A week after the Brumbies-Reds Super Rugby AU fans of both rugby codes got the chance to watch NRL powerhouses South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters in what should have been a titanic Round 20 match-up.
Aussie winter sport is a dysfunctional family.
Of course this fractured landscape is a symptom of our colonial past, but what if these schisms could be repaired? Could we collect our bifurcated threads and splice them back into rope?
What if we as a nation could federate our footies? As a hypothetical, let’s look at rugby union, rugby league, and Aussie rules. My purpose is not to invent a Frankenstein’s monster; however, this may through introspection reveal some home truths about our most cherished sports.
Rugby union, I’m told, is the game they play in heaven. This may be true if the afterlife wore a blazer and sang God Save the Queen. But however cozy, such a demise would feel like spending eternity inside the head of Tony Abbott.
The game itself is of brutal beauty – an unrelenting contest for possession where everything’s earned and nothing is granted. Such commitment to the contest has evolved a depth of play that’s still not fully sounded. Rugby, if nothing else, is a game that rewards innovation.
But in sport, as it is in life, our greatest asset can be our despairing weakness. The complexity of such a game is matched only by the complexity of its rules, and this alone is a barrier to entry for the conscientious observer.
Rugby league, it is said, is the greatest game of all. However, this title could be disputed, as I’ve heard it claimed by many a carny at the Royal Easter Show.
The game is highly structured, and there’s an elegance in its simplicity. The team that runs harder, plays straighter and stays in the contest longest will come out on top. There’s literally nowhere to hide, which places a true honesty in everyone’s performance.
The major downside is that the game can get a bit one dimensional, which is largely a product of the six-tackle set and an organised defence. The difference between the best and the rest comes mostly through execution.
Australian Rules is of course our native game, a title shared with esteemed animals such as the kangaroo and cassowary.
Played at its best, the action is breathlessly fast. With acres of space and where sweeping ball movements can turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds and scores can be landed from long range. The result is a high-scoring game where opposing fans have plenty to cheer about.
Unfortunately, however, being an offside sport lends a sort of randomness to the play, and executing the core skills through 360 degrees can be pot luck even for the best player on the ground. In addition, rules like fist-passing and bouncing an oval seem like they were made up by a couch full of stoners.
By addressing these issues and taking the best from each code, what could we have? It looks like an onside game with contested possession, but with simple rules at the tackle. Scoring should be nearly continuous and there should be plenty of space.
So, what do you think? Would this melange be watchable? And what might this say about how to improve the sports we love?