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When footy is the focus, rugby league is the winner

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Last weekend was what finals football is all about – two entertaining contests with plenty of thrilling match-ups, some outstanding defence, and a little bit of controversy to make things interesting.

    On Friday night, Brisbane defeated Penrith 13-6.

    Ben Hunt made sure his last game at Suncorp Stadium in Broncos colours was one to remember, in arguably his best performance of the year. He made 44 tackles (the most he has ever made in one game) and made sure the Broncos started off well with a beautiful pass to put Corey Oates into space.

    Despite ending the game with only one man on the bench, Brisbane showed plenty of courage to hold on and put the Panthers’ season to bed.

    Wayne Bennett-coached sides have traditionally struggled against Anthony Griffin-coached sides, winning just 18.2 per cent of meetings between the teams, but Bennett had the last laugh with the win on the weekend.

    Their reward? The Broncos will travel south this weekend to face the Melbourne Storm.

    Then on to Saturday night, where the hearts of over 40,000 Parramatta supporters (including mine) broke, when the North Queensland beat the Eels 24-16 to book themselves a game against the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium.

    Most pundits had the Cowboys being bundled out in Week 1, due to their immense number of injuries. At various points throughout the season, they have been without Michael Morgan, Kalyn Ponga, John Asiata, Gavin Cooper, Justin O’Neill, Patrick Kaufusi and Antonio Winterstein. Paul Green has also been without two of his best and most experienced players in Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott for most of 2017.

    Following his side’s performance against the Cronulla Sharks, Green said, “We didn’t deserve to win that game, but we found a way.” Against Parramatta, the Cowboys didn’t find a way to win – they were the better team.

    Morgan is in the best form of his career and has done so much work to take ownership of the team in JT’s absence. Jason Taumololo is one of the best players in the world – it’s outrageous that we simply expect Taumololo to make 200-plus metres every game. Kyle Feldt is one of the best finishers in the game and he proved that again on Saturday night. Throw the likes of John Asiata, Lachlan Coote and Ethan Lowe, and you have a serious football team.

    The Eels may have been one of the feel-good stories this year, and a team some tipped to beat the Storm, but their usual spirit, aggression and flair in attack went missing on Saturday night, and the Cowboys made them pay. It was a missed opportunity, but hopefully the young Parra squad will learn and be strengthened by the return of Clint Gutherson and Bevan French next year.

    It feels really good to be talking about football again and just what good quality the games were on the weekend. Pleasingly, this also seems to be the focus of the broader media too.

    What I want to know is where all the journalists and fans are this week who labelled the game as being in ‘crisis’ after last weekend.

    As journalists, advocates and fans, we have a responsibility to our game. We have a responsibility to care for it, protect it, talk it up and promote all the positive work that our administration, players and staff are doing – both on and off the field.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to criticise constructively or offer suggestions and ideas. What it does mean though is that we should all help to build the game up rather than take every opportunity to tear it down.

    On the weekend, a combined 79,910 attended the two games – the biggest Week 2 NRL finals attendance on record.

    It reminds me that the game isn’t in crisis because of poor crowd numbers. It also tells me that making a big deal out of crowd number is a waste of time. People still enjoy watching rugby league live and when Sydney teams with large fan-bases, like Parramatta, mobilise, the crowds follow.

    Imagine how much bigger the crowd would have been if two Sydney-based teams had been playing against each other?

    I’m expecting a sell-out at AAMI Park, and at least 30,000 at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, too.

    Combine that with plenty of eyes watching on television and any claims that rugby league is in ‘crisis’ because of smaller crowds is utter garbage.

    It also seems like the NRL community is listening to Todd Greenberg, who in response to claims that the referees had cost teams games last week, said the game needs to “grow up”.

    This weekend, I saw few complaints about refereeing. It’s a reminder that when we go back to basics and focus on the footy, any claims that referees are the sole reason that a team wins or loses a game are absolutely audacious.

    Rugby league is my favourite sport in the world. It reminds me of family and community. Our game has a rich history and some of the most talented players in the world. It’s full of scandal and intrigue and heroes and villains. It is not perfect, but few things are.

    Rugby league belongs to all of us – it is our game – and I urge you to remember how important we all are as its stakeholders and protectors.

    The next time you have a choice of taking the easy option and attacking and tearing our game down, stop and instead take every opportunity you can to build it up.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • September 19th 2017 @ 5:34am
      League fan said | September 19th 2017 @ 5:34am | ! Report

      Nice article Mary. Good weekend for RL. We wont be hearing much from all the naysayers claiming RL is no longer the dominate sport in Sydney.

    • September 19th 2017 @ 6:33am
      RM said | September 19th 2017 @ 6:33am | ! Report

      Great article.Two cracking games last weekend and let’s hope for two more this weekend. Head says Storm by 10 and Roosters by 4, but I would dearly love to see the Broncos and the Cowboys get up. And even if my non-preferred Grand Final eventuates, Storm and Roosters have played some great games against each other this season and I’m sure would produce an absolute ripper in the GF

      • Columnist

        September 19th 2017 @ 9:02am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | September 19th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        I read this comment RM and I must admit my heart still hurts after the Eels loss on the weekend. But whatever happens, we’re in for a spectacular final 2 weeks to the season.

    • Roar Guru

      September 19th 2017 @ 6:54am
      The Barry said | September 19th 2017 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      Hi Mary.

      You’re certainly less cynical than I am.

      I don’t think we’ve heeded Greenberg’s advice at all. I think less refs fault is simply because there were less 50/50 calls to be made. There have been plenty of Sharks and Manly fans who have accepted their losses graciously but still plenty blowing up deluxe on social media.

      Crowds were great. I tend to agree when the game generates its revenue from TV and sets its entire scheduling to maximise TV revenue then crowds aren’t always the be all and end all but that doesn’t mean the NRL shouldn’t look for ways to increase crowds for big games.

      That Parra can get over 40k to a game against an out of town team but Manly v Penrith can only get 15k should at the very least generate some questions.

      • Columnist

        September 19th 2017 @ 9:04am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | September 19th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        The Barry you make some really good points here and I was hoping that no one would point out that there were less 50/50 calls last weekend. 😛 I think what I liked most about Todd’s comments were last week is that while there were still plenty of silly fans blowing up, a lot of people backed the referee’s and recognised how ridiculous the ‘ref’s fault’ argument is. I think as a game we are moving forward… albeit slowly.

        Good point re crowds too. We should always be looking to get more people to games, but I agree with you that crowds are certainly not the be all and end all.

        • Roar Guru

          September 19th 2017 @ 9:55am
          Nat said | September 19th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          I’ve never really understood why so many people have said “Rugby League needs a strong Parramatta” but now I do. Well done Parra fans. Over to you Roosters fans. I’ve sat in the chook pen and loved the drums and chants but be sure thousands of mad NQ fans will be there in full voice as well.

          Oh the clash of cultures when an NQ miner meets a Bondi hipster at the beach coffee shop. Both sporting beards, tatts and a flanno and the utter confusion over a Flat White.

          • Columnist

            September 19th 2017 @ 12:01pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | September 19th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

            Nat, I think the ‘rugby league needs a strong Parramatta’ claim is only half true. For all of the NRLs dreams to come true it needs a strong Parramatta, Canterbury, St George and South Sydney.

          • September 20th 2017 @ 9:24am
            Rob said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

            We don’t wear FLANNO in NQ, it to bloody hot. In fact the word “FLANNO” is insulting to us North Queenslanders.

        • September 19th 2017 @ 10:37pm
          Your kidding said | September 19th 2017 @ 10:37pm | ! Report

          Keep the tickets cheap or better still, free.
          It worked for the Parramatta game. Keep the strategies that work .

    • September 19th 2017 @ 7:34am
      AGO74 said | September 19th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      I actually think it’s been six out of six fantastic games of finals football. Some of the tries scored on Saturday night were truly memorable and testament to how wing play has changed and is no longer just the dud player you put out on the wings!

      As for your comment on crisis, I agree. More broadly It seems that a crisis exists in any form of society the moment it appears to be less than perfect. What you end up seeing though is crisis’ tend to have a shelf life/news cycle of 24-48 hours like the boy who cried wolf before we move onto something else to be outraged about.

      As for journos I watched nrl360 last night and whilst Phil Roth field was less critical than last week he is still spreading lies to the detriment of the game – eg his comment that family tix for sharks v cows were $195. This is plainly wrong. Yes there were a few bays with that price but I can tell you I went and paid $60 for a family ticket and sat between the 10 and 20 meter line 15 rows from the front. Outstanding value – yet mine is a single voice hear on the roar compared to some of the clap trap put out by people like him. Yes I know most people are smart enough to know that anything written in daily Tele should be taken With a grain of salt but it still creates negative noise that takes away from the game.

      Lastly it was pleasing to see Shane Flanagan issue an apology. You could question if he is genuine or simply trying to downsize his fine but the game needed it. Yes there were some wrong calls but as disappointing as the cowboys game was I knew straight away that they lost because of their own errors/missed tackles/ill discipline rather than a few calls which could/should have gone their way.

      • Columnist

        September 19th 2017 @ 12:02pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | September 19th 2017 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        And unfortunately people like Phil Rothfield have tremendous reach… so when they share information that is incorrect it can do tremendous damage to the game. It disappoints me that people with influence use it to drive agendas rather than to promote and build up the game.

      • September 19th 2017 @ 4:52pm
        Richard Powell said | September 19th 2017 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

        Your last paragraph intrigues me AGO74. In his supposed “apology” Flanagan didn’t seem contrite at all. It came across as a “Clayton’s” apology to me which Cronulla have been practised at over the years – i.e. Fifita’s “apology” to the Hughes family. I think next year the fines for ref bashing should be abolished, and replaced by loss of 4 competition points.

    • September 19th 2017 @ 7:42am
      andrew said | September 19th 2017 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      I hear you Mary when talking about journalism and stories that bring down the game and how much more enjoyable it is when people just talk about what happened on the field.

      I thought the crowd for the Eels game was great but when they posted less than 40k for a Brisbane home final, too me that is disappointing. Brisbane generally have good crowds so I see it as an aboration not a concerning trend, but still I was surprised people thought that was a good number.

      I am also suprised people think the quality of games was good. Penrith and Parramatta were both poor, the Eels in particular were disappointing and other than the Cowboys amazing completion rate through 60 minutes, neither team was “wowing” me. The Eels beat themselves in that match as much as the Cowboys beat them.
      Meanwhile the Broncos never seemed in danger of losing a match they scored less than 14 points in… That doesn’t speak to any particular quality in what the Panthers were dishing up.
      I think if the games weren’t knockout games, just 2 out of 8 regular season games in a round, nobody would have bat an eye lid about either match and we wouldn’t be talking about them.

      Fingers crossed the standard of game improves this week

      • September 19th 2017 @ 7:58am
        Greg Ambrose said | September 19th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        I’ve enjoyed all the games but I don’t believe the quality has been all that great. I think a lot of the defence has been first class but a lot of the attack has been fairly poor.

        Penrith were particularly poor in attack. They constantly threw it to a charging forward just wide of the ruck who got smashed and injured every time. To not pass behind this forward as the game progressed was terrible.

        I think we will see some first class attack this weekend however.

      • September 19th 2017 @ 8:47pm
        Your kidding said | September 19th 2017 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

        Good turnout for Parramatta.
        But, there wouldn’t of been many free tickets or special offers to the Broncos vs Panthers. There were many thousands of freebies and special offers given out for the Parramatta vs Cowboys. The NRL will continue to do this and it worked.
        Can’t compare the two really.

        • September 20th 2017 @ 6:49pm
          Justin Kearney said | September 20th 2017 @ 6:49pm | ! Report

          Could you just mention the free tickets one more time again your kidding in case anybody missed the first 12 times?

        • Columnist

          September 20th 2017 @ 8:52pm
          Mary Konstantopoulos said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

          Who cares?

    • September 19th 2017 @ 9:14am
      Not so super said | September 19th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      You won’t get a job for news limited Mary !

      • Columnist

        September 19th 2017 @ 9:16am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | September 19th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Lucky I don’t want one, right? 🙂

        • September 19th 2017 @ 6:53pm
          Not so super said | September 19th 2017 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

          Thank god, plus you write good stuff

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