Rugby league survives on opinions – who’s playing well, who’s not, and why. These are the fuel sources for conversations that burn in lunch rooms, offices and work sites along Australia’s east coast.
These are the subjects that rugby league fans can argue, debate and think over until the label on a bottle of XXXX starts to make reasonable sense.
And these are the subjects that league fans will have a little less of later this month, after Rugby League Week magazine publishes its final issue.
Unfortunately for the fans, this cornerstone publication, which has for 47 years focused on untangling, uncovering and publishing the best stories and commentary on the game, will be wound up on March 30.
It’s not a good outcome for rugby league.
I grew up with a stack of Rugby League Week magazines piled high in my cupboard. The huge posters of players and team photos covered the walls of my bedroom, while my favourite photos from the magazine articles covered my school books. Seeing Gorden Tallis and Terry Hill head-butting each other on the front cover of your Year 8 English book was always a great motivation to do your homework.
I really can’t remember the last time I bought a copy of the magazine though, so over the weekend I went down to the newsagent to purchase one, and was amazed by what I read.
Rugby League Week is football talk. Just football talk. In the 46 pages of feature profiles, state league analysis, throwback stories and opinion columns, there was nothing of the stories which have fueled much of the mainstream media’s dialogue on rugby league over the past few weeks.
There was no mention of Bryce Cartwright’s off-field problems or Darius Boyd’s history of indiscretions (there was a Darius poster). In fact, I could find only three sentences dedicated to the ongoing Tim Simona drama – those comments came from Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach’s column, and who doesn’t want to hear what a Tigers legend has to say on that topic?
But that was it. Oure rugby league, no garbage, no agendas, no gossip. There was even a page highlighting the best off-field stories from a few NRL teams. It was refreshing.
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You’re about as likely to see the words ‘respectable’ and ‘journalism’ alongside each other these days as you are to see a 49ers jersey walking down Church St Mall. But what Rugby League Week was seeking to achieve in this, their second-last issue, was exactly that: provide respectable journalism on the subject, minimise the nonsense.
Sadly, I have to wonder how much the public’s infatuation with scandal – helped in no small part by the mainstream media’s willingness to feed into this narrative – has led to the magazine’s end. Is it possible that reporting on the game, and only the game, isn’t enough anymore?
If so, it’s an incredibly sad reflection on the media landscape, in which scandalous stories and gossip columns survive at the expense of straightforward sporting analysis. It’s an issue for which there appear to be few viable and profitable answers for those who just want pure rugby league content.
If the game’s primary sources of publicity are to come off the back of scandals and gossip, how long until the real fans become disillusioned altogether? Because without enough pure rugby league conversation and opinion, the rugby league fire becomes increasingly irrelevant.
When the final issue of Rugby League Week is released later this month, we will be without a longstanding pillar of sporting journalism. It’s then up to the surviving media outlets to continue to feed the fire that keeps the game alive, by finding out who’s playing well, who’s not, and why.