With Brisbane and Melbourne registering first-up NRL wins in 2012, Australia’s southern-most state can take some of the credit.
Tasmania hosted the sides for an entertaining trial which rounded out both sides pre-seasons but the February 18 match at North Hobart Oval was so much more than a final chance for Anthony Griffin and Craig Bellamy to run the rule over their personal before their first regular season games.
As Tasmanian Rugby League president Justin Kearney told ‘Sports Overnight’ on RSN- Racing and Sport, the day was driven by the North Hobart Football (Aussie Rules) Club which he admits is a “bit different” to others on both sides of the AFL – rugby league divide.
The Tasmanian Rugby League top competition is a senior one based in Hobart each year, comprising four teams. It generally starts mid-November each so the players can be drawn from those in the off-season of local Aussie rules and rugby union comps.
Whilst the TRL this time around started with a mix of primarily rugby league enthusiasts and rugby union players. The Northern Cowboys (one of this year’s TRL finalists) contained eight Aussie rules players whom Kearney says tactically are best suited to the backline as “they run fantastic lines and they’re adapting to the game really well.”
Kearney is convinced the number of Aussie rules converts will soon exceed eight on some teams. Of those playing both union and Aussie rules during the year, Kearney is convinced the latter code is “were we are going to be going for our major player pool to be honest” in the future.
This level of cooperation would give die-hards across the codes dizzy spells – but there is more to this story.
As is often the case with any fledgling sport in a new environment, there have been a few false starts. In elaborating on the game’s past in Tasmania, Kearney admits “rugby league has had a couple of runs over here in the last 20 years.”
However Kearney and his hard working team, including development officer Jason Baihn, have solid plans for the sport’s growth in the Apple Isle.
“Having tried to expand to quickly” in the past, post the NRL trial “the next step will go to under 16s and under 18s,” he said. Similar to the top competition once the Aussie rules and rugby union competitions finish in September it presents a good window to engage juniors with the aim of using those sides as feeder teams to the senior clubs.
While a Victoria versus Tasmania women’s touch football game was also a warm-up game to the NRL trial, Kearney sees a future in the sport for females in Tasmania as well as males.
Kearney notes the aim is to ”start getting women involved in the tag version of the game, but I think once we start that the women will want to play full contact, there is no doubt at all there is a place for women’s rugby league down here.”
Overall the future looks bright with Kearney speaking in glowing terms of those working locally and nationally to help grow the game in Tasmania .“You’ve got to take little steps with these things,” he said. “We’ve got fantastic support from the Australian Rugby League, they understand to have a truly Australian sport you have to have a presence in each state.”
In terms of an appetite for an NRL team in the state, Kearney admits to the need to solidifying the grassroots but notes Wests Tigers and North Queensland seem to have strong support locally.
Back to North Hobart Oval and Messrs Griffin and Bellamy.
Melbourne won the NRL trial match 34-30, but the Cowboys really won the day. That is, the Northern Cowboys who stormed back from 20-4 down to win the TRL Grand Final 32-20 against the Southern Rabbitohs.
So the Cowboys to beat the Rabbitohs in the 2012 NRL Grand Final. Not sure if it’s an omen after how round one panned out.