There was a time when a Snickers bar cost 20 cents, and a pack of cigarettes cost two dollars. A time when the Brisbane Rugby League competition had the lion’s share of the best players in the world.
The BRL’s Winfield Cup was fierce, with heated battles both on and off the field.
Legends were forged in this inferno. Redcliffe Dolphins produced greats like Arthur Beatson. What seemed then like a million miles from Redcliffe, another bayside team Wynnum-Manly Seagulls produced Gene Miles, Greg Dowling, Wally Lewis and Bob Lindner (who previously played for the South Magpies).
Trevor Gillmeister, ‘The Axe’, emerged from Norths Devils, as did New Zealand great Mark Graham, and Kevin Walters. The other Walters brothers played for the Ipswich Jets with Alfie Langer.
We loved watching our heroes running onto the paddock. The running, the fighting, tackling, then more fighting. There was mud, blood, scars, stitches, fists flying. No hand bags. Real punches. Priceless!
But it was not good enough, especially after winning the State Of Origin. We wanted our own team. The Broncos were formed with a mission to raid New South Wales, to take their trophy – and we did!
But there was a cost. The traditional Brisbane league community was annihilated. Almost overnight we had 70 years of history wiped from our daily lives. But the BRL was dying a slow death anyway.
There was some gain. We could watch our best (and generally fairest), playing with each other. Also, we had a new enemy – in fact there were more enemies, everywhere! Not just from Sydney, but also Canberra, Newcastle, and Melbourne.
All these teams relinquished their local cups of glory in exchange for bragging rights to be the best in Australia. After a coup d’état and a truce, the National Rugby League has become a market which generates over $300 million a year. It is a treasured institution, entwined in eastern Australia’s social fabric.
Rugby union is a shadow of this. It is a crying shame, considering there is approximately the same number of registered adult players in both codes.
This has to change.
Firstly, like other successful codes, rugby needs a national trophy that beats all trophies. Just like Highlander, there can only be one.
Secondly, we need more than 160 players representing the national code, locked behind a pay-TV firewall. A good number is 500.
The Hospital Cup and Shute Shield are fine trophies, but it’s time for something better. Australian rugby needs a national trophy.
The current NRC is a mere tail that wags on the end of a five-headed dog slurping from five bowls.
Super Rugby is the Orthrus twin head of the Wallabies, charged with guarding the international interests of the ARU and closed-circuit entertainment.
Besides, this is not about the ARU. This is about states. It’s about their players, their coaches, and managers who want to be the best in Australia, and emerge from behind their cups.
The best from each of the state should challenge the others weekly – just as teams do in NRL, AFL, and A-League.
The A-League is a particularly interesting example. It has risen from turbulent and humble beginnings to become a proud national institution in less than 10 years.
A true National Rugby Competition should run concurrently with the five domestic competitions, thereby relegating them. Only then will Australian rugby (which is domestic rugby) start to realise its true potential.
Otherwise, it may end up dead and thrown down the chute for real – just like the BRL.