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'I don't even like dogs': How a John Eales injury launched a classic rugby gimmick - but not every trick is a winner

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Expert
19th May, 2022
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The light-up goalposts for Queensland Reds’ home games are just the latest of the catchy gimmicks used over the years to enliven rugby’s game day experience.

This one at Suncorp Stadium found plenty of fans immediately when the flashing LED light show was unveiled for the recent Reds-Highlanders game.

We’ve had giant bobbleheads, mascot races, Harley-Davidson biker formations, kicking-tee bikes, the bikini-clad Sharks girls in Durban and on it goes.

The goalposts look like giant flashing Star Wars’ lightsabers which isn’t a bad thing considering they are trying to add another cool element for kids.

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They are not plastic-sleeve wraps as tried years ago but new goalposts from New Zealand with cabling and a fully integrated light system. Queensland Rugby Union commercial operations boss Malcolm Watts has worked on getting this up for two years.

The Roar community love a challenge so we got to scratching our heads about some of rugby’s gimmicky hits and misses over the years. Please fire in your best … or worst.

Bomber the kicking tee kelpie

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Loveable Bomber was an absolute hit for the Reds in the 1999 Super Rugby season yet the idea very nearly didn’t get off the launch pad.

It took an injury to goalkicker and Wallabies great John Eales in a World Cup year to get it happening.

His classic veto: “You mean, you want me to push in scrums, win lineouts, make tackles and then call over a dog, wipe the slobber from a tee and kick goals. I don’t even like dogs.”

Then-QRU impresario Peter Kelly couldn’t believe his good fortune when replacement goalkicker Nathan Spooner was a dog lover. He actually clicked with the whole thing. With the trusty, trained pooch running out the kicking tee, Spooner potted goals at better than 70 per cent and the Reds made the semi-finals.

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Australian captain John Eales (C) and his teammates celebrate after winning the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup final against France. Australia won the final 35 to 12. (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Australian captain John Eales loved Bomber. (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Sideline spa

The Sharks in Durban did it well back in the day. You could buy everything from boxer shorts to golf balls to shot glasses in the merch store at Kings Park.

Before every game they had their bikini-clad cheerleaders progressively open their overcoats to reveal one giant letter each: “S…H…A…R…K…S.”

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That wasn’t the end of it. There was a sideline spa bath billed as the best seat in the house for prizewinners.

Rookie Queensland prop Anthony Matheson turned 21 on the 2002 Reds’ tour of South Africa. Somehow, team manager Anthony Herbert wangled for Matheson to watch the game from the spa with the cheerleaders as company.

Mascots

Brumby Jack, Tah-Man and the various iterations of the Reds’ koala mascot Rusty all have big fan followings. Across the ditch, the Crusaders’ sword-wielding knights on horseback were a tradition for decades until grim events in Christchurch a few years ago necessitated that cease.

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Brumby Jack is a big part of the match day fanfare in Canberra. He’s a crowd-primer and can pull off a cartwheel.

In 2014, a fill-in discovered just how hot it was inside the suit and ended up on all fours needing to vomit.

There was a classic in Los Angeles earlier this year, when injured Wallabies great Matt Giteau was groomed to dress up in an Easter bunny outfit to scoot around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on an electric scooter before kick-off to an LA Giltinis match.

Team-mate Will Chambers thought the idea so cool he pulled rank and donned the rabbit suit himself for a spin.

Bobble heads

During the free-spending days of the Reds in 2014, a bulk order was put in for a group of giant bobbleheads to resemble the players of the day.

Bobbleheads never caught on.

They were larger-than-life representations of James Horwill with heavy eyebrows, Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Saia Faingaa to name a few.

They roamed the sidelines at Suncorp Stadium and on any fan day. That species is now extinct.

XXXX push-up boys

These guys were a hit in the late 1990s in full floral shirts and shorts.

The idea was slick. Every time the Reds scored points, the group of athletic lads would hit the turf and do push-ups to the number of the team’s total score.

Once done, the boys would sit back on their XXXX eskies beyond the in-goal and have another beer.

The crowd on the Ballymore Hill loved it. If the team scored back-to-back tries, you might have the boys punching out 15 push-ups and 22 shortly after.

England’s visit to Suncorp Stadium in 1998 nearly killed them when Rugby Australia co-opted them for a Wallabies Test at Suncorp Stadium. By the time Ben Tune had scored his third try in the 76-0 rout, the boys were trying to do quick repeat sets of 50 and 60.

Parachutists

This classic match day fail made it onto blooper tapes worldwide.

Before the 1990 Brisbane club grand final, army parachutists decked out in the colours of Brothers and University were to land as pre-game entertainment.

When their clearance to jump was delayed, they decided to jump anyway when the all-clear was finally made.

There were hilarious scenes at Ballymore. The match was already underway when parachutists started dropping from the sky into the Brothers backline.

QRU media and marketing guru Michael Blucher spun it playfully as a master stroke to get match sponsors National Mutual exposure worldwide. That part worked.

Technology

Cricket has been a leader with Snicko, Hot Spot, how far sixes are hit and so on. The microchipped SmartBall is coming. The ball is gathering fans for producing a data stream of ball speeds and spin measures from a movement sensor tightly cradled inside the cork core.

Rugby has dabbled with stats of all sorts, including max speeds for players in-game.

Mics on referees have added an extra dimension although explaining yet another yellow card for a dubious tackle wears thin pretty quickly.

Kiss Cam is a sevens circuit staple and always a hit.

Even with full houses at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, you were never far from a beer. Backpacks of Heineken were a hit with servers patrolling the aisles so fans really didn’t have to leave their seats.

That has always seemed too hard at modern Australian venues.

The point is, catchy or crass gimmicks can always give fans something extra but nothing will ever beat a riveting, fast-paced game of high-skilled rugby.

If you have that, the rest really fades to black-and-white wallpaper.

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