Is the NRL-AFL hybrid game just a beautiful dream?
Watching last year’s Ireland versus Australia International Rules match on the Gold Coast I, like so many others, couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the last time we would see the mutant round-ball spectacle played.
I personally enjoy the game, and have an appreciation for Gaelic football. I watch it every year for the spectacle.
But even I am over it. And I know I’m not alone.
The hybrid game’s demise has been covered ad nauseum. Reasons include its lack of relevance, the participation of under-strength Australian teams and a tendency for matches to deteriorate into brawls.
For mine, the lack of relevance is the true killer.
It’s obvious why we play Ireland every year. It’s a celebration of our respective unique indigenous sporting codes, affirming our strong relationships and cross-cultural relations nurtured through cross-code players such as Tadhg Kennelly, Marty Clarke and Dublin product Jim Stynes.
Furthermore, it’s a rare opportunity for players of both codes to represent their country at an international level.
But even these reasons are starting to wear thin. Celebrating indigenous codes is all well and good, but the resulting game doesn’t truly represent either, making the event redundant.
Besides, the cross-code travel is strictly one way. And the Gaelic Athletic Association know it.
This leaves us with our boys playing at a national level. But if that was really so important to the AFL, why not give the AIS team leave to play in the International Cup (played in Melbourne every year) and televise the final on free-to-air TV?
There, Australia would take on the world at our own game.
Sure, stars and top-flight players can’t play. But that rule would appear to be in effect in the Australia versus Ireland games anyway.
If we truly want to play a relevant hybrid code-celebrating exhibition game, we shouldn’t play it against the GAA. We should play it against the NRL.
Can you imagine the code-war fanatics in the lead up to this clash?
Can you imagine the cross-code banter? The David Gallop and Andrew Demetriou press conferences?
Imagine the posturing of code fanatics on either side in the lead-up, and the coverage. One can only imagine the TV ratings!
The game would reach right into the heart of both codes and dominate the sporting landscape. Even if the NRL and AFL split the costs and profits, the takings would be gigantic.
But how would such a game work?
A hybrid League-Aussie Rules game would be a tricky beast to create and referee, the two games being so fundamentally different.
So for now, we can take the biggest elements of each game, and see how they fit.
For league, passing backwards is all important, so that stays. Aussie Rules is far more complex, but one aspect – that is probably the most crucial and at the core of the modern game – is kicking long and marking.
Two teams, arranged in league-style lines, attempt to move the ball across a rectangle field. They can only pass backwards by hand, but can move the ball by foot forwards.
I know, I just described both codes of rugby, but the next element here is crucial.
Three players from each side are allowed to be offside at any time. These players are then able to receive the ball from a kick. Should the ball travel 10 metres untouched, a mark and resulting free kick/pass is awarded.
Scoring would work similarly to league, but with all scores being multiples of three. A try is worth six and a field goal worth three. A marked ball within the try scoring area, though, is worth nine.
This would be akin to the AFL mark inside 50, minus the necessary resulting goal.
Imagine a game something like gridiron, with continuous play and kicking rather than passing, and you have a better picture.
It might not be pretty on paper now, but this game – in the modern Australian sporting landscape – would have far more relevance to the average punter than the international game, which Australia dominates.
This is true of both codes, with the NRL (and I include the Kiwis under this banner) dominating international competitions.
Imagine names like Thaiday, Smith and Cronk charging through the AFL lines, using superior power to punch vast holes in the line.
Imagine Franklin, Riewoldt and Brown streaming ahead offside to take overhead running marks within the scoring zone, unmatched in speed and overhead aerial ability.
And imagine code-converts Folau and Hunt, lining up for the AFL. It would truly be a most mouth-watering piece of entertainment.
Yes, this game might purely be a fantasy. But what a fantasy it is…