By STEVE MASCORD
AS if we needed further proof rugby league culture is changing quickly, Cronulla star Jack Bird has sparked stunned looks from team-mates by inviting his girlfriend into the sheds for the victory song.
Just eight days after the NRL entered a float in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 20-year-old Bird was so thrilled with the 30-2 win over St George Illawarra he decided to share it with his partner Mirea.
“Say something about me!” Bird shouted to suspended team-mate Chris Heighington when he was chatting to Rugby League Week after the derby triumph.
Heighington complied, telling us: “Pretty funny, I’ve never seen it in my time, he had his missus in here after the game!
“…for the team song, he had his missus in here! I’ve never seen anyone’s girlfriend or wife in here after a game.
“I made a point of it, saying something. I’ve never seen it!”
Bird cheekily hit back at the former England second rower, saying: “Heighno had better watch out – I’ll be getting him back.
“If you watch the video of the team song, Heingho gives me three cheers after bringing her in!”
While Mirea is out of shot in this video, Heighington’s exhortation is clearly audible near the end.
A partner entering the dressingroom for the team song – which rugby league is trying to push via digital media to be as big as it is in the AFL – is something of a watershed for footy culture and rituals.
In any other time since 1908 – with the possible exception of grand final day – it would have been unthinkable. For years rugby league was seen as a boys club where women were there to wash the jumpers and waie pompoms.
But the NRL has got involved in women’s rugby league over the past two years, resulting in an improvement for Australia’s on-field fortunes.
Sundays Southern Cross Stadium game was controlled by openly gay referee Matt Cecchin. Other formerly taboo subjects like depression and the long-term effects of concussion are being dealt with seriously.
On Sunday, players mingled with hundreds of fans who invaded the pitch at fulltime.
Will the team song – a sacred rite of Australian sport – soon become a family event? Heighington couldn’t see it happening immediately.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK