Down Under Blog #75 State of the Nation

Pommy Rich gives us all the mis-dealing's in the NRL in his world famous Down Under Blog.

Avid readers of this blog know that I’ve been over here for quite a while now, and I am in regional New South Wales approximately half way between Sydney and Brisbane.

That means that every State Of Origin I have a choice of going to one of the matches if I want. Mind you, saying I’m halfway between the two cities, its still a 5 hour drive from either, and flights are prohibitively expensive and on those twin prop planes that seat 20 people (sod THAT), so I generally do what the vast majority of Aussies do and watch the game on TV.

Aussies have a real love affair with watching Rugby League on TV, Origin and the NRL Grand Final are usually the biggest rating shows country-wide for the entire year. We don’t have the same love affair with soaps as the UK does, although “Married at first sight” has led the reality TV charge up the ratings here recently, NRL is still king. AFL is huge in the Southern States of Victoria and South Australia, and Western Australia too, but even then people tend to actually turn up to games of AFL.

The thing is, NRL is the perfect TV sport. 40 minute halves, plenty of scoring meaning they can break to commercials often, easy to film as its on rectangular field, and the game is played “shallow” from a TV filming point of view. Let me explain, most of the game is played within 30 metre bands, meaning a wide shot only has to be pulled back enough to see the defensive line and the attacking formation. .

League has easy to understand rules (for the most part!), easy to track substitutions, tactics and refereeing. Conversely, AFL is played “deep”, and any fan of AFL will tell you that you’ve not seen a game properly until you’ve seen it in the flesh. The off the ball running is incredible, and the motors these blokes have put even Danny Houghton to shame. This all adds up to the fact that whilst the NRL is a huge sport, AFL crowds are frequently      double that of league.

The exception is of course State of Origin, three games that are practically guaranteed to sell out, massive           corporate money, TV advertising during Origin is the highest price it is all year, if not quite at the Superbowl half time ads level.

So, where am I going with all of this? Well, coming from England where Rugby League is very much a badly run second class sport, even after over 15 years in this country it’s still absolutely amazing to me that RL is EVERYWHERE over these few weeks. For example, I’m writing this two hours before kick-off and this week my office has had Origin sweeps, fancy dress and our two Queenslanders have been sending out anti-Blues memes via Email. Every Newspaper today had over 20 pages of Origin gossip, predictions and interviews. Every TV news has led with the game, even on the networks that aren’t showing it and people have Blues flags hanging out of their cars, and getting beer today was a bloody nightmare with queues at every bottle shop. Imagine this happening with Super League. As a sport we’re lucky to get a spot on the back pages of national papers, and even the Challenge Cup final is very rarely the lead item in the sport section of TV news, let alone the top NEWS story.

Those lucky souls amongst you reading this that came down under to watch Hull will have some appreciation, as RL still dominated coverage in the Sydney press last January and February despite it being close season. In fact, I’ve honestly seen more interviews with Hull players on national Aussie TV than I ever saw on British TV. How mad is that?

Right so to the first Origin, I had planned to write this after the game had finished, but I don’t really think I’ll be sober enough to be able to accurately express what happened, and of course you’ll all either watch the game or read the match report online before reading this anyway. So I thought I’d make a prediction and send this blog off to Dan now. In my pre-season predictions I said that NSW would win the series, and I’m sticking by that, however I’m now going to say that Queensland will win tonight, and NSW will come from behind to win the series 2-1. There’s a real edge to this game with the Queensland team publicly accusing the Blues of being over confident, and the hatred has built nicely.

Talking of hated, here’s my favourite Origin story. I went to a sportsman’s dinner a few years back where Ricky Stuart was the main speaker. Someone asked him why the Blues had lost so many series (at the time they were on a terrible losing streak), and he said that is was purely the hatred of the Queensland public that fuelled their team to hit greater heights. His example was this – When he was coaching NSW, he had just finished filming some interviews for TV when he decided to go back to his hotel room for a rest, he got into the lift with a tiny ancient old lady who was wearing a Queensland scarf. Ricky asked her which floor she wanted, as is a fairly common thing for someone to do in a lift I’d say. Her response was word for word “I can press my own buttons you blue arsed cockroach c**t!!” Hatred. There’s nothing better!

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

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