Why I’ll watch the A-League instead of the NRL tonight

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Manly's celebrate Tom Symonds' try during the NRL preliminary final between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Manly Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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I’ll watch the television coverage of tonight’s NRL game between Manly and South Sydney – but on delay. I’m going to watch the A-League game between Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar live instead.

That is more interesting and exciting to me at the moment.

Now, before you get stuck into me for mentioning my viewing plans as if it is a guide you should follow, that wasn’t my intention.

The reason I mentioned it is because I wanted to explain the reasons why – and see if any other people felt similarly.

There has been nothing remotely resembling a big build-up to the clash between the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs. It’s been boring – the same as the lead-up to the opening game of the season between Sydney Roosters and Souths.

Manly and Souths – the clubs and their fans – used to hate each other, going back to when Manly started stealing Souths’ best players in the early 1970s.

But the hate is long gone. No one stirs up genuine rivalry between clubs anymore. Players, coaches and officials, they say nothing.

Three reasons. One, they want to avoid the opposition seizing on anything controversial that might be said and using it as motivation. Two, they distrust the media. And, three, coaches are control freaks. They drive the agenda.

It’s a different percentage of these reasons with different clubs.

But, please. This is professional sport. If something the opposition says is going to take you higher than whatever it is you’ve been doing to prepare all week, it says less than zero for your preparation.

When the people involved do have something to say, it adds spice. It creates a buzz, increases interest – and, yes, dare I say, increases crowds sometimes.

Really good pre-match publicity – some genuine hype – helps get people talking and can sell tickets.

Last Friday, I wrote a feature story for Rugby League Week lamenting the disappearance of hatred from the game’s rivalries – particularly that which used to be associated with Manly and South Sydney.

The magazine wasn’t hitting the news-stands until yesterday, but I was as sure as I was of the sun rising on each of the six days in-between that nothing would happen to make me a look a fool.

And, of course, nothing did. No one said anything to stir things up pre-match.

In the story, I quoted former Souths and Manly player Mark Carroll, who, thank God, has always been prepared to say something.

He said: “No one says anything anymore. Officials and players used to say stuff that would ignite things, but now the players are told what to do, what to say and what to eat. It’s all the same, so there’s no reason to really hate a team.

“You might dislike a particular player, but you don’t hate a whole club.

“The players are all friendly now. They’re shaking hands and even cuddling, with the shoulder bumps, at the end of games.

“When I was playing for Manly, if we lost I was scared to go back to the dressing-room because ‘Bozo’ (coach Bob Fulton) would be there – and he wouldn’t be happy!”

I’m talking about this because of the issue of lack of media access to players that has been a story in itself this week.

Now, please, spare me your complaints along the lines of: “Why should anyone talk to the media when they just write crap about them anyway?”

First of all – and so obviously that I feel like an idiot explaining it – not even remotely are all stories “crap”.

But balancing that, I’ve been in the media all my working life and I’ll readily admit the media has done the wrong thing plenty of times in the way it has covered stories.

Some stories are negative and that’s just the way it is. But then there are times where the subjects of stories are treated unfairly.

I’ve got a suggestion that might help with that.

If NRL chief executive Dave Smith is serious when he says the media access guidelines are going to be reviewed – they are ridiculously tight as they stand, compared with major sports overseas, and not policed by the league anyway – then he should consider creating the following position.

A media officer with the specific role of monitoring coverage of the game and addressing complaints and issues affecting both sides of the fence – the media and the people they are writing about – with a view to improving the relationship and maintaining it at a good level.

Greater media access leading to improved coverage of the game can only be good for you, the league fan, because you’re going to learn more about and, so, be able to identify more with the individuals and teams you follow.

Finally, back to tonight’s game. Unlike maybe some people who are rabid league followers and wouldn’t for a second consider watching the football instead, I’ve enjoyed covering both codes at different times over the years.

I don’t feel compelled to watch one over the other, so I’ll watch what I feel like watching at the time.

Tonight, it’s the football. I’ll watch a replay of the league later.

What I’m interested to know is whether there are other people out there who are league fans but who also like the football and are favouring the A-League tonight.

Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. He is now freelancing. Twitter: @gregprichard
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