During the 1950s, Dutch raconteur Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, better known as “Colonel” Tom Parker, was pretty much printing money through a rather ingenious marketing trick.
Parker was the manager of an up-and-coming rock star by the name of Elvis Presley, who many tipped to be the next big thing. Colonel Parker was making a lot of money by selling merchandise bearing the slogan “I Love Elvis.”
But Parker made even more money by also selling merchandise with the slogan “I Hate Elvis.” No matter a person’s stance on “The King”, Parker made sure he had their money at the end of the night.
It was an instructive lesson for everyone, but perhaps none have taken this lesson more to heart than the rugby league media.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs have always shifted a lot of newspapers. Or whatever the modern term is. From Russell Crowe to Tom Cruise, Snoop Dogg to the Wu-Tang Clan, the club’s diaspora is global. There’s a reason it’s “Random Souths Guy” and not “Random [Insert 16 other clubs here] Guy.”
These people like to read about Souths.
But for all of their supporters, and there are many, there is also a large contingent in the rugby league community who despise Souths. The Roosters, naturally, the Dragons, traditionally, Penrith, probably.
These people also like to read about Souths. But for entirely different reasons.
And many years ago the league media realised, like Colonel Parker, that they could make a lot of money by selling pins to both sides.
Stories about the Rabbitohs generate clicks, and nothing generates clicks like controversy. This is the rugby league variant of Cunningham’s Law – the best way to have a question answered on the internet is not to actually ask the question, which will be roundly ignored, but instead to post an incorrect answer and watch the flaming comments roll in like a tidal wave.
Post an article about South Sydney and watch the algorithm soar as everyone feels the need to add their two cents, to prove why that article was right or wrong.
Which is why it seems, if one were to consume any rugby league media over the last few years, that Souths can never do anything right. Why every move the Rabbitohs make is the incorrect one, to be studied, scrutinised, and ultimately ridiculed?
It’s why Blake Solly, Jason Demetriou, and the entire Rabbitohs team must wake up every morning with a blistering headache. What will we get wrong today? Because whatever they do, the talking heads will present it as a mistake.
There is utterly no mystery to the Rabbitohs poaching of Jack Wighton, and yet to look at the media, and in particular Paul Kent and the wax cadaver representing Buzz Rothfield, you’d think that the Rabbitohs had just stolen the Mona Lisa.
Because every event in rugby league exists as a quantum superposition of possibilities until Souths make a comment on it, which will collapse it into being the incorrect one.
Latrell Mitchell is abused by a fan? That’s the game, cop it on the chin. Mitchell does not wish to take time out to meet with the boy who abused him? He has a duty to educate these people.
Cody Walker with a game-winning play? He’s crowding Lachlan Ilias. Walker has a quiet game? He’s their marquee playmaker and needs to do more.
Souths are pretenders, they can’t beat the Panthers. Souths are pretenders, they barely beat the Panthers.
There was no better example than the long-running contract drama that ultimately resulted in South Sydney’s favourite son, Adam Reynolds, leaving for the Broncos. The league media had an absolute picnic with such a stupid decision, it’s like Souths handed it to them on a platter. The sheer madness of allowing your playmaker and captain to join another club, what were they thinking?
The same rugby league pundits who, for an entire decade, when Origin time rolled around, had a laundry list of reasons why Reynolds was overrated and Trent Hodkinson was obviously superior. But now that Reynolds is wearing a Broncos jumper, he’s the second coming of Andrew Johns.
Now it’s Ilias getting the same treatment (except his manager, who hosts a prominent analysis show and is an entirely separate ethical dilemma). To the rusted-on ‘conventional wisdom’ of the game, rugby league is zero-sum – there must always be a winner and a loser.
Never mind that both parties, Souths and the Broncos, now have successful halves that they are very happy with. That doesn’t feed the all-consuming algorithm. There is no room for happy endings here.
This week the NRL is apoplectic about how Souths have room in their ‘sombrero’ to accommodate Jack Wighton, and yet much of the pre-season was devoted to their ‘strange’ decision to not enter the player market at all, considering the recent loss of a number of players, including big names such as Reynolds, Dane Gagai, Jaydn Su’A, and Joseph Suaalii.
Stupid, dumb Souths, leaving room in their salary cap. Even dumber Souths, spending it when a marquee player suddenly enters the market. And even stupider Wighton! Why would an already wealthy man accept less money to achieve a career goal alongside his best friend when there was a million dollars to be made? A million dollars! How utterly inconceivable.
The apoplectic rage from, of all people, the Sydney Roosters has been particularly bizarre and indicative of league’s double standards. The Roosters publicly questioned how Souths, with such a stacked roster, could afford to accommodate a former representative star in Wighton at left centre. On the very same day that the Roosters dropped the 2021 Rookie of the Year to reserve grade, shifted the reigning Golden Boot-winning fullback from left centre to pivot, the current Samoan fullback from wing to left centre, and brought up a former Queensland Origin fullback from reserve grade to cover left wing.
Yes, South Sydney’s sombrero indeed requires attention, if only as a distraction. The talking heads, their work already done for them, were more than happy to run the ball up.
The media have short memories indeed. It was only a few short months ago that South Sydney sent their most potent envoy, Sam Burgess, up the F3 bearing a sack with a dollar sign on it, to woo the Novacastrian winger Dominic Young over to Redfern. The Roosters arrived shortly after and in the end, Young was headed to Bondi.
Stupid Souths lose another one to the ever-savvy Roosters. And now they wonder where the money came from. The same Roosters who also poached Suaalii from under Souths’ noses. A decision which was, until very recently, another dumb Souths move. That position is harder to maintain now.
Even now the signing of Wighton is fodder for the press, who are stumbling over themselves in an attempt to prove Souths’ stupidity. Does he replace Walker? Surely not. Ilias? Maybe, but that would make the Reynolds story harder to push, don’t say that. Does he slot in at left centre and force club favourite and match-winner Isaiah Tass out? That must be it.
Souths, until recently, had a player very similar to Wighton. A 300-gamer who started out in the centres, spent the bulk of his career at five-eighth, but ultimately won a premiership by being a game-breaking, ball-playing left edge second-rower. Many, many times over the course of his tenure at the Rabbitohs, supercoach Wayne Bennett lamented that the player he most wished he still had was John Sutton.
Now Souths have signed another John Sutton, and the ‘game’s brightest minds’ are scratching their heads and wondering how to turn this into yet another mishap for the ever-bumbling Rabbitohs.
Because that’s what shifts products. It sells papers, it generates clicks, it keeps the algorithm churning. South Sydney, already the kings of merchandising, could more than pay for Wighton’s services by selling a line of “I Hate Souths” themed pins. You’d see them on every half-time show.
And if South Sydney win their 22nd premiership, either this year or somewhere in the next four, make no mistake – the media will be elbowing each other out of the way to claim that winning that year was, undeniably, a mistake.
‘The Bumbling Bunnies Botch It Again, Smarter Clubs Lose In Prelims’ – copy that and paste it when required.