I am what’s wrong with NRL crowds

Kris Swales Columnist

By , Kris Swales is a Roar Expert

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    A big, empty stadium does no one favours. (Source: Supplied)

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    Forgive me footy fans, for I have sinned. I only attended two NRL games this year, and I didn’t enjoy either of them.

    I have a valid excuse, though. Being a Canberra Raiders fan absolutely blows at the moment.

    Particularly when you’re watching your team wave Manly past like they’re directing traffic at a rain-sodden Brookvale Oval, or the Sydney Roosters coasting to victory in neutral at a desolate SFS.

    There was a three-game Raiders membership that I had every intention of using, but Ricky and the boys gave me little encouragement to drive three hours down the Hume full of hope, then turn around and drive home from Canberra Stadium wondering how that eight hours of my life could have been better utilised.

    I did take in five Newtown Jets games at Henson Park, but that’s as much about the cultural experience as it is a day at the football. Plus you can be guaranteed the home team will turn up, and the choice of establishments to retire to after the final hooter rattles across the field is far more salubrious than Mooseheads in the nation’s capital.

    Then there’s State of Origin, Game 2 of which my crew and I debated long and hard the relative merits of attending this year. We’re all working professionals with no dependents, but the consensus was we couldn’t justify spending $110-ish for tickets that were closer to $50 three years earlier.

    A hundred-plus clams for a Metallica concert? Sure. For a Pink Floyd reunion? Here, have my wallet. But not to attend an event that rolls through my city 1.5 times a year. (Though given New South Wales winning a series only happens every nine years, perhaps it deserved the special event price tag.)

    Now the finals are on, the Raiders are gone, Origin dynasties are shattered, and NRL crowds still have some journos and supporters ready to raise the terror threat levels to High.

    I didn’t go last weekend because I was house hunting and working and don’t really care for any Sydney teams. I won’t be going this weekend because I’m moving house and working and all of the people I’d normally drag along to watch the Cowboys school the Roosters have plans.

    I won’t be going to the prelims next weekend because I’ll be in Queensland. And I likely won’t go to the grand final unless it’s a Panthers-Cowboys decider because, quite frankly, f**k Sydney teams. (Oh alright, the Bunnies are also tolerable.)

    The NRL should be doing more to get fans to games, apparently. I read it all the time so it must be true. But what is this ‘more’ they speak of? Playing games at well-appointed stadia? Adult general admission tickets for $25 and $50 for families? Manly getting mercilessly thumped?

    All of this happened last Friday night when the Rabbitohs made my Expert tipping credentials look incredibly shaky – 25,000-odd showed up, and much fun was had by all but Manly fans.

    I enjoyed the spectacle all the same, as I did when a roaring crowd of 23,000 and Jamie Soward turned a scrappy affair into a finals classic the following evening.

    These crowds are neither here nor there. They’re not stupendous. They’re not a sign the four horsemen have entered the barriers. They’re merely workmanlike – the Dave Tyrrell and Remi Casty of crowd figures – and nowhere near as hysteria-inducing as your average edition of Question Time. Maybe workmanlike is rugby league’s lot in life.

    But if I was able to put some meat on the bones of the mythical ‘more’ that the NRL should be doing to get me along to more games?

    Dave Smith and his mates at Moore Park could start by conspiring to make the Canberra Raiders a powerhouse once more, playing out of Henson Park every other weekend so I could walk there and back, kick off every game at 3pm Saturday in perfect winter sunshine, serve craft beer in cans and book what’s left of Pink Floyd as the house band, playing Bad and Mean Green Machine in the style of Money whenever a try is scored.

    Or they could teleport Lang Park to the centre of Sydney, and my dad, brother and uncle with it, so it could be the hub of our family catch-ups as it was from 1983-2010, with a brief flirtation with QEII in the middle there somewhere that isn’t spoken about in polite company.

    Even then, with all of the ‘more’ taken care of, I’d have to consult my calendar. Because going to the footy is just a part of my life, not the entire point of it.