Are you ready for some (lightweight) footy?
This time of year, with the stirrings of an impending NRL season murmuring gently in the background, blokes everywhere are considering a comeback. The busted, the balding, the slow and the weary.
No matter what their affliction, they all press their nose to the windows of the train after work as it snakes its way slowly past the suburban footy fields.
I am of course, no different. Stopping by for a closer look one afternoon it was quite clear though that I was out of my depth.
Looking at the size of the blokes running around, even at a club level, I realised that it would take many more hours in the gym and a lot more protein shakes to move among these mountains.
This thought was made more depressing with the realisation I was watching the Under 16s.
Which got me thinking. Much has been made of recent weight for age trials in some junior rugby league competitions. This process has been controversial, but at least demonstrates that officials have been willing to show flexibility to boost participation and enjoyment.
But, umm…what about the rest of us?
Yes call me a wuss, a sook, a nance etc but geez I reckon there would be a lot of pencil neck blokes out there who would welcome some weight divide in open age footy.
Sure there’s been a tonne of small footy players over the years that have wowed crowds with their tenacity and bravery, some even appear in this week’s NRL All Stars game.
Not all of us are Rudy Ruttiger in the heart department though, and some of us had to be helped off the Movieworld Gremlins ride in tears (OK, that was just me).
I’m not interested in missing months of work with busted ribs after being trampled by a bloke 40kg heavier than me; I just want to play a game of footy.
Actual rugby league, not some bastardised version where you can’t kick the ball or have to wear ugly shorts with material stuck to them.
Unfortunately an emphasis on collision, a player’s mass and Newton’s second law all have a huge bearing on the playability of rugby league. This is why very little Masters rugby league exists compared to other football codes, and social rugby league is at best a tenuous prospect and at worst an oxymoron.
Interestingly enough though another high collision sport, American football, does adopt such weight strategies. Sort of.
In between inventing such atrocities as Mountain Dew and Slamball the Americans have created Sprint football, nee Lightweight football, which is played in American Colleges.
Back in the 30s officials were worried that playing College ‘ball was becoming out of reach for the average Joe, so they started 150lb football. To be eligible players had to weigh below 150lbs, the weight of an average man in 1936.
These days the sport is still played at a few universities, including the famous Army and Navy academies, with players needing to weigh below 172lbs (78kg) and maintain a body fat of at least 5 percent. You rock up after a double Hungry Jack’s brekky over the limit? No play fatso.
Granted, the Americans have taken this concept to the extreme, but a simple under 80kgs division in local rugby league comps would do wonders for player numbers.
Would there be blokes under 80kg who would still want to play open weight? Yes.
Would lightweight league share equal billing with open weight? Of course not, it would be most likely be played on the unmarked back oval and officiated by a pimply 15-year-old.
Would it be a hassle for clubs to organise? Probably.
However, in the spirit of inclusion and strengthening community ties, wouldn’t it be worth a shot?
Instead of having to prematurely retire to a life of touch, tag or (gulp) refereeing your average desk bound bloke could play a game of footy without having to monster 12 eggs a day for lunch and double his health insurance.
By all means administrators should keep focussing on getting more kids and women involved first, I get that, but isn’t it time the big game showing a bit of love for the little guy?
Chris Chard is a sports humour writer commenting on the often absurd nature of professional sport. A rugby league fan boy with a good blend of youth and experience taking things one week at a time, Chris has written for The Roar since 2011. Tweet him @Vic_Arious