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Opinion

There’s always the Super League

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Roar Rookie
21st May, 2020
7

Greg Inglis is not the first NRL star to return to rugby league after a long hiatus.

Earlier in the year Israel Folau signed with the French Catalans Dragons after a lengthy and contentious exile from rugby. Despite reaching a settlement with Rugby Australia over comments posted to his Instagram account, it had otherwise seemed that he had hung up his boots for good.

Following a troubled season at the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in 2018, Jackson Hastings was berated for his publicised tiff with skipper Daly Cherry-Evans and was relegated to the reserve Blacktown Workers side. The Salford Red Devils offered him a second chance later that year.

By the end of 2019 Hastings was awarded the Super League’s man of steel, the competition’s top honour for that season.

The English Super League is a good formula for a comeback story.

London Broncos defeat Toronto Raptors to make it back into the Super League.

(Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

War, and what it was good for
In the 1990s Rupert Murdoch could not get the broadcast rights for what was then the Australian rugby league. Rather than compete with Kerry Packer’s Channel Nine and Optus Vision cable service, he formed the Super League with Broncos executive John Ribot that ran parallel with what eventually became the National Rugby League.

Andrew Johns and Darren Albert were remembered more fondly than the backdrop of sponsorship fallouts, team splits and fan division that occurred during their 1997 premiership season.

Don’t mention the war to an NRL fan.

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However, the battle strategies should not be disregarded altogether. Murdoch’s suggestion for a league competition outside of the southern hemisphere was included in his broadcast negotiations, and by approaching the British clubs the competition got underway in 1996.

Almost 25 years later it has become an oasis for players who want one last kick of the football.

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Seasonal change
Rugby league is traditionally a winter sport. That works well for Australian fans, but their UK teammates must compete with cricket, rugby and football.

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Winter can be miserable. Just like a season spent too long in retirement.

The Premier league existed before 1996. It was then named the Rugby Football League Championship or ‘first division.’ When Super League took over as the new competition it switched to a summer season to appease Murdoch’s BSkyB broadcasters and offer spectators a more desirable climate.

Perhaps the Super League is the milder, more clement rugby league season for retired stars.

Mark Percival hands off Jake Connor

(Alex Dodd – CameraSport/Getty Images)

Keeping pace
Australia was until recently the leading league nation as listed by international rugby league rankings. New Zealand toppled its relatives across the ditch, but that criteria factored in recent Test match wins. England’s rugby prowess overshadows its league performance.

NRL remains the top-tier league competition. Super League is playing catch up. Over the last ten years only two British sides have beaten the NRL’s best players in the World Club Challenge, a competition that faces off the winners of the two leagues.

Do NRL stars want one last victory lap, albeit in a less stressful setting?

Antonio Kaufusi has dually represented both codes, telling Love Rugby League that, “In Super League … they love to score tries, especially long-range ones, as well as playing the ball around. Back home the game is mainly defence orientated, that’s the main difference I’ve seen between the two.”

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In other words, less strain on the body.

Out of sight but not out of mind
Greg Inglis surprised fans with his announcement, as many believed he was medically retired with shoulder and knee injuries – 39 Tests and 32 Origins had seemingly taken their toll.

Now he has the chance to finish on his own terms.

Unless spectators get a Kayo or Sky subscription, he will not be hassled by free-to-air viewers and can concentrate on playing free-flowing footy in another hemisphere.

Inglis still faces speculation surrounding his debut with the Warrington Wolves.

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Sonny Bill Williams was panned for a disappointing start with the Toronto Wolfpack after being lured back to league with a lucrative $10 million deal. Despite playing in the same colours as the All Blacks, he was not able to replicate the success he found in his rugby days.

The Wolfpack are admittedly in their maiden season and are still finding their feet in the league. Once the season resumes, there remains time for him to prove the naysayers wrong.

Hopefully he can do it on his own terms.