THE BIG ISSUE: #47

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

STATE Of Origin is a con. Our greatest contest is built on a giant hypocrisy whose time is just about up.

This column is not chiefly about whether its author was offended by Paul Gallen stiff-arming, then repeatedly punching, Nate Myles last Wednesday or about whether the incident was bad for the kiddies.

We’ll get to those things in due course anyway.

It’s about the inherent dishonesty of selling tickets, advertising and television rights on the promise of violence and then punishing those tho deliver it.

You talk about the leadership displayed by Paul Gallen last week and I’ll agree – he displayed plenty of it …. on Thursday night when he said if he was going to be suspended for fighting in an Origin, the NRL shouldn’t use footage of it to promote game two.

Last year I asked referees boss Bill Harrigan – on the record – whether Origin was played under a different set of rules. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer.

In these pages, rival captains Gallen and Cameron Smith contended you could get away with more in Origin. No-one in officialdom contradicted them.

Why? Because the cash registers were already ringing. The silence of officials on these issues plays to the bloodlust of fans happy to hand over their cash in the hope of a brawl, a stiff arm or a head butt.

At least in boxing and UFC, you get what you pay for.  They’re not going to suspend someone for hitting someone else. If the rules are different in Origin, spell it out – you can stay on the field after throwing a punch, you can hold down in the tackles longer, you can commit some professional fouls, you can niggle.

Tell us.

What other business would try to sell you something without describing its product? What other multi-million dollar industry is run on a set of rules and regulations that are never written down?  There were some in the past but they didn’t survive.

Fellow columnist Mark Geyer is the personification of this duplicity. He was told to do as he pleased in an Origin in 1991 and was then banned for five weeks, costing him a Test jumper. He was conned. Now we are all being conned.

“Why can’t we just accept a set nudge-nudge, wink-wink rules like we always have?”, I hear you ask. Because it doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of anyone but us. We used to have Kingswood Country and Love Thy Neighbour on TV too. Times have changed.

People who don’t understand rugby league didn’t comprehend  why some things last week were allowed to happen. And all we could say in response was “it’s Origin”.

Now, how DUMB did we all sound saying that? Turns out, we didn’t really understand it ourselves, because no-one even told US!  How primitive and unprofessional is it that referees run out under implied pressure not to give penalties “because it’s Origin”?

Like I said, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And as a spectator sport – leaving aside participants – we are trying to attract new people and become a truly national game.

At best, as an activity without any sound logical or moral basis, Origin is a guilty pleasure – like a smoke behind the bike rack at school or an illicit affair. And guilty pleasures don’t last.

Secondly, Origin is played on Wednesday night specifically because families are watching – that’s why Nine pays the big bucks – so we can’t abrogate our responsibilities to families after copping the cash to keep it midweek.

The kids don’t go out to the park, while their mums work in canteens, to play UFC every Saturday morning.

Rugby league is in the (right now awkward) position of being both a community activity and a knock-em down, drag ‘em out professional sport played by super athletes. Kids can’t be formula one drivers on the weekend but they can imitate rugby league players.

I was not personally offended by what Gallen did. But I wasn’t offended by Russell Packer either. I don’t have kids, I am a crap barometer of community standards.

Here’s what should happen to satisfy community standards: David Smith should sit in front of a camera and tell the nation: “State Of Origin will never be played under a different set of rules again. There are no separate rules.

“If you are watching State of Origin hoping for violence, please switch the channel and watch something else. We don’t want you. Thank you.”

After that, we figure out if rugby league itself needs to sacrifice any more to keep attracting young players. Win back the mums, by all means.

But first, end the hypocrisy.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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