2. THE FOOTY’S IMPROVING
LAST week we moaned that there had been some ordinary games so far this year. Well rugby league thumbed its nose at us a couple of times over the weekend. The Brisbane-North Queensland epic was played at cut-throat pace, boasted some great tried and even the errors – by players and match officials – were absorbing. Canberra-Warriors was not in the same class, standard-wise, but gave us the fairytale of Campese’s return and a comeback for the green machine from 12-points down despite being reduced to just two reserves. If the theory that the league is already breaking in to holds true, then there’s every reason to think games between those in the bottom half will be every bit as entertaining as those at the top. It’s when they play each other that things might get ugly.
3. THE CROWDS ARE IMPROVING
JUST as it’s difficult to put a finger on why the footy’s improving, any theories on why we had a record attendance for the Heritage Round at the weekend are welcome. The match we expected to pack them in, Sydney Roosters-Canterbury, didn’t and the South Sydney-Melbourne clash picked up the slack. Brisbane remains our sport’s world capital with 42,556 on Friday for the second Queensland derby in eight days. And the Sydney Cricket Ground was nothing short of magical yesterday while Brookvale fans were in such a festive mood that they showed up more than five minutes early. OK, I’ll come up with a theory – the Heritage Round attracted so many fans because it was the Heritage Round. More properly promoted events, please.
4. A LOSS FOR AUSTRALIA IS ALWAYS A VICTORY FOR RUGBY LEAGUE
I DOUBT I will see a situation in my lifetime where Australian being beaten is not good for rugby league. An Australian defeat does not cost the game one fan, one dollar or one ounce of credibility. But a win for New Zealand or England has massive benefits for the game in those countries. Had Mal Meninga not backed up Ricky Stuart’s break in the Second Test on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour, the entire course of rugby league history in England may have changed. England did not have successful teams on the world stage in other sports at the time and an Ashes win would have built on the lift in profile Ellery Hanley, Martin Offiah and Garry Schofield had given the sport. Since then, league has been swamped by other sports in the UK and is still suffering.
5. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF DOING NOTHING
FOR almost as long as many Canberra players can remember, their captain Terry Campese has been unable to do what they do each day. Injuries in three consecutive seasons left the Raiders star in almost permanent rehab. But it has made him a powerful motivator upon his return, with his team-mates looking upon him with near awe. “He just brings that aura around the club,” says goal-kicking centre Jarrod Croker. “Seeing him out there (against the Warriors), it was very emotional for all of us. I can imagine what it’s been like for him. He’s sat out and watched us train a lot. He’s one of my best mates and I love to see him out there again – giving me plenty of ball, too, which is good!” The effect of Campese’s return for the Raiders may be greater than the sum total of his personal contribution.
6. WILD WEST HISTORY
THE representative weekend is a positive development in rugby league which many people lobbied for many years. But the Tonga-Samoa game on Saturday night is the one where the potential of the break in the club programme begins to realise its potential. That a broadcaster in Fox actually asked for the fixture disproves the theory that broadcasters don’t care about international football. That the NRL is underwriting and organising a match between two foreign countries is proof that this administration is doing some good, progressive things – Jizzy Ahmed-Khan notwithstanding. Go and support the match, unless you’re a van Halen fan. In that case, you’re excused.
Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD