Raiders’ Chinese odyssey could be NRL’s great leap forward

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Tom Learoyd Lahrs in action during round 6 of the NRL. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay

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Finally after fifteen years of teasing oriental footy fans, Canberra’s “Green Machine” is preparing to march into the People’s Republic of China next year. And not a moment too soon.

In a country of 1.3 billion people I’m guessing it takes a lot to make a headline, but surely the sight of Josh ‘Tatts’ Dugan and Jarrod ‘The Frog’ Croker carving up the opposition will see as much excitement as any animal-themed New Year celebration.

Mind you, should a bunch of blokes who are quite capable of causing an international incident at Dubbo Zoo really be our ambassadors to the world’s next superpower? And more importantly, won’t the locals be confused when the long trumpeted appearance of the great Laurie Daley doesn’t materialise?

For those who don’t understand that last reference, let’s take a trip back into the dark recess of rugby league history. Let’s mention the war.

During the Super League dark ages a lot of stupid things were said. Mal Meninga, a league immortal who would be flogging strawberries if it wasn’t for footy, asked a packed Cronulla League Club auditorium “What’s rugby league ever done for me?”

A pony-tailed bloke exclaimed “Yes, yes, they look lovely!” to the Super League jerseys with the arrows pointing towards the players’ genitals.

Most famous of all, though, were the comments made by Super League CEO John Ribot, to the effect that the breakaway competition will see, “Players like Laurie Daley recognised in China.”

Wow. Not even Wayne Bartrim bought that one.

Now don’t get me wrong, wanting to expand one’s sport is a noble endeavour. I’ve never really understood footy fans that are anti-expansion. When these people see a movie they love, do they not recommend it to others, just in case their friends think it sucks and instead point them in the direction of the latest Adam Sandler monstrosity?

Personally I’d love to be backpacking through Nepal one day only to find players from the Kathmandu Cobras and the Pokhara Pirates going the grapple tackle and arguing about obstruction laws.

Sports development is mostly a grassroots exercise though, and dumping a truckload of cash into an untried foreign market and expecting a great leap forward is really akin to driving around in a limo throwing seeds out the window and expecting an orchard to grow.

The Raiders’ proposed game is admittedly a different kettle of fisherman’s friend, more of a tie-in with their new sponsor than a development tool (expect to see Cronulla players sucking back on menthol lollies on a prawn trawler any day now).

Similar to the AFL game in China the other year, they’ll bus in a bunch of bewildered school kids and factory workers to the game, get their ugliest player to dress up in a traditional costume for a laugh, then launch a ‘Hail Mary’ bomb for expansion into the stands.

Sure it’s probably against the odds that some local kid will catch the ball, run with the thing and score a try under the black dot for the code, but it’s nice to see the game finally making some ground on the wild predictions of yesteryear.

So as crackers as the idea may seem, I say good on the Raiders for trying something different

After all, it has to beat throwing rocks at the lions at Dubbo Zoo for the umpteenth time.

You can follow Chris on Twitter: @Vic_Arious

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

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