I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing recently – not just small things like seeing friends in person, but with rugby league, too.
I’ve thought back to England reaching the 2017 World Cup final, that amazing 2014 grand final, back to days when Latrell Mitchell didn’t go missing for 80-minute stints. Or if he did, at least while he was at the Roosters.
Having somehow ended up in a debate having to prove that Souths are historically more successful than the Broncos (“History did not begin in 1988.” I win), I stumbled across a competition called the Amco Cup, the closest Australia ever came to a standalone, knock-out rugby league cup.
It was eventually canned for reasons of over-scheduling, fatigue and disinterest. Greg Prichard wrote an excellent piece about its nostalgic value, while providing the consensus view that it can’t return.
But with some tweaks, I believe that it can be revived. Hell, we brought back Tina Turner, and if last week’s performance is anything to go by, are returning to an age where Wayne Bennett was just a grumpy Queenslander rather than a serial winner (something we England followers know all about).
Before you dismiss this as bored, nostalgic ramblings, I want to address concerns that led to it being scrapped in the first place.
The original midweek games are a non-starter. A five-day turnaround between rounds is just about acceptable, so three games a week, five times, would be too much. The Dragons have shown that some players struggle even for 80 minutes a week. Weekend rounds are the order of business.
Round 1 could be played in February, Round 2 in March, both still pre-season. Of course, there would be gripes around playing competitive footy so early.
Leave aside the fact that many of these ties will be against lower-grade competition. NRL premiers already fly across the world for the World Club Challenge, the annual condescending humiliation of the best that the UK can muster. And the 2014 edition at Allianz Stadium, where the Sydney Roosters defeated Wigan in front of 31,515, proves fans will turn out for early non-NRL games if there’s something on the line.
For the quarter-finals and semi-finals, there are already bye rounds built in to accommodate State of Origin. Replace this humdrum mediocrity with the excitement of the cup. Rather than taint the pureness of the league standings by playing without Origin stars, use what would otherwise have been a second-rate weekend to excite fans with winner-takes-all knockout ties.
The final, I admit, would have to eat into the a regular NRL round. One or two games would have to be rescheduled to midweek to accommodate the final on a weekend.
But for the non-final sides, it is a case of a round delayed rather than an extra game. And for the sides involved in the final, a solitary, slightly discombobulated round is a price worth paying for staging a cup final, and all the glory that comes with it.
And if coaches don’t want to risk their players, that’s their prerogative. No one would force Paul Green to pick Jason Taumalolo during the Origin bye, or make Des Hasler play the Trbojevics against the Sunshine Coast Falcons. If he believes that he can get away without Daly Cherry-Evans, or simply doesn’t care, that’s his choice.
The grand final it is not, but it would be meaningful silverware, a chance for glory, something that players and fans can enjoy and look back on with fondness. The revived Amco Cup won’t be as big as a premiership ring, not even close, but would provide another chance for victory, bragging rights, and an addition to the trophy cabinet.
Sport is supposed to put you on the edge of your seat, make you nervously excited and produce moments that leave you breathless. A weakened second-string match to see who finishes 13th while the star players are away on Origin duty doesn’t quite do it.
But a one-off chance to win some silverware, head to the big ground and have that day in the sun, sharing the rugby league love to lower-league sides without disrupting the NRL, seems like a great addition.