AFL is winning hearts and minds because the NRL just does nothing

Michael Keeffe Roar Guru

By Michael Keeffe, Michael Keeffe is a Roar Guru

 , ,

216 Have your say

Popular article! 4,845 reads

    I’m a lifelong rugby league fan and this week I signed my nine-year-old son up for Auskick. It’s not my preference, but it’s what my son wants to play. And I’m not alone.

    I live in a rugby league heartland, north of Brisbane, where so many people I know love the game, yet they too are signing their kids up to AFL – or pretty much anything other than league.

    For some, the risk of physical injury is a factor. Some have left due to the total lack of organisation and even club politics (amazingly present and rife in juniors).

    But my biggest concern is the total lack of marketing by the NRL to children. Quite simply, the AFL is nailing it and the NRL is so far behind it’s not funny.

    You would expect that kids from AFL families will play AFL, kids from rugby league families will play rugby league and whoever does the best marketing gets the kids not aligned with any particular code. But the AFL is getting most of those kids and quite a few league kids too.

    My son is in year four and every term for the past four years he has brought home Auskick flyers. Every year he’s had Brisbane Lions players visit his school. For the past couple of years he has played Auskick in PE, as the AFL are smart enough to partner together with schools.

    And Auskick runs after-school sessions for one hour each week, every term.

    My son signing up for Auskick was inevitable. Repetitive marketing, fun program, straight after school, at the school – and he gets free tickets to a Brisbane Lions game as a part of the program!

    My son has already suggested he wants to play AFL on the weekends as a mate in his cricket team does. If he likes Auskick (which I’m sure he will) then he’ll be signed up for that too.

    He asked me about it sheepishly, because he know’s how much of a league man I am. But as a parent, I’m going to encourage him to do what he wants.

    Do you want to guess what the NRL presence in my son’s school is like? Flyers about NRL in the last four years? Zero. Broncos players visiting the school? Zero. League being a part of the PE curriculum? Zero. After school hybrid program for kids to participate in? Zero.

    Nil, zilch, nada, nothing!

    This is at one of the biggest primary schools in Queensland, with well over 1000 students from prep to year six. And the NRL does nothing.

    I’ve written to them twice, asking them to do more, suggesting they visit the school. Do you know what response I got? Zero. Not even an automated email.

    My son played junior league in under 6s and 7s, but doesn’t want to anymore. He’s not a small kid, so didn’t get bashed around. He’s not super quick but good enough to snag a few tries each season. In 20-minute games, he’d get two, maybe three runs and make tackles.

    It wasn’t fun, he got bored.

    He loves going to Broncos games and we go three or four times a year. He loves State of Origin and giving it to the Blues.

    But he’s playing AFL now.

    I appreciate AFL, it’s a good game to watch, particularly live, and the athleticism is spectacular. But I’ll always be a league man. It’s my game.

    As for my son? I suspect by the time he has kids, he’ll be an AFL man. His son will go to school and play Auskick during the week and AFL on the weekends. NRL will be a niche sport that Grandad likes.

    And all the while, the NRL will continue to do…. nothing.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (216)

    • February 11th 2018 @ 4:43am
      Daws said | February 11th 2018 @ 4:43am | ! Report

      I grew up in Perth and Melbourne. I love Aussie rules. I remember catching the train to the MCG as a 7 yr old to watch Matthew Lloyd kick a bag.

      My car old man played union in the UK and introduced that to me as a kid. I’ve always loved union because of the 1999-2003 Wallabies. I remember Kefu busting over the line to win the Bledisloe.

      I was watching in Bali when one of the Morris brothers ‘marked’ and scored a try over the shoulder of a QLD State of Origin player to draw the game in one of the greatest Origin series ever.

      I remember getting up at 3am to watch the Socceroos score 3 goals in 15 mins against Japan in 2006.

      We are blessed with such amazing football in Australia. Of all sorts. As much as the market will dictate who watches, plays and pays for what; surely no other country has such a diverse and high quality of football entertainment available to them.

      • February 11th 2018 @ 6:32pm
        Tom said | February 11th 2018 @ 6:32pm | ! Report

        The union point is interesting – I went to a GPS school in Sydney, a traditional union stronghold. About 15 years ago now, AFL came in. I remember speaking to the head of sports there, he said the AFL couldn’t have been more helpful in getting coaches, a visit from a few Sydney Swans, training materials etc. in to aid the development of the program. They saw an opportunity to make inroads into somewhere that isn’t a traditional home of AFL. In contrast, the ARU did literally nothing. It is a shame to think what could have been done had the windfall gains of the 99 world cup win and 03 world cup hosting been invested into development, particularly in league strongholds, and not just buying a few NRL players chasing a big payday…

        • February 11th 2018 @ 7:21pm
          Birdy said | February 11th 2018 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

          when ever these discussions come up I always refer back to Arthur Beetson’s book.
          I think you must have read it as well.
          He said when the SL war broke out league and union should have had an truce on each other’s territories.
          History has proven him right and AFL has been laughing ever since.

        • February 11th 2018 @ 9:17pm
          Perry Bridge said | February 11th 2018 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

          The irony is that Union is an international game – like soccer – so, the capacity for clubs/players to dedicate as much time to community work is limited.

          The AFL is able to play to this ‘international weakness’ by making it a ‘domestic strength’.

          • Roar Guru

            February 12th 2018 @ 1:54pm
            Matt H said | February 12th 2018 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

            Interesting take. Thinking about it, you may have a point.

          • Roar Guru

            February 13th 2018 @ 10:13am
            Sleiman Azizi said | February 13th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

            The irony is that rugby league has the best of both worlds and does little about one and less of the other.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 8:25pm
          Leonard said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:25pm | ! Report

          Recall an SMH story about ten, 15 years ago of the headmaster of a Sydney GPS school (can’t remember which) who, when asked if Swans players had ever visited his school, replied “I will never let that silly game into my school – it’s just so foreign to our traditions and ethos”.

          Wonder whether ‘his’ (!?) school is now having to put up with that ‘silly’ game because of popular demand?

          “Foreign to our ethos”? Guess he’d never heard of the Statute of Westminster and the Australia Act.

          Couldn’t imagine any Americans, whether they played it or not, being so sneeringly dismissive of their nation’s ‘game of their own.’

          • February 12th 2018 @ 9:02pm
            Perry Bridge said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:02pm | ! Report


            The suggestion was that in some circles – such was the animosity in Sydney to the upstarts (non-penal colonists) from the southern colony that the local game would have made greater headway if called “Swiss Rules of Football” than being called Melbourne/Victorian.

            However – as per normal – people seek to protect their turf and what makes them relevant.

          • February 18th 2018 @ 11:39am
            no one in particular said | February 18th 2018 @ 11:39am | ! Report

            These couple of comments show what the AFL are doing, they are going after the weakest in the flock – Union. They are currently going after the code where corporate dollars will come from, who is in the most perilous state, where the base will never turn to the game of the plebs (league), where the parents are more likely to prevent their kids playing a high contact sport.

            Once they get their foothold in Sydney, and the private school kiddies become members and parents, they can build on this base and attack league.

            • February 18th 2018 @ 2:04pm
              Leonard said | February 18th 2018 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

              This post uses the language and tone of military or commercial campaigns, and to some extent this is OK, but isn’t there one core difference – that this (supposed) AFL campaign will succeed only if enough ‘consumers’ (to employ a rather ugly modern term) of Foot Ball personally change their preferences?

              Haven’t we seen the mixed results of such campaigns before, in League’s 1990s efforts in WA and SA for example, which clearly failed, whereas with Melbourne Storm, NRL has clearly established a viable presence in Victoria?

              And isn’t Association Football’s “It’s football, but now as you know it” another such campaign, but one which has clearly failed to convince hundreds of thousands of Australia’s Foot Ball consumers to with brands? (Actually, it has not even won over the hundreds of thousands of soccer participants and enthusiasts themselves.)

              As for AFL campaigns north of the Murray and west of the Darling, as Zhou Enlai said in the 1950s about the effects of the French Revolution “It’s too early to tell”.

    • February 11th 2018 @ 6:35am
      Hugh said | February 11th 2018 @ 6:35am | ! Report


      Rugby league do plenty of promotion, school visits, clinics etc.

      Parents just don’t want there kids playing Rugby League, because they think it’s too hard.

      They are using the old excuse that AFL promotes better to the kids,

      If you don’t won’t you kids playing league, that’s fine, but don’t make up crap to try and justify it to yourself.


      • Roar Guru

        February 11th 2018 @ 8:27am
        Michael Keeffe said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Hugh maybe they do where you live. But none of what I wrote is made up. There has been zero promotion of League in my sons school. None at all. I’d love my boy to play league, and your comments suggesting otherwise are just plain rubbish.

        Do you have kids in school? Have you seen this promotion yourself. If so I’d love to hear about it so we can try and get the same thing happening here!

        • February 11th 2018 @ 8:57am
          Cathar Treize said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

          As someone said, it can also have a lot to do with the school principal or even the person who runs sport at the school. As a parent why not ask some questions, why not give the Broncos a call & outline what you have taken the time to do here & write a article? If we are truly ‘league’ people then we are as much a development tool as those who get paid to do the job. And please don’t use the excuse ‘it’s not my job or there are people getting paid to do this stuff’ rubbish.

          I called the Rabbitohs one day about something, next I got their CEO to a junior club function, signed jersey & this was Sydney to Brisbane! A phone call to the Broncs or visit to the principles office! You just never know.

          • Roar Guru

            February 11th 2018 @ 10:31am
            Nat said | February 11th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

            That’s not a bad idea Michael. Send something to the Courier Mail considering their 3 to 1 pages on league over… every other sport and embarrass the league. I’ve seen the junior footy ad on TV but it’s pretty generic and (from what you’re saying) not supported at GR level.

      • Roar Guru

        February 11th 2018 @ 11:16am
        BigJ said | February 11th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        I would have to agree with this somewhat Matt. When I was coaching under 6s in 1998 the kids played bare foot and no head guards or mouth guards. If one of the kids took a bump, they were given so magic water told to get up and keep playing. These days kids are wrapped up in cotton wool with more mandatory safety gear then a stunt driver just to play half an hour of gloried touch. It’s due to society going soft in pretty much everything is why parents are turning to the softer afl game. Plus all those scandals with violence towards women and sexual harassment and abuse that some Nrl players get into does not help either. The afl players seemed to be more well behaved off the field.

        • February 11th 2018 @ 6:37pm
          Tom said | February 11th 2018 @ 6:37pm | ! Report

          Ah, the old ‘back in my day’ nonsense. Fact is, we now know that mouth guards actually help reduce the risk of concussion (from shots to the jaw), and that repeated concussions are incredibly dangerous. As a kid, I know I played on after receiving several concussions, including one where I was out cold for a few seconds. This wouldn’t happen today – which is entirely as it should be.

          As for the ‘better behaved’ AFL players, I would suggest that anyone who lives in an AFL city would tell you that is nonsense. Perhaps google what blokes like Fev or Cousins (for that matter, most of the 05/06 Eagles lineup) got up to in their spare time…

          • February 11th 2018 @ 7:39pm
            Birdy said | February 11th 2018 @ 7:39pm | ! Report

            Concussion, yuk , horrible word,
            Anyone who played a contact sport way back when has more than likely suffered a concussion.
            What’s changed now is the attitude of players and officials in all sports towards it.
            I remember my first trial game for grade. I copped a pair of knees in the head. They said you could hear the bang all over the ground.
            The strapper said he let me stay on because I said I was OK.
            I passed out a few minutes later got carried off. No one took me to the hospital, had a week off work.
            I’ve tried to watch that movie concussion cant do it, no way.

          • Roar Guru

            February 12th 2018 @ 12:41am
            BigJ said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:41am | ! Report

            Fev well all he did was cheat on his wife and take a naked photo of that Bingle girl, not exactly the behaviour of a gentleman but no wife bashing or domestic violence. Cousins just another junkie that let drugs get the best of him. He never hurt anyone either so those to are pussycats compared to what some of the boys of the nrl have gotten up to

            • February 12th 2018 @ 8:17am
              Cathar Treize said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

              BigJ, I think you’ll find domestic violence (and an array of assault charges on women, taxi drivers, fans punching women, attempted murder, shootings etc) is just as rife in the AFL. A lot of the NRL stuff, aside from a few cases, is self inflicted buffoonary.

      • Roar Guru

        February 11th 2018 @ 1:57pm
        The Barry said | February 11th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        It’s not rubbish Hugh.

        I live in a ‘heartland’ area (in NSW) as well. NRL has zero presence at the school. In the past five years my kids school has been visited by an NRL side once and it was a bunch of u20s players that no one knew.

        My 7 year old plays league. I’ve told this story here a couple of times but they had a gala day this year in the St George league where every team in u7s, 8s, 9s and I think 10s played three games in a round robin tournament.

        There was an announcement over the PA “Come get your photo taken with NRL stars in front of the grandstand”. My son and his mates ran over to see Todd Greenberg posing for photos, not an NRL player in sight. The announcement came again “Come get your photo with NRL STAFF”.

        Good on Todd for showing up but with all due respect kids don’t want their photos taken with him.

        The NRL has limited presence and almost no impact.

        • Roar Guru

          February 11th 2018 @ 3:55pm
          Mango Jack said | February 11th 2018 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

          Yep, my wife works in 2 primary schools in sydney and they are always being approached by the Swans and Giants. NRL? Nothing.

          • February 11th 2018 @ 4:13pm
            RandyM said | February 11th 2018 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

            the AFL is like a lost puppy dog isn’t it, “please someone love me”

            • Roar Guru

              February 11th 2018 @ 5:16pm
              Mango Jack said | February 11th 2018 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

              Hardly. They are working the grassroots in the suburbs and winning new players and fans. Meanwhile, the NRL sits and watches.

            • February 11th 2018 @ 8:03pm
              Cathar Treize said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:03pm | ! Report

              what a load of rubbish, you & your imaginary friend have no idea about the rugby league community.

        • Roar Guru

          February 12th 2018 @ 12:51am
          BigJ said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:51am | ! Report

          Towsville schools have an adopt a cowboy program where participating schools can adopt a cowboy. It’s a good program where the players go to the schools a couple of times a year run a training day and meet and greet, but it’s done by the no name players Jt, Jt 13 and Matt Scott are not involved I believe, but it sounds like it’s better than what they are doing in Sydney. The cowboys had a fan day last weekend in Townsville and are having another in Cairns next weekend. Maybe Sydney teams should follow this example, but I can’t see a Sydney team driving four hours to met their fans, they probably think it was beneath them or something.

    • February 11th 2018 @ 7:21am
      The Truth said | February 11th 2018 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      What the AFL doing is a carefully coordinated mass mind manipulation of sports fans that include the systematic, scheduled delivery of entertainment, distraction from real news, rechanneling of young male bravado, energy, and passion, and a scheduled feeding of government propaganda all so deeply embedded into the minds of sports fans that most of them don’t realize the how much they are being manipulated. They don’t realize the role sports has played in the social engineering of Australia.

      • February 11th 2018 @ 8:19am
        I ate pies said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        The AFL is doing its best to take male bravado out of the game. They basically want touch footy so parents little darlings don’t get hurt. The irony of course is that they’re trying to promote the masculinity of women’s footy. Welcome to the socially engineered world of the AFL.

      • February 11th 2018 @ 8:42am
        Perry Bridge said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        Yes – the AFL actually dictate the school curriculum, and Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Sony all employ AFL consultants to direct their marketing in a coordinated blitz on young kids minds.

        Either that or –

        – soccer put the writing on the walls and the AFL has responded far, far, far better than the NRL has.

        And that includes engagement with females which had allowed soccer to gain access to a whole heap of funding based on female participation (whereby the female uptake of Aust Footy has now outstripped that for soccer).

      • February 11th 2018 @ 8:47am
        GoGWS said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        ‘Mass mind manipulation’…mmm… or could it be that the kids are actually enjoying themselves playing AFL? Often the obvious answer is the don’t need to go searching for more complicated reasons.

        I grew up on Aussie Rules and my kids play soccer. In our area 95% play soccer, 4% Rugby League and 1% AFL… As long as the kids are off their iPads, getting exercise, having fun and making friends then surely whatever sport they’re doing is fine from a parents point of view. Junior soccer and Auskick make sure the kids all get involved in the game, and most kids have fun but even there some kids are bored and don’t like it. I’m sure junior RL already has modified rules in place to encourage everyone to get involved but maybe they need to be tweaked…

        No doubt the AFL is pushing things in NSW and QLD but from where I see things in metro Sydney it is soccer that is by far the most dominant sport…soccer then daylight.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 11th 2018 @ 9:47am
          Daniel John said | February 11th 2018 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          @GoGWS on the money mate

        • February 11th 2018 @ 11:10am
          duecer said | February 11th 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          I would assume from the GWS moniker you’re from Western Sydney, and if so, this paints a bleak picture for the NRL – this used to be the heartland. It’s been pretty evident that there’s been a decline in RL participation Sydney wide, but to hear this story from the new heartland of QLD would have to raise alarm bells at the NRL headquarters.
          I would suggest to ‘The Truth’ that he or she should refrain from posting or emailing while tripping, although it does make for amusing reading.

      • February 13th 2018 @ 11:02pm
        prince igor said | February 13th 2018 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

        Isnt it great?Our OWN game taking it up to the Pommie imports RU and its spin off RL ,and Soccer

        Then again Sydney/NSW was built on the backs of Pommie convicts.

    • February 11th 2018 @ 7:31am
      jeff dustby said | February 11th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      ever thought of ringing the broncos and finding out why? i know plenty of leagues clubs get out to schools and promote. the principal can have a large effect too

      • February 11th 2018 @ 8:32am
        Marco said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        It depends on who is in charge of sports at the school. Auskick and AFL are running games and are is suitable for lean ,skinny kids who want to play a contact sport. League is better for a solid build kid.
        There are plenty of options these days and parents want a safe physical sport. Although no sport is entirely safe.
        The image of League has taken a battering and the NRL needs to turn this around and fast. But QLD will always be a stronghold for league.

        The AFLW is getting a lot of media attention and kids are just back at school starting a new year. They will be looking at what sports to play. The NRL will need to come up with an alternative to AFLW to try and get some headlines at this time of year. Parents are heavily influenced by good news sports stories in the media.

    • February 11th 2018 @ 8:07am
      magpiemick said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      Absolutely heartbreaking and is happening here at Parra as well.

      I notice the AFL regional comp for kids gets bigger and bigger year on year, and even the primary school closest to the Eels training ground is AFL.

      This week the AFL unveiled their new version of the game to be played on rectangle fields in a bid to lure even more kids, and the WAFL continues its high exposure partnership with Ch7. They are so far ahead of the NRL, it’s just not funny.

      • February 11th 2018 @ 8:06pm
        Cathar Treize said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:06pm | ! Report

        I wonder what ‘Annual’ means? To say Parra do nothing is just lazy & ill- informed. AFL propaganda has just moved efficiently to trolling on social media.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 9:15pm
        Perry Bridge said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:15pm | ! Report


        The AFLX on rectangle fields is more a formalisation of what people have been doing overseas (playing AFL 7s,9s,11s etc) for 20-30 years and creating a format that the AFL can actually run a mini tournament somewhere internationally. This one’s not nearly as targetting NRL heartland as you might think. At least – that’s my understanding of it.

    • February 11th 2018 @ 8:15am
      Justin Kearney said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Over the last twenty years I have heard the term code war used in reference to the battle for the hearts and minds of kids between the AFL and the NRL. It’s not a war if one side refuses to fight. The leadership of the NRL and ARL have utterly failed. Those of us who have worked to build the game in the affiliated states know this too well. Beattie has a massive job on his had. Luckily most things that he has to fix and do are self evident and have been for decades.

      • February 11th 2018 @ 8:49am
        Perry Bridge said | February 11th 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report


        The code war is across the 4 footy codes – but in reality you can throw in basketball, and for girls netball.

        However – for a kid under the age of 10 – just be happy they are doing something – and Auskick isn’t bad. When I coached Auskick to kids for several years – I focussed on those grades 3-6 (most of their peer cohort were playing in clubs – so the kids at our auskick were generally the uncoordinated ones left behind. The focus for me was not on footy so much – but on sporting fundamentals. The actual mechanics of the footy skills tend to ‘click’ at some point – and granted the range of hand/eye/foot skills in AFL can be a challenge for some – but the most fundamental aspect of any sport is balance and that’s transferable to anything.

        The other thing is – many kids starting something in U7s will be burned out by the time they turn 15.

        • February 11th 2018 @ 10:23am
          Justin Kearney said | February 11th 2018 @ 10:23am | ! Report

          Pez I was referring to the chest beating war between the nrl and afl which causes so much pointless discussion here and elsewhere. I agree with all that you have stated though. Having a full on battle over getting kids to play sport cannot be a negative thing as long as it’s not just about pathways to the top level.
          We’ve just had 4 new blokes come to our rugby club with no prior experience and they’ll play senior footy this year no problems as they have a prior sporting background and they are tough enough to grind it out for 80 minutes each week.
          Just get kids playing something is a great start. Whatever they play later is a biproduct. The ARL is not as good at this as other sports. It’s been left behind.

      • February 11th 2018 @ 10:30am
        Charlie said | February 11th 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

        Beattie has a massive job on his hands? So, is that a done deal? Heaven help us, Peter Beattie is not the not solution, of that we can be sure. He is fantastic at selling himself, appalling at solving anything. If these problems discussed on this article exist (I feel they most certainly do) they will not be solved with Beattiein charge. There will be increased political infighting in the organisation and severe sanctions for anyone who has the audacity to go public with any witnessed management issues.

    , ,