sporting rivalry or is it now the rugby league State of Origin?

by Miles Wilks- 2013.


If judged on attendance figures alone, the Carlton versus Collingwood rivalry is still the greatest rivalry in Australian sport. These combatants have produced the largest crowd for a football match of any code in Australia (121,696 attended the 1970 grand final), the largest crowd for a semi-final match (112,838 for the 1970 2nd semi) and the most Australian football matches with an attendance greater than 50,000, yet with the immense interest in the rugby league state of origin perhaps it is time to acknowledge that the Blues and the Pies have lost the mantle of having the premier football rivalry in the country.


What makes the rugby league state of origin number one is primarily its extraordinary television ratings. The rugby league state of origin matches have consistently outrated on television Carlton vs Collingwood matches by a large margin, and has on these grounds taken the mantle as the premier sporting rivalry in Australia. And what makes rugby league’s status even more emphatic is that whilst their viewing numbers are exploding the tv viewing numbers for the marquee rivalry of the Australian game of football are dropping each year. In 2013, the six metro viewing areas (including Foxtel ratings) for Carlton vs Collingwood resulted in a viewing audience of 1.207 million. In 2014, the figure dropped to 1.006 million.  In contrast, the 2014 NRL state of origin broke rating records and obtained a rating figure of 2.596 million across the five city metro market.

The Carlton vs Collingwood rivalry is no longer even the biggest rivalry in the AFL, let alone the biggest sporting rivalry in the country, because Carlton has been languishing mid table or below for the majority of the last 15 years. This makes it difficult for this rivalry to maintain its relevancy as Carlton has been sub-par for such a long period of time. On top of this, these clubs have not met in a finals battle since 1988- almost 30 years ago. Meanwhile, rugby league’s state of origin football has effectively three finals each year to whet the appetite.


It also seems unlikely there will be a finals battle between these two AFL clubs anytime soon, as the gap between Carlton and Collingwood is widening, which will therefore further erode interest in the rivalry. Collingwood is the richest football club of any code in the country with a turnover of over 75 million per year, with crowd figures on Anzac Day and against Geelong & Hawthorn that surpass state of origin matches, as well as EPL matches featuring teams such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. This boom in Collingwood’s fortunes is occuring whilst their nemesis Carlton struggles to turn a profit, is over five million in debt, and languishes near the bottom of the ladder.


What will make the gap between these two rivals even wider (and for those that watched Collingwood’s schellacking of Carlton in Round Seven this is difficult to imagine), is that the AFL is seeking to tax Carlton to fund other clubs’s wages bills. Whilst Carlton is struggling to pay its debt, it is expected to contribute from next year onwards between $200,000 – $400,000 each year to ensure clubs such as Brisbane and potentially North Melbourne (a team above Carlton on the ladder) can pay its players a higher amount than what they presently pay in the salary cap.  The gap between the wealthy Collingwood, which is going to be taxed a similar amount despite its record profits, and the struggling Carlton can only widen with this initiative from the AFL.


Besides attendances, the one area where the Australian game’s marquee rivalry has a manifest advantage over rugby league’s state of origin is in the area of history. The Carlton vs Collingwood rivalry started back in the 1800s whilst the rugby league state of origin only goes back to 1980. This means that the Carlton vs Collingwood rivalry has almost 100 more years history than rugby league’s state of origin.


Some might argue that there is still enormous history in state rugby league, as there were contests between these states (although not under “state of origin” rules ) as far back as 1908. Yet this argument is countered if one considers that Australian football matches between NSW and Queensland pre-date any rugby league match by a fair margin. On the well researched website the historians there have uncovered  photographic proof of there being a NSW Australian football team from 1886. This team pre-dates by 22 years the very first game of rugby league in this country. Australian football may have a lot of weaknesses these days, but one of them isn’t the lack of a historical imprint on this country.


Nevertheless, despite the history and the attendances Carlton vs Collingwood is no longer Australia’s marquee sporting rivalry (not even close), as its mantle has been taken by the rugby league state of origin due to the enormous tv audience it commands. Carlton and Collingwood plus the other great club rivalries of Australian football may claim the past, but it looks like the future is there to be claimed by the rugby league state of origin.


  1. sean gorman says

    The Q clash surely……

  2. DBalassone says

    I think the biggest rivalry in Australian sport is Adelaide vs. Port or Freo vs. Eagles. That is sheer tribal hatred at it’s best (worst?). I think the Collingood/Carlton thing has dropped off a bit in the last few years. Hawthorn/Geelong, Hawthorn/Essendon, Essendon/Carlton are probably just as big, if not bigger in Victoria these days.

    State of Origin is perfectly suited to Rugby b/c only 2 states play Rugby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but to me it’s more of a carnival, a celebration, where as some of the AFL suburtban stuff is just sheer hatred.

  3. kath presdee says

    You can’t fairly compare the crowds between any match that’s played at the MCG and any other sporting ground because the MCG at capacity is significantly bigger. The capacity of the Olympic Stadium, as configured now, is about 85,000. I’m not sure what the Qld ground is but it still isn’t at MCG capacity.

    The State of Origin game is regarded as the pinnacle of rugby league in Australia – more than the Grand Final, more than any of the various club rivalries and more than internationally. Is there real hatred? Most of the Blue/Maroon banter and rivalry is done in good humour. In the real early days of Origin, though, it wasn’t.

  4. Miles Wilks says

    Good points people, footy rivalries are more tribal and less media driven than the rugby rival…but the key point here is that a tax on Carlton is a clear indication to many that the rivalry is not being fostered by the AFL. How the AFL can tax a club that is 5 million in debt to help other clubs is beyond the understanding of many.

    I think the impression is Carlton is still “rich” and therefore can be taken for granted. England once ruled the world and had an empire, now it is little more than a mid-tier power that owns the Fallkland Islands. Perceptions and realities I guess. Carlton once was the most powerful, now it is just a team that Hawthorn and Geelong beat by about 20 points every time they meet. Either way, the Carlton vs Collingwood rivalry is not what it used to be.

  5. Jack Hamill says


  6. The only thing i see is that nrl only hangs off state of origin and the grand final. AFL however gets high average attendances to each game (i guess this includes the expansion teams which act as major outliers).

    p.s. if you think im bias think again, im an avid nrl fan

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