It happened on the evening of Monday, 23 March 2020.
It is a difficult and tumultuous time.
For once in a sport article that statement isn’t about a club, code, player or playing group; it applies to the whole world. We are living in a time of great uncertainty around our game and around our own futures.
A month ago shutting the NRL down wasn’t on anyone’s radar. The idea of playing behind closed doors was ridiculous. But here we stand, the game out of our stadiums and off our screens for the foreseeable future. No-one can tell us when it will be back no in what form it might return. Clubs stand to collapse, just as many other businesses do.
What once felt like a right feels very much like a privilege at this point. It was noble for the NRL to try and soldier on the face of adversity, if for no other reason than it helped distract people from the crisis that affects all our lives. But in the end the safety of the players could no longer be guaranteed, and the logistics of running the competition became too complicated with the increasing restrictions.
League, like all sport, is a form of escapism, relaxation and entertainment for many of us. I have been a season ticket holder for the Panthers for the past 11 seasons with my family. In some ways it has been the only constant in my life. It has been a way for us to connect and a source of enjoyment, even when relationships are strained. It is the cherry on top when things are good and a source of distraction when things are bad.
My travel plans, weekends and social life had a lot to do with league, this season as much as ever. I was looking forward to Magic Round with family, State of Origin in Adelaide with friends and the fortnightly pilgrimage to Panthers stadium to enjoy watching them play with other fans. The sunny Sunday arvos. The crisp winter nights. The close finishes, the crushing losses, the sounds, the smells, the cold beer and the roar of the crowd.
The NRL is about boutique stadiums that have a special place in everyone’s heart, heaving at capacity for a must-win contest. It is the old Sydney Football Stadium when the semi-finals are on, coaxing the fans out of the suburbs and into the race for the premiership. It is the sell-out crowds for State of Origin and the classic deciders watched by millions. It is the breakthrough premiership for a team that has waited so long.
For all the negative headlines, criticism and controversy we have in our game, it’s time to feel grateful – grateful that we have a game, that under ordinary circumstances every weekend we have something to look forward to and escape to. That we are safe to attend and that we can view at least part of it for free. There have always been plenty of reasons not to go, so many articles written about why people don’t go and how the game needs to improve.
The food is expensive. The travel is arduous. The view isn’t great. The stadium isn’t well enough equipped. It’s a school night. My team is going shit. Feel fortunate that we live in a country of opportunity and privilege. Rugby league and live sport is a privilege, not a right. If we don’t look after it and appreciate it, it will die, maybe not of this, but sports come and go.
When we are allowed to return to live NRL, once it is safe to do so, go. Go to a game. Take a friend or your family. Get out to your favourite ground and make a day of it. What does it mean to you to have this game going? It might be good on TV, but boy is it better to be there live, especially when it is a good contest.
Stop knocking it and start embracing it. You never know when you aren’t going to have the opportunity again.
What does rugby league mean to you?