The Roar
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A weekend when things may have actually changed in a sport that usually goes in circles

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Expert
8th October, 2019
18
1171 Reads

Finals determine the outcome of competitions and – because of that – often alter the course that sports take as a whole.

Given the NRL decider was only a couple of days ago, this might still be what the kids describe as a ‘hot take’, but we might have had one of the most influential play-off weekends in history just passed.

Real changes will happen as result of events in three countries.

I would have happily focused on the Roosters’ win over the Raiders at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night but in just 48 hours, this site is awash with great analysis about Ben Cummins’ ‘six more’ and The Hand of God* (*where God is a Sydney Roosters’ trainer).

I can see trainers being banned from the field while the ball is in play from next year as a result of this. Yes, this is a rule that will be exploited (let’s all fall over when the opposition are running away to score) but rugby league loves a knee-jerk reaction and there’s an easily assembled one here.

It’s harder to envisage a response which would please even some of the people some of the time to the wave of the arm from Cummins.

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One of the most difficult aspects of corporate life – and the NRL is a corporation – is that supervisors are held responsible for their underlings’ errors. But disciplining the referees’ department or changing the coaching structure for whistlers? Does anyone seriously think that would prevent a similar error occurring?

Professional sport is human endeavour in an artificial environment staged for entertainment. Referees are not really there to entertain but they are among the humans endeavouring.

If the referee is not part of the entertainment – as I have seen argued since Sunday – then perhaps he or she shouldn’t be characters in the pantomime either.

Each time we watch a match, we suspend our sense of disbelief that grown men are wearing short-shorts with their socks pulled up and blindingly bright shirts and running into each other for no apparent reason but to make us go “whoa! Wow! See that?”

We cheer the guys in our colours – what a primitive appeal to basic cognisance that is – and boo the other others. But we can’t snap out of it at will when the referee gets involved. He must be a baddy too.

In fact, the referees are like the guy who introduces a play and tells you to turn your phone off. He’s not actually in the show. Then again, if the spotlight doesn’t work, you might boo the lighting guy.

In the end, referees have about has much chance of being loved or even respected as parking police. You can have all the post-mortems you like but that’s not going to change.

The ref whisperer gonna whisper

AAP Image/Brendon Thorne

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In Toronto, it’s all about change, with the Wolfpack winning their way into Super League on Saturday night.

Of course, the recidivists in the pit towns are out in force saying rugby league is a northern game for northern people and all that comical Andy Capp stuff that we really should pull up a deck chair and point and chortle at rather than take seriously.

This has a relationship – in the minds of some, anyway – to a club which was the second-poorest in Super League, Salford, making the grand final this Saturday night against St Helens at Old Trafford.

The line has been pushed – using a young Red Devils fan in the stands crying as an emotive illustration – that if Super League was full of big cities like Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott says it should be, such dreams would be crushed.

Of course, it’s the other way around: if Super League had more big cities, every club would get a bigger grant and Salford coach Ian Watson wouldn’t be helping the video guy run cables before first-grade matches, which has been one of his duties this year.

Tradition and history is worth what new clubs are willing to pay to be part of it.

Cronulla, Manly, Wests and Newtown helped create something of such value that the Brisbane Broncos and New Zealand Warriors wanted to be part it. Newtown and Wests couldn’t keep up but Manly and Cronulla now benefit from the wealth the Warriors and Broncos brought into the Australian competition.

How much would the NRL get in media rights and sponsorship if it was still 12 Sydney teams? Imagine Salford with twice or three times the grant from central funding!

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I was recently shown minutes from an international board meeting in the 1950s. The discussers were exactly the same – rules, referees appointments, expansion into America – rugby league is one big Groundhog Day.

Toronto in Super League is potentially us waking up and it’s not yesterday again.

Or maybe we’re just dreaming. Given that only four teams have ever won Super League, we’ll know things have changed forever if Salford win at their local Theatre of Dreams this Saturday night.

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