Anzac Day clash shows rugby league’s value on the big stage

Greg Prichard Columnist

By , Greg Prichard is a Roar Expert

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    Imagine an NRL where every day was Anzac Day, at least in terms of the size of the crowd. How good would that be?

    I hate to call it a pipe-dream, but as far as ambitions go it’s a huge one. Still, no-one ever got to the top by aiming for the middle.

    As a big NFL fan myself, the thing that always hits me straight away with that competition – either watching on television or at the game – is the packed stadium.

    I’ve been to Gillette Stadium at Foxborough to see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning go head-to-head for the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. I was lucky enough to go to a Super Bowl as well. NFL games are bona fide events.

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

    Generally, the closest we get to that sort of level here is with the AFL, and they, of course, have their own Anzac Day extravaganza with the Essendon-Collingwood match. A crowd of 87,685 attended that game at the MCG.

    But the NRL has something very special itself with the Anzac Day game between Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra at Allianz Stadium.

    Every year, the tradition grows stronger. This year, a crowd of 40,864 attended and it was another mighty occasion. Watching on TV or at the ground, this clash draws you in and grips you for the 80 minutes – or even longer, as it turned out on this occasion.

    The way it ended, with Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce slotting an extra-time field goal, was stunning in itself because of Pearce’s well-documented previous run of outs in the field goal-kicking department.

    But it was also the last play of a game that had been great as a whole.

    Big crowds and electric atmospheres can make average games seem like good ones, and good ones appear great.

    But the Anzac Day clash has developed to a stage where it doesn’t need help to be a great match. The atmosphere just adds to it. The players are clearly honoured and feel lucky to be an active part of such a big day on the Australian calendar.

    It really is like a finals game in April.

    Unlike the AFL, the NRL prefers to go with more than one Anzac Day game every year. I’d be OK with the Roosters-Dragons match being the only one, but at least the other one has an Australia-New Zealand flavour with Melbourne playing the Warriors.

    Aidan Guerra celebrates a try against the Dragons

    That was a pretty good game as well, but it still didn’t quite have what the Roosters-Dragons game has got. It has the massive event feel.

    The trick is to transform more NRL games into bigger occasions, so there are more genuine events.

    I don’t profess to have the brilliant answer as to how this can be done, although shortening the competition by a few rounds from the existing 26 would help. The less games there are, the more meaningful each game becomes.

    I’m not talking about reducing it to something like the 17 rounds of the NFL, but that competition is a great example because every game is crucial.

    The point is, you can always do things better. You’ve just got to find the right way.

    The Anzac Day game is up there on a pedestal, where it should be. It’s a big occasion, an event. But in the space of 26 rounds there has to be scope for more big occasions, more events.

    We’ve just got to find the key to establishing them.

    Greg Prichard
    Greg Prichard

    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. Twitter: @gregprichard

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