“Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion”.
These are inspiring words from retired NBA Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, the worldwide phenomenon whose career is currently being captured by the critically acclaimed The Last Dance documentary, showcasing the legendary player during the 1990s, when he changed the face of basketball forever.
Interestingly, you don’t even have to be a basketball fan to appreciate the greatness of MJ and his history-writing Bulls team. The way the ten-part documentary series portrays these monumental events for their sport truly speaks volumes of how sport can captivate an audience.
It made me think, why doesn’t an organisation like the National Rugby League produce and market their sport as aggressively as the US through similar methods? With the right direction, similar to the 30 for 30 series produced by ESPN, rugby league documentaries could serve as a brilliant avenue to help propel the sport globally.
So to commemorate the finale of The Last Dance, here are ten ideas the NRL could base a series on.
1. The Super League War
The breakaway competition
Conjured up in the mid ’90s pitting the ARL against the Australian Super League to proclaim supremacy of rugby league in Australia, the bitter feud nearly tore the game to shreds during this time to the point where it nearly ceased to exist.
The NRL was born as the result of a peace dealing to unite the factions, but it was a war that has affected the make-up of the sport in Australia to this day and is a story that needs to be told through those that were there to experience it all.
War, what is it good for?
Eight consecutive State of Origin series wins. The dynasty.
I’d love to see interviews from the staples of one of the strongest teams assembled, ranging from Darren Lockyer detailing how his euphoric intercept try in Game 3 of 2006 kick started their dominant eight-year run, to Cooper Cronk speaking on his 40-metre field goal in Game 3 to seal their 2012 victory. With Mal Meninga as the coach and Cameron Smith as the captain, the insight would be tremendous.
Not to mention delving into the point of view from their rivals in New South Wales…
3. The New Breed
The Canterbury Bulldogs’ seasons from 2002 to 2004
This documentary would detail how the club overhauled their playing roster ahead of the 2002 season, when the majority of their players over the next few years would go on to experience the epitome of the saying “highs and lows”.
Winning 17 straight games, being stripped of all their competition points in the same season, keeping the majority of their players for the 2003 season then bowing out in the penultimate game, the Coffs Harbour scandal, becoming 2004 premiers… dissecting the accounts of the core playing group of this period would be an eye-opener.
The Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal
The Storm featured in four straight grand final appearances from 2006 to 2009 and won two of them. Then they were found guilty of systematically cheating the salary cap in 2010, resulting in exorbitant fines and the history books being re-written with both premierships being stripped.
Going behind the scenes into the aftermath of the salary cap scandal with Craig Bellamy and the big three, this doco could detail how they felt when they were told they weren’t winners and would be playing for no points for the rest of the 2010 season, before coming full circle in 2012, when the core playing group that experienced the lows of 2010 won their first legitimate premiership together.
5. The Pride of the League
Glory Glory to South Sydney
The journey of the competition’s oldest club ending a record 43-year premiership drought in 2014. Expulsion from the NRL in 2000, 80,000 marching fans led by George Piggins at Town Hall, readmission in 2002, Russell Crowe purchasing the club in 2006, then the 2014 season itself with Michael Maguire as head coach – it was a roller coaster journey for Souths. The doco would speak to the aforementioned as well as the likes of Greg Inglis, John Sutton and Sam Burgess. This would make for compelling viewing on the history of the cardinal and myrtle.
6. The greatest grand final in rugby league history
The 2015 decider
“He has gone from a captain, to a legend, and probably rugby league immortality.”
These were the words of rugby league’s greatest ever commentator, Ray Warren, after future Immortal Johnathan Thurston slotted a field goal in golden point extra time to seal the 2015 NRL premiership.
Dissecting every moment of one of the best games ever to solidify the Cowboys’ first title would even give Brisbane Broncos fans chills. Interviews from their captain JT, their coach Paul Green, the runner-up captain Justin Hodges and coach Wayne Bennett would be great insight. It was truly one for the ages that will forever be etched in history’s highlight reel.
7. Turn the porch lights off
The Cronulla Sharks’ first premiership in 50 years
The team that refused to fold when everyone thought they would. Since their inception in 1967 they always came up short. That all changed in 2016.
Parochial Sharks captain Paul Gallen hugging club legend Andrew ‘ET’ Ettingshausen after clinching a 14-12 victory over Melbourne will prove as a monumental Kodak moment for Cronulla fans. Detailing the shortcomings in the years leading up to their first premiership title, as well as dealing with the ASADA scandal that nearly rocked the club to its core, the Sharks’ first ever premiership in their history is worthy of its spot on this list.
8. The eighth wonder of the world
Andrew Johns: Rugby League Immortal
Johns is hailed as the greatest halfback in the history of the game. This series would delve into the career of the Novocastrian who lead his beloved Newcastle Knights to premiership victories in 1997 and 2001, as well as orchestrating series wins for the Blues and the Kangaroos, interviewing the likes of the man himself, his brother Matty Johns, fellow teammates in Danny Buderus and Steve Simpson as well as his rivals, it would be intriguing to get a detailed look into arguably the greatest player to ever play the game.
9. Back to back
The Sydney Roosters in 2018 and 2019
The Sydney Roosters became the first team in the modern game to win back-to-back premierships in 2018 and ’19. Teams had been in the position to do it, but never could. It was considered impossible.
Nick Politis figured purchasing the likes of James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk and revolving the team around them would better the side’s odds to win a premiership. And it did. Twice in a row.
With Trent Robinson at the helm for both years, imagine gaining full access to the behind-the-scenes dealings with the Roosters team over this successful period. It would mirror the premise of The Last Dance perfectly, especially with Cooper Cronk retiring as a premiership winner.
10. Corona season
The NRL in 2020
Where to start? This one is pending for the time being, hoping it’s a happy ending considering the negative impact it has had on the game so far. Regardless, it will no doubt serve as a very crucial moment in the history of the game.
So Roarers, what other rugby league stories do you think are worthy of their own doco series?
I hope one day the NRL comes across this list and turns it into reality. Just like Michael Jordan said, “Never say never”.