How rugby league’s rep weekend missed the mark
New Zealand's Issac Luke is tackled by Australia's James Tamou. AAP Image/SNPA, David Rowland
There are a number of simple principles that are taught to junior rugby league players. Tackle low, keep your eye on the ball and don’t go to the toilet directly after applying deep heat are some basic guidelines.
For fans of rugby league though there is really only one golden rule. Always keep your expectations low.
This is not to say rugby league hasn’t produced amazing athletes, reality-defying matches and, if my Youtube history is any indication, some fantastic moments of individual brilliances over the years.
Despite recent moanings by 5-metre rule conspiracy theorists, it’s pretty clear that rugby league is actually an entertaining sport, that people like watching from time to time.
It’s just that when a game is as heavily media-entwined as rugby league, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of well, expecting certain things from a match.
The standalone rep football week just gone has been a pretty good example of this. For starters there was the James Tamou situation.
Despite previously representing New Zealand Maori, owning the complete collection of Footrot Flats and knowing more than one Dave Dobbin song, Tamou elected to play for the Kangaroos.
Which, if you believed the hype, meant big James would be getting scraped off the Eden Park turf with a spatula after Frank Pritchard’s shoulder had finished talking with him.
The reality was of course quite a bit different. Tamou came onto the field to a pretty solid booing only to make a few tackles, a couple of mild hit-ups before chugging off the ground to leave everyone at the ground wondering what to do with their empty plastic bottles.
Following the test came City versus Country. Again despite should of knowing better it was just way to easy to get up in the hype of the match.
Visions of Jarryd Hayne and Todd Carney duelling like football wielding break dancers battling it out for the coveted New South Wales five eighth position at a white picket fenced, rock hard suburban ground were just to hard to bury in the back of the mind behind the 1989 Illawarra Steelers side.
Instead both Carney and Hayne seemed to avoid the ball in the first half like it had just rolled through horse manure, the first two tries of the match were scored by a bloke who won’t ever be allowed to play Origin ever again thanks to still having Greg Inglis’ palm print still imbedded on his face and all at a ground that looked like the 18th at Augusta with a better grandstand.
And last of all were the expectations for the standalone rep weekend itself.
For a long time now there’s been a push from players as well as supporters to have a standalone test weekend so that the pinnacle of the game gets the attention it deserves, as well as not over work the players.
This was met with much enthusiasm at the release of the draw, enthusiasm that waned significantly when people realised a standalone rep footy weekend meant no NRL matches. Or footy tipping. Or Supercoach!
Sure, this is probably more a case of having a stunning lack of foresight on our behalf, but expecting the City versus Country match to carry two days of weekend sporting hype suddenly seems a little bit ambitious.
Personally to tide myself over on Saturday’s rugby league lay day I attended an out of town park rugby league match. Having stomped around the patchy paddock in my youth it’s fair to say the move was made mostly out of desperation, and my expectations of a quality spectacle were pretty modest.
To my delight I was completely wrong. The game was tight, the skill level high and the canteen pies piping warm.
Sure, none of the blokes were in my Fantasy team, but the enjoyment of rocking up to a random game not knowing any of the player’s names or club dramas was oddly refreshing.
In fact I might even go back, and I would recommend it to any footy fan feeling burnt-out by the bluff and bluster of the professional game.
I can assure you won’t be disappointed. Trust me.
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, Rugby League Player Magazine, US Sports Downunder, the QRL and People. Tweet him @Vic_Arious