I love rugby league. I have for a long time now.
While the mischievous ones among you may say that simply shows how old I am – and you’d be right – it also highlights to me that this great game I love is enjoyable to watch and follow, and has been for some time.
That doesn’t mean it’s always fun. I can assure that being a Bulldogs supporter isn’t a barrel of laughs at present, and considering some of the unfortunate scandals the club has been involved in over the years, being a Doggies fan brings some baggage.
Likewise, as much as try to laugh off some of the headlines that the NRL has found itself in over the years, courtesy of countless off-field incidents, it does start to grind you down after a while.
For starters, the ones of the illegal variety – with actual victims – are no laughing matter, whatsoever. Then there’s the fact that there’s no real comeback to the friends with playful jibes, or Betoota Advocate ‘stories’ about league’s dramas, because they’re all based on facts.
Yet, be that as it is, the action on the field always keeps me coming back for more.
Fast, skilful, violent and intense, rugby league at the highest level is a great spectacle. I can put it no more succinctly than to say I simply enjoy watching it.
However, over the last couple of years, I’ve actually learnt to get behind it even more. In fact, I even have a set of rules that I obey that have increased my enjoyment.
This is not to preach that everything I’m about to list is for everyone, but if you find yourself not quite as happy with the game as you think you should be, perhaps try one – or all – of the following tips.
1. I don’t read, watch or listen to Phil Rothfield
Regular readers won’t find the number one tip on this list a surprise. I had a moment of clarity last season when I realised that the man they call ‘Buzz’ intensely soured my love for rugby league.
It’s nothing against Rothfield personally, but 90 per cent of the thoughts or opinions that leave his brain I either disagree with, or find so negative that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I often wonder if Buzz actually likes rugby league, because he’s often trying to destroy it. Considering I love the game, we’re a little at odds with each other, so I deliberately go out of my way to avoid anything and everything from Rothfield.
2. I don’t know any of the referees’ names
If you put a gun to my head, I might be able to feebly stutter out a ‘Kline’ or an ‘Archer’, but I wouldn’t be confident that they’re actually still running around, or that I have the correct spelling.
Truth is, I don’t watch the footy to watch the refs. I’m there to watch the players. So why would I know their names?
Learning their names just increases the odds of some confirmation bias creeping in, and thinking they always dud my team. That’s not going to be fun.
The NRL refs do a good job, and I’m happy to leave them to it.
3. I don’t stress about other teams ‘allegedly’ being over the salary cap
I can’t prove it, and a large part of me doesn’t act care anyway. I leave the salary cap policing to the experts.
Almost every NRL team has cheated the cap in some way, at some point. It actually takes a lot of complex mathematics to stay under it, and – though some may disagree – a little bit of ingenuity to go over it and not get caught.
Though I do want a level playing field, whinging about a team being over the cap – when I really have no idea if they actually are – seems pointless.
Having said that, I wouldn’t be against full transparency of player salaries and payments.
4. I don’t watch NRL 360
There are some good segments, solid analysis, and great opinions on NRL 360. Sadly, they’re usually out-muscled by Paul Kent going on another agenda-filled rant.
Kent knows his football, and when he sticks to it, he’s one of the most astute, articulate and savvy media personalities that the code has. Sadly, he too often overdoses on the angry pills and starts ripping into a pre-determined target.
He comes across – perhaps unfairly – as a man who thinks he is the game, rather than reporting on the game.
Heaven forbid anyone who gets on Kent’s wrong side, because no one likes using their platform to drive a personal agenda more than the grumpy old man on NRL 360.
It’s a shame, because rugby league needs more sharp thinkers like Kent. Sadly, he channels it in a way that seriously puts me off.
5. I don’t play SuperCoach
I played SuperCoach for a couple of seasons a few years back, and it ruined my life.
OK, that comment should have come with a ‘hyperbole alert!’ warning, but playing SuperCoach certainly changed the way I engaged with rugby league.
Though I actually enjoyed playing, it detracted from the footy. Worrying about try assists, injuries, who my captain was, players missing tackles, etc, all took away from the simple joy of watching games. I found myself worrying about stuff I really shouldn’t be.
So I deleted the app, and haven’t looked back.
6. I go to the occasional game as a ‘neutral’
I find it brilliant to go to the odd game in which I’m not supporting either team. I get pretty worked up watching the Doggies, and as much fun as it is to be emotionally engaged in the result, it’s also fun to just appreciate the skill without stressing about every mistake or point scored.
7. I watch games on Fox
This is not some tirade against Channel Nine – and I actually miss Andrew Johns’ analysis – but apart from State of Origin and finals footy, I haven’t watched a game on the free-to-air broadcaster for two years.
Whether it’s the breezy commentary, the commercial-free aspect, or maybe even KFC’s Viewer Verdict, I just prefer Fox.
Twitter was made for live sport. OK, that’s not true – it actually wasn’t. Yet you could easily convince me that it was, such is the way it enhances my enjoyment of sport; rugby league in particular.
Being able to discuss events that happen in a game – in real-time – with other fans, is a real highlight. Whether it’s a cheeky blow-up over a mistake (normally by my Dogs), praising the brilliance of a set-play (normally by the Storm), admiring the skill of the game’s greatest players, or simply getting news and updates as they happen, Twitter really has increased my entertainment levels.
So, in the future, perhaps rather than whinging about things that affect your love of rugby league, do something about it.
Trust me, it’s more fun and it only benefits you.