As an Irishman studying at a university in the UK, how have I managed to come to the conclusion that the National Rugby League is the best season-long league competition in the world to follow?
First of all, let me divulge some information about myself. I am from a family with a rich history in Gaelic Games on one side, while on the other, my father is rugby union through and through.
This which makes it my sport of choice, followed by football (of the English variety). In the main, rugby league has little chance through my circumstances to affect my life, though the first live sporting event I remember going to was Great Britain beating Australia at Wembley with Jonathan Davies’ fantastic try being my sole memory of the game.
As I’m sure anyone who has looked up rugby videos on YouTube will know, the ‘related videos’ selection to the right will contain videos from all categories of rugby, from league to union to 7s. Through this I found the 10 minute video of Benji Marshall doing things with a ball I have never seen anyone else do in either code.
From there on in, I had to know more about the game, and if there were players like him. From him I went on to learn about Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne and others of that ilk, but still, it isn’t neccesarily these players that make the NRL so intriguing to follow.
These players gave me an avenue into finding out more about the different teams in the competition, understanding which teams were from where and learning more about the history of the competition and of individual clubs.
Learning about the parochial nature of the sides from Sydney and just outside it, with the deep rivalries which have been wrought over decades of footie (still odd to hear it called that), was fascinating. As an outsider as I didn’t have to get caught up in it, but enjoyed watching from the periphery how each game was fought with such passion and desire, not just on the pitch but on the terraces.
While it is good to see big attendances in arenas like the Sydney Football Stadium and ANZ (or whatever acronym it now has), the game is defined in the city in the smaller cauldrons dedicated to league such as Leichhardt Oval or Parramatta Stadium.
It isn’t just that tense local rivalry that excites but the variety of interstate battle at club level when the isolated teams travel to the big city to play the city-slickers, or invite them out to the hinterland to ambush them.
There is so much more to it than that. While I see there being complaints about time delays for games, in Victoria especially, having your sport on terrestrial TV is an incredible luxury that should be appreciated. And while this might be something definitely seen more from an international point of view, the Aussie accent is perfect for commentating on sport.
Hearing the voices of Ray Warren, Andrew Voss or Warren Smith adds to the spectacle and makes for great highlight packages or montages.
But there is still more to it. The salary cap is the best thing in the game. It’s really interesting see how clubs develop and recruit players, trying to stay within the salary cap yet trying to build a championship winning side.
We can watch a team blow a large part of its salary on a player to make the difference, or watch the more shrewd clubs building their squads with players who are less well-known but have something that can really shine in that environment.
While it is not strictly part of the competition, the representative game is the cherry on top. While I know it is a new conception, the NRL All Stars v the Indigenous All Stars brings a big bang to the season, while State of Origin is the perfect way to break it up, being one of the best sporting contests across the globe.