Hatred runs deep in the NRL

Ryan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ryan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Ben Lowe on the charge for Souths during the NRL Manly v Souths, Brookvale Stadium, Saturday, June 19, 2010. Sea Eagles won 26 - 25. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

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    Watching the game of the year so far on Friday night, as the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Manly Sea Eagles battled it out at Brookvale Oval, it dawned on me just how much hatred plays an integral part in the success of rugby league.

    Every NRL fan wants their team to do well, but they also have a vested interest in witnessing the pain and/or defeat of the opponents they love to hate. And surprisingly, it is not just Manly.

    The Sea Eagles have always been a club that other teams’ fans have enjoyed disliking. It harks back to their ‘slivertails’ days when they earned a reputation of stealing other teams’ best players.

    Yet there is certainly a modern day hatred for the club from the Northern Beaches of Sydney as well.

    Apart from their success – the main ingredient in any case of hatred – a lot of the vitriol towards the club can be attributed to Steve Matai; a player whose frequency of visits to the NRL judiciary means he should pay rent there.

    This is a man who single-handedly prevented Darren Lockyer playing in a semi-final two years ago. The legendary Brisbane Broncos five-eighth was nursing a broken cheekbone, and doctors advised him against playing because they thought Matai might target him.

    That’s right, Lockyer didn’t play in a game of football because of the public knowledge Matai would attack his weakness. Never mind that ‘weakness’ was Lockyer’s head, and targeting it would have therefore been illegal.

    Though to be fair to Matai, he is far from the only reason to hate Manly.

    Coach Geoff Toovey has a PhD in whinging. The Stewart brothers aren’t adverse to cheap shots and punch-ups. Anthony Watmough is the poster child for despised NRL players. Dave ‘The Wolfman’ Williams choked in Origin. Kieran Foran is a Kiwi and Daly Cherry-Evans is a Queenslander, right when NSW needs some halves.

    If it feels like I’m singling Manly out, it’s because I am. I hate them.

    Though in the interests of fairness and objectivity, it’s worth noting I respect the Manly football club tremendously, and the hatred simply allows me to enjoy football even more.

    After all, every good story needs a villain, and it’s nice to be passionate about games my team isn’t even playing in.

    To that point, and for those who don’t already know, I follow the Bulldogs.

    Before you bombard me, allow me to admit that between cheating the salary cap, being involved in something ‘untoward’ in Coffs Harbour, Willie Mason’s mouth, James Graham biting Billy Slater, Josh Reynolds’ niggling, the club’s Mad Monday antics last year, Des Hasler’s crankiness, Michael Ennis’ sledging, Ben Barba getting suspended, and the behaviour of some of the club’s fans, I can certainly appreciate why the Dogs are widely hated too.

    In fact, every fan has a justification, or simply creates a subplot, in order to rationalise their hatred of another team.

    The Melbourne Storm cheated the salary cap, allegedly brought the much-maligned ‘grapple’ tackle into the game, plus they’re from AFL country.

    The Cronulla Sharks have a drug cloud hanging over them, the Penrith Panthers are run by Gus Gould, and the Wests Tigers used to be everyone’s darlings, but now they’re just perceived as petulant losers.

    The Newcastle Knights have Darius Boyd, who makes Wayne Bennett look like Robin Williams when it comes to interviews.

    The Gold Coast Titans seem to always have some off-field dramas, the Parramatta Eels just plain stink, and the Canberra Raiders’ green jerseys are historically ugly.

    The St George Illawarra Dragons gave us Anthony Mundine, Jamie Soward, and will no doubt be signing Josh Dugan any minute.

    The South Sydney Rabbitohs have a developed a superiority complex, the North Queensland Cowboys’ Johnathan Thurston abuses referees, and the New Zealand Warriors are from New Zealand.

    The Brisbane Broncos are very successful, receive the benefit of being a one-town team, and have Justin Hodges giving everyone an earful.

    And the Roosters are the Roosters. Enough said.

    As you can tell from the above, reality doesn’t need to factor into your particular hatred. After all, emotion is very rarely rational, and hatred is just about the most powerful emotion that exists.

    The hatred isn’t contained to fans either. Over the years, feuds in rugby league have often been the biggest stories and have gained most of the media coverage in the game.

    Don’t believe me? Just consider the hatred that runs thick between the following rugby league personalities:

    Phil Rothfield and Gus Gould. David Gallop and Brett Stewart. Mal Meninga and the NSW media. Adam MacDougall and Russell Crowe. George Piggins and Andrew Denton.

    Paul Harragon and Mark Carroll. Mario Fenech and Benny Elias. Jason Taylor and Michael Hagan. Bill Harrigan and Bob Fulton. Peter Sterling/Ray Price/Brett Kenny and Dennis Fitzgerald.

    Ray Hadley and everybody.

    I could easily list plenty more.

    While every sport has their rivalries, along with personalities that don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye, few sports thrive on pure hatred as much as rugby league does.

    Make no mistake about it, there is nothing contrived or manufactured about the bad blood that exists in the code. In fact, in many ways, the hatred is the lifeblood of the game.

    So don’t hide that venom, let it out. You wouldn’t be a rugby league fan if you didn’t have a little bit of hatred in you.


    Ryan O
    Ryan O'Connell

    Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.