Is rugby league actually a better spectacle than union?
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There’s evidence to suggest rugby league is more popular than union. This is strange, if not downright counterintuitive. And it’s critical we understand why league is on top, because the survival of union depends on it.
It’s worth discounting AFL at this point because it’s in a totally different market. Let’s leave that battle for another day.
And before we go into things, it’s probably worth questioning what it means for a sport to be popular.
Generally the more popular something is the less inherent quality it actually has; reference Britney Spears (pre-haircut), Twilight, and Two and a Half Men.
But moving on from this uncomfortable niggle, and logging on to Wikipedia you will discover that league is officially a “faster more entertaining game for spectators”.
How disillusioning for union tragics such as myself, to recieve this from the authority on all information.
Compounding this finality, rugby league gets a $1 billion television deal and games played live every week, while union gets contemptuous coverage from Channel Nine, probably designed to protect a commercial interest in league by playing zero live rugby games. Of course the rights to the rugby must have been extremely cheap for channel 9 to be able to do this.
Also, in reading the daily newspaper you’ll wade through 16 pages of league editorial until you reach a token article on rugby; generally next to the trotts and probably readdressing the issue of how defunct the Waratahs management is.
And of course, judging by the rhetoric on The Roar, you’d think the game was less functional than an intoxicated P-plater operating a forklift.
So why is league more entertaining? No idea. Why should it be less entertaining?
How about the suggestion that league lacks variety, spontaneity, continuity of play? Yes there will be people to argue that rugby is the stop-start game. Agreed the scrums in union are broken, and yes you’d rather stick the leg of a chair through your ear and mash your corpus callosum than sit through a 15th scrum reset. And acknowledged, the Wallabies kick the ball more times in a game than a smoker kicks the habit.
But in between these affronts there’s a continuous, fluid contest where anything can happen, rather than the five tackles kick, five tackles kick, four tackles kick, five tackles kick you get in league.
Compounding the monotony in league, displays of initiative appear to be limited to the old chestnut of kicking on the fourth, and the forwards have discarded the extravagance of a sidestep, preferring to run in a straight line, only to be tackled five to seven metres closer to the opponents’ try line; a process repeated 497 times per game.
In rugby there’s a range of additional contests from rolling mauls, lineouts, dominance at the ruck and pilfering, all adding to the depth and complexity of the contest, and introducing strategy to the game. It provides a platform for great rivalries like McCaw versus Pocock and Gregan versus Kelleher. The contest is cerebral as much as it is athletic or skilful.
With league, the strategy may be limited to running lines and putting up the high ball on the last tackle. It’s not a case of league players being less intelligent than rugby players; it’s about the constraints of their game strangling the scope for creativity.
What grates most, however, is the guaranteed exchange of possession. This concept introduces a fait accompli, as every time you get the ball you’re resigned to losing it. It’s a suffocating thing, and strips the game of the ardour that anything’s possible.
There are a few other deities in league, such as the scrums which are less useful to mankind than a haemophiliac vampire. But on the whole it’s the machination of the game that’s taken the joy out of it for this observer.
It used to be entertaining back in the 90s, when Alfie Langer would trip-tackle his way into immortality and the Footy Show was actually something you wanted to watch. Back then the skills and athleticism were of a lesser standard, noted, but it meant the play was erratic and there was the possibility of something unexpected happening in every play. This had the effect of producing a fantastic game to watch.
Yet these days, even State of Origin has got an edge of banality to it. Notwithstanding, it’s probably enjoying unprecedented success.
Of course the opinions expressed here are from a biased rugby fan; there’s always the other side of the coin.
Can anyone provide their position as to why league is more entertaining than rugby?
Or can Wikipedia be wrong?
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