We’ve finally found something he can’t do!
If a premiership is won in an empty stadium, does it still count?
Of course getting through a regular season, staying competitive, keeping the best team on the park and outlasting 15 other clubs is an achievement. Athletes go out to win. They may have a drop off intensity due to the lack of atmosphere, but humans are competitive creatures. Have you been sitting around playing Monopoly with your family in these odd times and happy to lose?
The theatre and dramatic tension that a crowd provides is what makes a sport an occasion. Everyone has been so desperate to get the NRL back, and rightly so. It is entertainment and escapism and is a good morale booster for everyone.
Moreover, resuming the NRL protects the game by generating the important TV revenue, which means that hopefully by the time 2021 rolls around everyone will have survived the dark night.
But just how much will not having a crowd as stakes get higher diminish this season and risk leaving a bitter taste in people’s mouths?
I for one can’t fathom winning a premiership when I can’t be there to feel it and see it. It seems like a cruel joke. It may be a similar feeling for the players – a bit like having a birthday party and no-one bothering to turn up for you.
It feels very much like something a struggling club might do. Or a club that has been waiting a while. A kind of hollow victory that they have broken a drought, but none of their diehards can go and see it. Would we still view the breakthrough premierships of the Rabbitohs, Sharks and Cowboys as such enormous grand finals and big chapters of our game if they were played with no-one present, maybe not even being allowed to go to the pub and watch?
The Raiders, Warriors and Eels fans are most long-suffering at this point. The Warriors haven’t won it in their history. The Eels not since the 1980s and the Raiders not since the 1990s. The Titans haven’t won it either but have only been around since 2007. The Knights won it in 2001, the Panthers in 2003, Bulldogs in 2004, Tigers in 2005 and Broncos in 2006. They have all been waiting a fair while too. Not to mention the finals droughts of some clubs who may make it this year. The Tigers and Knights stand out.
It also just seems like something that would happen to one of these clubs. As a Panthers fan I have come to hope for a lot but also expect the worse. I have seen them fly through seasons or patches of seasons and look unstoppable only for the wheels to come right off. They cruised through the first three quarters of 2010 before becoming their own inconsistent and unpredictable selves. It was a miracle they finished second, but they still managed to crash out in straight sets despite having a match in Penrith.
In 2018 they looked the goods and led the league with half the season gone. By the end they had sacked their coach, dropped a number of games in devastating fashion, managed to just get a home final in fifth but bow out in Week 2.
It would just be like the Panthers to win it this year. Or the Tigers. Or the Eels. It’s a worry in all those cases. I’d hate to think that after so long the Eels would win it and that their fans couldn’t be present – a patient and passionate fan-base that had to ride the wave of disappointment along with Nathan Hindmarch as they flexed their muscles and were then bundled out in 2001 and 2009. Once you win it, there is no guarantee on when it will happen again. We know how hard it is to go back to back. Generally it requires everything going right.
That is why this year I am cheering the favourite. It is a bit of fun and a bit of a write-off 2020. I want to see some footy and analyse my team, but for the sake of next year. I want the Roosters, Storm, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs right there at the end. They have had enough success that they deserve this premiership with an asterisk next to it.
Roosters fans don’t bother turning up anyway, so let them get that three in a row. Cha cha cha. Put the fairytale in the bank for next year and give the Eels and Raiders fans a chance to celebrate on the day. Everyone loves an underdog story, but this season let’s have the favourite win and we can go back to old habits next year.
Oh, and the Maroons can win Origin if they really want it to. Keep it warm for the Blues next year.