When Fact is stranger than Fiction

So it has now been more than two weeks since New South Wales claimed their first State of Origin title in facebook living memory. I’ve come to grips with it, I’ve moved on and look forward to the ‘dead rubber’. I won’t pass judgement on how many free tickets have been given away to fill Suncorp Stadium for this game – mainly because chickatthefooty was on the receiving end of some.

But deep in my bones I get the feeling that the crowd could turn nasty next Wednesday night.  There will be a truck load of NSW fans heading up to Brisbane and I don’t think they are going to sit quietly and pat themselves on the back as their team takes the shield home. I haven’t met too many NSW fans who have managed to convince me they are good winners, but I guess they’re probably just out of practice. Although I will admit that they (the good winners) probably are out there, but it’s the other mob that tend to make themselves known.

My proposal for the Paul Gallen statue

My proposal for the Paul Gallen statue

So what do NSW feel is an appropriate recognition of winning a single series?  How about a Paul Gallen statue. Well I guess if they can make Andrew Johns (a player who couldn’t even crack the Australian team in his preferred position half the time) an immortal, a Paul Gallen statue is not much of a stretch. Maybe they could place it out the front of Shark Park – the centre of the vortex currently swallowing rugby league.

Not content with staving off bankruptcy, threatening to move to Brisbane and introducing the rugby league public to the word ‘peptide’, the Sharks have presented us, via Todd Carney, with a new trend – ‘bubbling’. Maybe Todd Carney wasn’t content to let season 2014 pass by without a headline or two. I’m not yet sure that Carney deserves to be rubbed out of the game permanently, I don’t think he actually committed any offences (other than those imposed by common decency).  As an act of player stupidity on the drink it is certainly up there.  But on a scale of one to Joel Monaghan, I don’t think it’s up at the high end. And let’s face it, Joel Monaghan managed to eek out a not inconsiderable career, albeit on the other side of the world.

But the strange happenings in rugby league do not stop there, or even here in Australia.  Few of you might be aware that rugby league was scheduled as an exhibition sport for this years Commonwealth Games. Last week Glasgow hosted a Rugby League Nines competition for U19s and Australia medalled.  But it did not win.  Teams competing in the Commonwealth Championship included South Africa, England, Scotland, Wales, PNG, Canada and Jamaica – New Zealand were notably absent and the Kangaroos still didn’t win!.

So who had the honour or representing Australia at the first Commonwealth Games featuring rugby league? The best young Australians from the length and breadth of the east coast? Maybe some of the young guns we see playing flash footy in the Toyota Cup?  Nope.  A Sydney City Roosters side was sent to represent Australia and bag a medal.

Let’s just stop and think about that. How important is the upcoming Olympics to the sport of Rugby Union?  And when rugby league gets a shot, albeit not the Olympics but the next best thing, how do we treat it?  We send an U19s club side.

threemedalsBut not that any of you would know that because there was no coverage.  Not even on the Rugby League International Federation website where apparently nothing of note has happened in the world of rugby league since May. It’s a good thing the NRL stepped up to the plate all those months ago to held whip international rugby league in shape. To find out what is happening in rugby league outside the NRL and Super League I recommend the Rugby League European Federation website.

The countries that play rugby league might surprise you.

For the record the PNG Kumuls are the Commonwealth gold medal holders, Australia settled for silver and Wales took the bronze.

 

 

 

A glitch in the Matrix or deja footy vu?

So here I was a few days ago starting to tap at the keyboard to blog about a great Origin game. No, Queensland didn’t win, but what a game! Everyone I spoke to thought it was a real cracker. The Queenslanders gave it everything they had and were valiant in defeat, but New South Wales were the better team for longer and when it counted. And, as it hurts me to say, Jared Hayne was the difference and the deserved Man of the Match.

It was just a good game and the outcome was not controversial. Thank you rugby league gods! After years of one state whinging about reffing, injuries and foul play being the cause of their loss, finally a result everyone could acknowledge. (Mind you, if Queensland had managed to score a try in the dying minutes methinks NSW would have screamed blue murder over the knock on call and we would be where we have been every year before.)

Of course the NSW memes hitting the inter webs the next day inferring that Qld did not pay the refs enough to win was to be expected. I guess some just don’t know how to cop a win.

All was going well in the land of Origin. Until the judiciary sat.

tackleThis was the same judiciary that hung Jordan McLean out to dry for a dangerous lifting tackle earlier in the year. The same judiciary that rubbed Greg Bird out of Origin One for a rather innocuous lifting tackle. So when they sat in judgement of Josh Reynolds’ spectacular lifting tackle on Brent Tate, the two week penalty at stake was considered a little light but perhaps just in the circumstances. We all know Origin and NRL games are not judged the same.

But then something happened to undo all that work of a spectacular 100th anniversary Origin match. The judiciary downgraded the tackle and Reynolds walked away to play another day.

So Queenslanders, who had taken the loss on the chin were then metaphorically smacked about the face, inciting an entire state into a raw rage.

No, the tackle wasn’t as bad as the McLean tackle, but it was more dangerous than the Greg Bird tackle. The reaction of the players, the crowd, and the commentators was spot on – in light of the judiciary’s self announced crack down on lifting tackles, Reynolds was in trouble.

And so the annual barbs across the border between the usual suspects was on again in earnest. ‘The NSW conspiracy’ the ‘Queensland whingers’. Enter Elias and Roach. And in the maroon corner the usual contender Tallis was joined by newcomer Cowboy’s Coach Paul Green, with skin in the game in the shape of Tate.

But this year also featured a new participant – Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle. Now I don’t know how often netball in New Zealand gets itself into these types of situations, but I’m guessing not often after seeing Castle make an absolute mess of it. Sure, the outcome was obviously positive for her player and club, but did she have to make out like she’d won the lotto? Like a grinning Cheshire Cat accompanied by her smirking sidekick Reynolds? Seriously if he’d added a wink into the mix he could have tagged onto the #winkgate drama.

No, she didn’t have to. But she did decide to compound the issue by telling the Queenslanders to ‘keep crying’.

That’s right sports fans, mums and dads, if your child is up-ended on the footy field in a most spectacular fashion to fall at their peril, go cry about it. I wonder how many tears have been cried in the McKinnon household this year?

 

 

What price (maroon) passion?

Around about this time last year I was waxing lyrical about the Queenslander spirit.  The passion. And in no small way skiting about how Queenslanders can’t get enough of origin – selling out matches months in advance.  Yes, Queensland is the home of State of Origin.IMG_1377

So what was the ARLC’s response this year?

Gouge the sh!t out of fans.

This intention was signalled late last year. Getting to the footy is becoming more and more expensive so at the end of the every year I chat amongst my friends about what we’ll be doing for the next year.  And when the price of Origin tickets starting at $180 was mentioned, I had to rule it out. Certainly both games in Queensland are out.

As a Queenslander I understood the move to Maroon membership as key to keeping the cauldron maroon.  Everyone who bought a maroon membership was guaranteed Origin tickets – no need to wade through the Ticketek nightmare or stand in queue when tickets went on sale.  It also reserved, as I understood it, the best tickets to maroon fans. It was about time we restored the sea of maroon. But still, at a minimum of $180 for each game it was a bit much for this fervent (but fiscally responsible) footy fan.

And where does that $180 get you?  The corners up in the top two levels.  That’s right, start climbing stairs for your $180.  To put this in perspective, I paid $175 last year for what is now the Gold reserved equivalent, overlooking the try line – where NSW spent a fair bit of time. So gold doesn’t even get you alongside the field of play.

pepperidge

So now, 2 weeks out from the first game, Suncorp Stadium is still 10,000 seats short of a sell out.

Just stop and let that sink in.

Words cannot express the level of disservice this is doing to the game and the passionate fans who still turned up in droves when NSW dominance 10 years ago had people predicting the end of Origin. But the QRL’s Rob Moore points to a number of factors for the poor take up of tickets to the biggest game in town:

  • The Federal budget.  He acknowledges that people have economic uncertainty.  Apparently budget crisis = Origin crisis. This just tells me that the people who sit in corner offices in NRL Central are just as out of touch with the common league fan as the people in Canberra.
  • The fact that there are two games in Queensland this year. What, like this is the first time we’ve ever had two games to chose from? Did we not sell out the last time we had two? This does not help our case when we jumped up and down so fervently last year when NSW re-allocated themselves an extra game.
  • Price sensitivity.  Really? $340 for a category 2 (because that’s the cheapest maroon membership left) ticket sitting in the corners of the stadium and we might be a bit sensitive about it? But remember, it is so much more.  You get a maroon wig!! Bumper sticker! DVD! Brewery Tour! It’s almost like seeing the game is just a by-product of being marketed to.

Ever thought of taking the kids to see the pinnacle of rugby league in the world?  Sure, as long as you don’t mind paying adult prices for them.  Kids are not welcome at Suncorp Stadium, and with so few unlicensed areas they never have been.  As if this wasn’t made clear by the large number of intoxicated oafs spread throughout the stadium spewing vile language and abuse at everyone and anyone.  The next generation of maroon fans will have to contend with the occasional fan day where they will be knocked over by professional autograph hunters. Of course for $35 junior membership your little one can get a drink bottle, sticker etc.  Or just get the showbag at the Ekka, it’ll probably be cheaper. But at least you can also ensure that your kidlets can get access to exclusive web content!

I have been to an Origin match every year since 1994 including trips away down the Melbourne. But this is the first year where the price alone has dictated that I’ll be watching Origin from the lounge.

Reviewing the last couple of years of Origin tickets I can clearly see how much the price increase compares.  In 2011 I sat in Bay 329 which cost $110 (GST included).  For 2014 you can sit in the same bay for $220. In 2012 I sat in Bay 337 which cost $100 which again in 2014 will cost $220.  Last year I sat in Bay 339 for $175 (yes, to sit 9 seats along the touchline for the previous year it already cost an extra $75) and this year it would cost $250 to sit there.

Rest assured this is all part of a National Strategy.  Good to know that there is a strategy behind this.  And apparently these prices are set in line with other marquee events. If someone could tell me what other sporting events in Brisbane are charging $340 for corner seats I’d like to know. For $340 I could fly to Sydney and back, get corner seats at the Olympic stadium (or whatever they call it now) for the second match and partake in the decent food stall set up outside the stadium.

Or maybe that’s the National (read NSW) ‘Strategy’ all along – reduce the maroon dominance at Suncorp Stadium and get Queenslanders to spent their hard earned in NSW.

Bring on the Four Nations double header opener!  Two international matches for a quarter of the price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footy players behaving badly? Bet on it.

It’s been a year since I wrote about the ASADA drama….and it’s still not resolved.  But the systematic abuse of performance enhancing drugs (Cronulla) and over the counter pills (think NZ and sleeping pills) seem to be high of the rugby league agenda.

Alcohol fuelled violence and stupidity also seem to be high on the NRL’s radar – just think Dugan and Ferguson. A spate of high profile drink drivers (Tamou and Mason) have also done the NRL no favours combating the game’s drinking culture perception.

The NRL has gone to pains over the last decade or so to disassociate itself from its boozy past. The players are professional and the consumption of alcohol during competition is frowned upon by many clubs. The NRL runs several programs to warn the next generation of players of the dangers of both legal and illegal substances.  Whilst the NRL’s focus is on prevention, they have shown an enormous capacity to forgive and embrace the reformed.  The excuses for such excesses are as predictable as they are many: they are young men with too much time, money etc; it’s a common problem in that age group; the pressures of competition and life in the spot light; and the risk taking behaviour that professional athletes crave etc etc. So the NRL will punish wrong doing and then champion the redeemed.  After all, everyone makes mistakes.

But there is one vice the NRL doesn’t seem that keen to address. It may have something to do with the NRL’s own apparent addiction: one that it will find hard to extricate itself from – gambling.

The gambling exploits of some footy players are stuff of legend.  Whether it’s the GGs, the dish-lickers or two flies crawling up a wall, footy players will have a punt. Some have famously come undone.  Chris Sandow’s recent revelations, whilst sad, were predictable.  But we aren’t seeing the NRL rush to provide players like Sandow with the helping hand seemingly reserved for self-confessed alcohol and drug addicts. After all, the NRL is raking in cash from betting agencies having hopped into bed with them through various different sponsorships.

So it does seem to make it all the more tragic that when a player takes gambling over that fairly clearly marked line, betting on their own match, that the player would be cut loose from the NRL and all support networks.

I speak of Ryan Tandy.tandy

The story of Ryan is well documented – both his indiscretion and his tragic demise. I had met Ryan on a few occasions, first when he played for Ireland in 2008 and then for the Melbourne Storm during their 2009 ‘Premiership‘ season. He was a pretty down to earth bloke, very humble and at the time grateful for his start with the Storm. If he suffered from any vice at the time I couldn’t see it. Whether his team mates suspected we may never know.  Despite playing almost 50 first grade NRL games and earning 5 international caps, Ryan Tandy will forever be associated with match fixing.

Tandy had a gambling problem – what else do you call it when someone would knowingly risk their career on a wager? – and apparently a drug problem.  I can’t be sure whether one caused the other, or vice versa.  But he risked his career in a betting plunge and blew it, receiving a lifetime NRL ban in the process.

To those who swear by the punt, match fixing is obviously a heinous crime, and at its core affects the credibility of the game for fans. But on the scale of seriousness of offences in life, where does it rate?

- Flog your pregnant girlfriend and you might get suspended for a year or two, but if you’re talented enough you’ll get another shot at NRL glory

- Drink drive at almost four times the legal limit placing everyone else’s life at risk and you might be suspended for a match or two.

- Sexually assault someone and your contract will be torn up until the next club wants to sign you.

- Murder someone and you won’t get a start in the NRL, but country rugby league will still take you.

players

 

But try and influence the outcome of a game.  Case closed.  Career (and life) over.

When the NRL lays with dogs it will undoubtedly get fleas. But why blame the fleas?

Nailed it!

Can you believe what can happen in six months?  They say a week is a long time in rugby league, so six months could pretty much be an eternity ago.

At the end of November the rugby league community was patting itself on the back, gushing about holding the most successful Rugby League World Cup ever staged. Yes it was predictable for the most part, yes it was anti-climactic. But the nations competing were up and crowds were up.  Yes, this was the launch pad to bigger and better things for international rugby league.

But it was Andrew Voss who put it all in perspective – it’s not about what happens in a World Cup year, it’s about what happens in between them.

So let’s examine how far rugby league on the international stage has come in the past six months.

tickThe Four Nations Tournament was announced with the winner of Fiji vs Samoa to join Australia, England and New Zealand at the end of the year.  The Fiji vs Samoa test to be held the same weekend as the Australia vs New Zealand test match.

crossSonny Bill Williams withdraws himself from selection over New Zealand Rugby League handling of allegations of misuse of sleeping pills.  I agree that the matter was handled poorly by NZRL, but do you reckon he would have done that to the All Blacks?

crossAnthony Milford is told by his club coach to stand himself down from the Samoa test to allow himself to recover from niggling injuries. Subsequently he is selected to play for QLD under 20s in the curtain raiser. Milford can now potentially play for Australia against Samoa at the end of the year.

crossNew Zealand name possibly the worst test side ever selected in over 20 years due to a slew of players out injured. This is the world’s second highest ranking playing nation. No offence to the NSWRL club players selected, I have no doubt they will play with more pride in their left big toe than SBW could muster in his whole body, but they will be flogged.  And nothing good will come of that. I know Mooks will talk about the future and preparing for the next World Cup, but how does becoming a laughing stock fit into his plans?

crossDavid Mead, PNG’s poster boy for the last Four Nations tournament and RLWC13 will turn out for NSW Country on the weekend. So now he is available for NSW selection and ultimately Australia.  It’s not like he was even on their radar, after all, his PNG selection was never considered dubious by any stretch of the imagination.

nailedSo we have this rep round. It seems the NRL clubs are treating it as a bye and a chance to give their players a rest.  Of all the players who are unavailable for rep teams this weekend due to injury, I wonder how many would have turned out for their club this weekend if it had been business as usual.

I know the argument about clubs paying the players way and that the chance of injury even through a one off test is too big of a gamble at this point in the season, but then why have rep games at all? Why have origin in the middle of the season? Origin didn’t get this big over night.

I never want to hear another NRL club exec complain about losing players to rugby union – where the international game is king – when they continue to show utter contempt for any chance of growing our international game.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 3 amusing things overheard at the footy: RLWC13 edition

imageMy experience at the RLWC13 last year was amazing. Mostly in ways not related to footy.  But there were a few things (footy related) that stick in my mind and still make me laugh.  And because not every post should be me up on my soapbox I thought I’d share.

3. “Is that Corey Parker? I thought it was Matt Le Blanc.” Young Welshman in the crowd at the Australia vs USA semi-final in Wrexham.

2. ‘Who are ya?” Crowd to Sonny Bill Williams after stepping over the dead ball line before planting the ball down at the New Zealand vs Samoa pool game in Warrington.

ausvfiji

Australia vs Fiji at Wembley Stadium

1. “Are you sure we are staying for this game? It’s frightfully boring.” Aged chap to his son 15 minutes into the Australia vs Fiji quarter final at Wembley in London (the crowd thinned out pretty quickly following New Zealand’s last gasp win in the preceding match).

Hearing comments from some real jokesters in the crowd is one of the many advantages of getting along to games.  Yes, there are tedious morons as well, but I can get that staying at home listening to the Channel 9 commentary.

 

Milford Sounded Out

It’s that time of year again.  Rep season eve.

Origin selections are less than a month away and the way you’d hear the coaches talking, state squads will consist of up to 50 players.  Everyone is an Origin bolter or on track for their Origin redemption

Apparently the eligibility rules were meant to clear everything up.  Just ask Luke Keary. On a side note I do have to feel for those kids who are dragged from state to state in families who must travel for work – assuming they can find league schools or clubs, their Origin fate may be sealed by dads most recent work contract, not their actual State of Origin.

If the Origin eligibility rules were meant to clear it all up, spare a thought for those navigating the International eligibility rules. The ‘flexibility’ of those rules do rugby leagues credibility a huge disservice. So we managed to get through the 2013 Rugby League World Cup with some interesting changes in international rankings due to NRL player dominated minor nations.  But the merry-go-round is spinning up again and players who fought valiantly in national colours only 6 months ago are now going to trade in their allegiances.

Some don’t appear to even get a choice.

Samoan flyer Anthony Milford is getting the hard word from his Raiders coach and being courted by both the Queensland and Australian coach.

Next month Samoa is a big chance of reeling in World Cup semi-finalists Fiji (playing without Petero Civonoceva) with the dynamic fullback key to Samoa’s chances. The winning team gets a rare crack at the Four Nations tournament in October, the biggest opportunity on offer for the Pacific minows.

milfordBut Milford’s coach Ricky Stuart has put his foot down, telling Anthony that he is not to play for Samoa, instead he should use the rep bye to recover from injuries (that are not bad enough to stop him turning out for Canberra each week) and focus on his Queensland prospects and possibly an Australian call up. Listening to Mal Meninga and Tim Sheens talk, it’s a distinct possibility. Or none of it could happen (just a few proven players like Slater and Inglis in front of him) and he could miss out on potentially Toa Samoa’s finest hour. It’s a gamble with a big carrot dangled out in front of him.  Possible Origin selection vs being a match winner for the country he already has a few Test caps for.

But there also exists the scenario whereby Milford plays for Samoa next month, renounces his Samoan allegiance, plays for Queensland and then in October plays for Australia against Samoa. Because that’s what rugby league really needs to be credible.

Seriously RILF, sort this sh*t out! League takes a lambasting every four years with our eligibility rules for the World Cup, but then we go and have a ‘re-set’ rule which accentuates the shambles.

Players should be indicating their country or state of allegiance when their playing contract is registered as an under 20.  The RLIF should then be providing an international test calendar which allows counties to select their players at least once a year.  When there is doubt, the minow nation should have first ‘dibs’ (it’s not like Samoa has the same talent pool as Australia), not the other way around.

Until the RLIF addresses this, and the NRL surrenders its iron fisted rule of the game internationally, then rugby league will continue to languish behind the other, more credible, international codes.

A moment of madness, a lifetime of regret

Tonight is a big night for rugby league.

Rugby_League_Central_3The events of ten days ago are still echoing around rugby league, if not all contact sports in Australia.  At the centre is a young rugby league player with his playing future, and potentially his way of life, cut short whilst in his prime.

While Alex McKinnon remains in hospital in Melbourne, still not able to be transferred to Sydney, rugby league officialdom convenes in Sydney to cast judgement over the two seconds of rugby league that has wrought such devastation on Alex and his family.

The Newcastle Knights, and the league community in general have fallen in step to show concern and support for Alex and his family.  But a thought must also be spared for the other player in this matter, Jordan McLean. The 22 year old was stood down over the weekend, not because of any finding of guilt, but in consideration of the gravity of the situation – his actions have contributed to an horrific injury to another.

No one has suggested that Jordan, or any other league player for that matter, goes onto the field to cause grievous harm to another player.  The aim of a forward is to intimidate, dominate and reciprocate the big hits that make the rugby league highlight reels.  Putting someone in a hospital bed, let alone a wheelchair, is not in the mind of any professional player.

Jordan McLean is guilty, and indeed has been found guilty of a dangerous throw.  That was always going to be the case.  As the player who placed his hands between the legs of another player and lifted, he is the one who bears the burden of the end results, despite the fact that the individual split-second actions of three other players (McKinnon included) contributed to the end result. But what should the penalty be?

Rugby league commentators have called for a calm and clear decision, not one based on the hyperbole that comes with serious injuries.  It is an age old question in rugby league – should the penalty fit the seriousness of the injury caused?

Not that consistency is anything the NRL judiciary could find with a map and guide, but the decision to be made tonight on McLean’s penalty will be keenly watched. A precedent will be set, and league players should have cause to be concerned.

League officials will have many things to take into consideration: the grading of the dangerous throw, the contribution of other players, and the actions of the tackled player etc. But it will also take into consideration the perceptions of the ‘footy mums’ – the people who apparently decide whether or not the kiddies get to play rugby league.

We have had all sorts of talking heads come out of the woodwork this week encouraging mums to take their kids out of rugby league.  ‘It’s too dangerous’, ‘more has to be done’, ‘the tackle must be outlawed’ and ‘you can’t have that many players in a tackle.’  I get to consider myself a footy mum these days (if you count Munchkin League for the under 5s).

I may be biased about my footy.  But my response is:

a. Riding a bike is dangerous, more kids have been killed riding a bike than playing rugby league.  My daughter’s first broken arm came from playing on a chair, not playing footy.

b. Kids do not play the same game with the same rules as NRL players, and they certainly do not run at the same speed or hit each other with the same physicality.  But more could be done – I’m all for weight divisions, even if it means my kids will be playing against older kids.

c. As far as I’m aware placing your hands between another players’ legs and lifting has been outlawed. Any tackle where a player is lifted above the horizontal automatically results in a penalty and players on report, if not a sin-bin/send off.

d. Limiting the number of players who can be involved in a tackle is an option, but should not be a knee jerk reaction. Any such change will greatly affect the fabric of a game that many already judge to be losing its edge.

What occurred in the Melbourne vs Newcastle match was a freak accident.  It was not pre-meditated, nor was it the intent of any player to arrive at that outcome. I sincerely hope that the judiciary takes that into account.

image.scale.thumbnail.200.300[1]Whilst the playing future of Alex McKinnon is sadly over, the fate of Jordan McLean is less clear.  His playing career will forever have the footnote of that tackle – a 2 second stain on his career – should he even have the courage to continue. Even if the penalty he receives is moderate and he takes the field again, will he ever play the same?

Let’s not end the playing career of two young forwards.

 

How much is too much?

Here we are at the end of February and Ivan Cleary has already called it – the season is too long. There are too many games and the season goes too long.

This is nothing new in league, but this is probably the earliest I’ve heard it. Usually it rears its head after the Origin series.

With the addition of the Nines to the beginning of the season and another Four Nations tournament at the end of it, Cleary argues that we are playing too many internationals, and it’s asking too much of our elite players.

And you know what? I agree with him.

Now pick your jaw up from the floor. Yes, I, the avowed internationalist agrees we are playing too many international matches. But just have a look at that statement. While Cleary thinks the emphasis there is on the words ‘too many’, I would place the emphasis on ‘we’. We are playing too many international matches. I think there can never be enough internationals played, but Australia is playing too many international matches.

Since 2008 the Australian Kangaroos have played in an international series (ie more than a one off test match) at the end of every season bar 2012, in which they played New Zealand in Townsville.  Those Kangaroos have got to be getting tired.

I remember when an international tournament held an allure.  Whether that be the Kangaroo Tour in the UK, or the Great Britain team heading to our shores, these were highly anticipated throughout the year.  They dominated talks.  Now a Kangaroo Test Match series at the end of the season is expected, and let’s face it, an after though. A postscript to the end of the season. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure each and every player who pulls on that jersey is proud as punch.  Just tired as well.

It seems simple to me – when there is an over supply, demand is not high.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more international matches, but the rugby league world would be better served not revolving around Australia.  Hell, it might even improve.  It might actually give other countries a chance to select up and coming NRL players before they get tempted by the green and gold or black and white.

samoa fijiSome of the Pacific Island countries may actually get a chance to snare future stars of the game, but only if there is an international calendar which also points to future Test Matches. There’s a Test Match being played in Sydney in May which I’d be keen to see, and it’s not Australia vs New Zealand (although I believe the Kiwis may carry the World Cup Final drubbing on their shoulders into that match).  Samoa v Fiji, one of the more entertaining Quarter Finals of the 2013 World Cup will get a replay out at Penrith the night after the ANZAC Test.  Without the Super League players in attendance, quite a few NRL youngsters will get a chance to play in a Test Match for the first time, hopefully starting a long and distinguished career for their country.

Please, please, please let this match be televised and let Vossy be calling it.

The [Burgess] Blues Brothers

So Sam Burgess is off to Bath.  And then maybe onto the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

burgessI am in two minds about this.  There’s a part of me that thinks this is a win for the game of Rugby League – the fact that a world class league player can sidle over to another sport and carry on, hardly missing a beat.  Then there’s the more obvious side of the equation that says yet another player is lost to league by the cashed up and more cosmopolitan rugby union game.  However, I still do manage to feel a bit chuffed that no world class rugby union player has been able to cross over to league and continue to make a name for themselves.  (And before you throw Ricky Stuart at me, I don’t consider his rugby union career as world class.)

Now the Burgess defection throws up a number of issues – players breaking contracts; marquee player status; transfer deals; and behemoth that is the Rugby World Cup.  But the one thing it doesn’t have anything to do with is State of Origin.  ‘Til Rusty piped up.

Russell Crowe, having his two cents, has revealed that Sam Burgess might have stayed if he had been allowed to play for the Blues in State of Origin. Now I think Rusty is entitled to have his opinion here – he is the owner of Souths and he is the man responsible for luring the Burgess Brothers to Australia, but he is wrong.

Not just that, he’s out of his mind. The State of Origin concept does not need additional players injected, whether they be Sam Burgess or Sonny Bill.

The elephant in the room here is the fact that Rugby Union has an allure that Rugby League does not, and that is a truly international profile.  Yes, there’s money. But that money comes from an international corporate profile.

So State of Origin does come into this.  For some reason, an interstate clash between two Australian states is the pinnacle of our game throughout all league playing nations. Not test matches or international tournaments.  We have a club level tribalism that rugby union covets, and they have an international profile that we covet.

This will continue.  There will be more players heading to rugby union in England, Europe and Japan, unless league administrators pull their fingers out. And maybe instead of bleating, Rusty and Co could be helpful.  There is talk of a Super League mid-season international for England to play the Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland and Wales).  A chance to capitalise on the successful RLWC2013 and be a legitimate selection match for a Great Britain side. What are the chances that Russell Crowe et al will release the Burgess boys  to play in that?

Zero. Zip. Buckleys.

The only way league can compete with union is to take its international league game to the next level.  It won’t happen immediately.  It took State of Origin decades to get to where it is.  But the work must start now.