By STEVE MASCORD
I’VE held off writing about this subject for years now because I feared offending colleagues: the different ways in which rugby league is covered in Australia and Britain.
But this year’s Super League grand final presented a couple of extremely stark examples of the contrast and I just couldn’t let the opportunity go by once more.
Two incidents stick out for me. One, Danny McGuire’s apparent knock-on before Joel Moon’s 26th minute try, and Liam Farrell shoving McGuire into the advertising hoardings as he crossed eight minutes later.
I asked Wigan coach Shaun Wane about the former at the media conference. I refrained from asking McGuire about either incident when he came to the presser because I wanted to get him on his own. No-one else asked and as I write this I haven’t had the opportunity to ask Danny one-on-one.
The video refereeing decision to award the Moon try decided a competition – make no mistake. While Wigan winger Joe Burgess complained about the call, very little was written about it.
A contentious video refereeing decision that decided a premiership would be headline news for days in Australia – inestimably bigger than Wayne Bennett’s complaints about golden point time, as an example.
Over the years, I’ve gained a better understanding about why this difference in approach exists. There are several reasons but they all revolve around rugby league being a much bigger sport in Australia.
The reporter covering an NRL game assumes most of his readers saw the match. He tries to find something different to tell them over their bacon and eggs.
A journalist at a Super League game assumes the exact opposite: most readers DID NOT see the game. He or she must use their allotted word count to explain the basics which an Australia hack can gloss over – who won, how and why.
For Australian readers who wish there were more stories about Joe Blow being a good player and the match being very entertaining – there’s your reason. When you’re popular, scrutiny really does come with the territory – in an almost mechanical way.
However, I have also sensed over the years that rugby league reporters in the UK are – perhaps largely subconsciously – protective of the sport. I may be completely wrong but I would guess at least some of them would be embarrassed to highlight a grand final being decided by an officiating error.
I am not qualified to judge the performance or decisions of my colleagues and I avoid doing so at all times.
But I do wonder if sometimes this well-intentioned positivity robs coverage of some of its drama and colour. Would Burgess’s comments screaming from the front page of the specialist press on the Monday after the grand final have hurt anyone?
It was a story – not just content, which is what far too much of the daily churn of sports coverage today has become.
Another factor which I have seen in second-tier sports – in Australia, that’s soccer – that affects the coverage is a lack of competition.
You are always going to get the same space in the paper, regardless of what you write so there is more incentive to not miss something than there is to get something different.
Your sports editor is focused on the big show, not you. He’s only going to notice if you stuff up. The secret to a peaceful life is to collude with your rivals and write the same thing every day.
I am not saying this happens in the UK – because rugby league isn’t even in most national papers on weekdays anymore.
But I have even seen it recently in Australia. Journalists covering the NRL feel under appreciated with the collapse of the newspaper industry. They don’t travel anymore, they have to get copy in early regardless of quality.
So they have taken to cutting corners – sharing the duties of transcribing quotes and doing away with the old tactics and gamesmanship that used to be a hallmark of the trade.
Last season a journalist misheard a quote on his digital voice recorder and the misquote appeared in every newspaper the next day because the reporters were transcribing for each other.
THE upcoming World Cup qualifiers in South Africa and the United States present some interesting questions regarding eligibility.
Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah wanted to play for Lebanon in Brakpan (that’s where the games actually are – not Pretoria, which sounds better).
He was told by RLIF liason officer Tas Baitieri he would be sacrificing his New South Wales jersey if he did so.
Regular readers of this column would be aware of my position on this: it’s ridiculous. State of Origin’s integrity has been propped up by recent rule changes that mean you must have lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 to play.
Why should NSW or Queensland care what country you represent beyond that? Only if they want to use Origin to stockpile players, which is precisely what is happening.
It’s my understand that part of the new ‘whole of game’ proposal before the NRL right now is to separate Origin from the Australian team – but it has precious little support from key figures who see New Zealand’s international dominance as a reason to use the system to Australia’s advantage.
Having said all that ….
You cannot take part in World Cup qualifiers without meeting a minimum level of domestic activity. But once you are in the qualifiers, the availability of fulltime professionals can make your national team completely unreflective of how much rugby league is played at home.
Wales has more players than the United States but lost to a Tomahawks side full of foreign-based players at the last World Cup.
As a sport, we need to ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with teams getting into the World Cup with players who have only visited that country fleetingly. Once the tournament is on, I guess we want to see the best players on the pitch.
Part of me thinks it’s a good thing that Lebanon will not have Farah’s services in Brakpan against a South African side that has a selection policy of not picking anyone who has never played the sport domestically.
The Cedars will still win – just not by as much.
The RLIF showed its own view of this by making the top seven teams from the last World Cup automatic qualifiers for the 2017 – pointedly snubbing the US.
But making the rules up as you go along, while a time honoured rugby league practice, isn’t terribly professional.
How do we write a consistent rule that gives us strong national teams that have connection to their domestic competitions? Answers on the back of a postage stamp….
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD