By STEVE MASCORD
SO the guys from the Full 80 Podcast are calling it a day. “Do you think some of the passion has gone out of the game?” one of them asked me on their last episode.
“Like, we still follow our teams, but……”
You’ll hear plenty of people say the game is going soft, that it’s being run by suits, that it just doesn’t feel the same.
The Full 80 fellas, well they’re doing what everyone else is threatening to … packing up, going home. They probably have other reasons, too – but are they right? Has the game lost something?
About this time last year, RLW asked me to write about my personal highlights of the season. It’s an indulgence, I guess, but one which I hope you find bearable.
When I go back through 2015, I find plenty of experiences that were truly visceral, not anodyne or sterile.
Rugby league lost fans during the Super League War and it will lose some during what I term a peaceful coup. It is being cleaned up, repackaged for a wider market, made safer for t new world. It will lose more.
But many of those of us who love the game believe it is more than punching and shoulder charging. We have always believed it deserved a wider appeal and we are excited to think it might finally happen. If all you ever liked about the game was the grubby stuff, you didn’t really like the game at all.
So here they are: a few highlights of 2015 that prove rugby league still got passion.
February 22: SOUTH SYDNEY 39 ST HELENS 0 at Langtree Park
“RUSSEL Crowe Snubs Oscars For St Helens” read the incredulous UK national newspaper headlines as the South Sydney owner sprinkled some stardust on the old Merseyside glass-making town. It was the culmination of a three day World Club Series, with Warrington taking on St George Illawarra and Brisbane meeting Wigan in the first expanded such competition in 18-years. This was the only lopsided game. Crowe being interviewed by Brian Carney and leading over the fence of the corporate box to sign as many autographs as possible? Priceless.
May 3: NEW ZEALAND 26 AUSTRALIA 12 at Suncorp Stadium
A BIT of financial belt-tightening by yours truly meant I had written off attending this, as much as it would hurt to miss any international. But then the rain came. The Anzac Test supposed to be played on Friday night but the players were told to go back to their hotel when Suncorp became a rice paddy. So I took it as a sign and hopped on a plane. And what an old-school day Sunday was – sunny, Sunday afternoon Test football and the Kiwis underscoring their recent dominance with a convincing win. Thankyou, mother nature.
BACK in the day, Canterbury were such a welcoming club to young reporters. Barry Nelson and Peter Moore were almost fatherly when you would ring them up and visit their dressing rooms. So going back to Belmore in June was like stepping back into cadet lectures. It was a night of old faces – so many that when I ran into the owner of The Australian bar in New York, my head almost exploded in confusion. Interviewing Josh Reynolds with the crowd chanting his name and walking to the eastern side as the Dogs performed their team song in front of the hill – unforgettable stuff. Canterbury has been a conduit for many years through which people new to this country celebrated their Australian-ness.
June 17: NSW 26 QUEENSLAND 18 at Melbourne Cricket Ground
I’VE not chosen this because of the result. Although I was born – and live – south of the border, I’m not the world’s biggest Blues fan. I flew in from Europe the morning of this match and going back to the MCG, as part of a 91,513 crowd, was quite an experience. Highlights of the evening included running into Scotland coach Steve McCormack in the NSW sheds and the bizarre sight of NRL media strategist Peter Grimshaw competing in a Family Fued episode that was showing in the press box! Origin on the road is a winner.
August 2: ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 46 NEWCASTLE 24 at Kogarah Oval
AS a sportswriter, there is a scary age you reach when you realise you covered the entire PLAYING careers of today’s COACHES. I was there when Dragons boss Paul McGregor played for City Seconds after just a handful of first grade games. And I’ve been on tours with Danny Buderus, I’ve even seen him play in Jacksonville for Leeds. On a sunny winter’s afternoon, this was a reminder of a life well spent as Buderus jpined the coaching ranks. “It’s lonely up there,” he said, when I eventually got hold of him after his animated catchi-up with is mate “Mary”.
August 29: LEEDS 50 HULL KR 0 at Wembley Stadium
RUGBY League turned 50 on an average day in London, and 80,000 of us got an average Challenge Cup final. Not only did Leeds set a new scoring record against poor Hull KR, but winger Tom Briscoe posted an historic five-try haul. But none of that mattered. What we will take away from the day was Lizzie Jones, widow of Wales halfback Danny who died playing the game he loved in May, performing the hymn abide with me. Thirty seconds into her performance, the whole stadium erupted in applause. It was the most spine-tingling moment I can remember at a rugby league match.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK