By STEVE MASCORD
THERE used to be a crocodile that lived on the hill at the home base of Darwin rugby league, Richardson Park. The local competition has been suspended because of a cyclone and a Japanese bombing.
But this is still rugby league, and some things are just part of the culture. So the fact officials were at war to such an extent two years ago that the ARL stepped in and disbanded the Darwin Rugby League should surprise no-one reading this magazine. It’s what we do.
When Sydney Roosters switched their match against North Queensland last month to TIO Stadium – an oval that has also hosted AFL matches – part of the appeal was to raise some money for the Northern Territory rugby league, which now runs the local competition. That aspect worked.
“The NTRL were over the moon with things, they’ve had some trouble recently and we raised a lot of money with the Carbine Club function that Brad Fittler, Johnathan Thurston and myself spoke at,” Roosters CEO Steve Noyce said.
Darwin doesn’t feel like part of Australia. With the searing heat, main street lined with open-air bars and wall-to-wall backpackers, it’s more like south-east Asia. There is a strong Indonesian influence, with Bali just a couple of hours away by plane and more than a few characters who seem as though they’ve just opted to drop out of society. The food is decidedly Asian too, the faces in the street range from the blackest black to the whitest white.
It’s a place people come to for a few weeks and never leave.
Rugby league was played here during the war and was revived in 1950. Forty-20 saw North Queensland train with some kids at a school on the outskirts of town, after a $50 taxi right through a landscape of red dirt and scrub. “It’s great to get out here and do this,” said Johnathan Thurston, after helping kids catch and tacke.
“No doubt, I won’t be able to do this forever.”
And on game-day – this was a Saturday night game – the crowd was good too; 10,008 who enjoyed a curtain-raiser between NT City and Country featuring a brother of Ben Barba.
But that’s about where the feel-good aspect of the first premiership game in Darwin for 17 years ended. Because the Roosters moved a home game 3980 km for the exalted honour of being flogged 50-12. Long before the game was over, tricolours frans were tweeting about the folly of the decision, which was obviously made on financial grounds given the Northern Territory government offered incentives to attract the event.
Although the margin was 38 points, Roosters coach Brian Smith and captain Braith Anasta would not admit they would have lost the game if it had been held at the Sydney Football Stadium, now called Allianz Stadium.
“There’s an old thing that farmers say: if a bull had tits, it would be a cow,” said Smith, not intending to make any Cowboy puns. “You can talk about that until the cows come home. We just didn’t adapt. We had some guys who really, really struggled tonight who don’t usually struggle, whether it’s the humidity or whatever.
“The decision to come here and play the game is based on finance and also a bit of it is about promoting the game. Tough titties for us, we didn’t handle it well enough. There’s no blame game going on. We knew what we were in for.”
Noyce, one of the game’s nicest men, immediately stuck his hand up. “We’ve received quite a number of emails from fans and members suggesting I made the wrong decision there,” he said.
“I have to accept responsibility for that. We are in a professional sport and we’re in the business of winning games and we were completely out-played.”
Asked if he would be admitting an error or arguing in favour of the fixture, Noyce said: “A bit of both. You saw the looks on the faces of the players and Smithy (coach Brian Smith) – they were shattered.
“You can bullshit your way through things but those are the facts.”
One of the long-term expansion options for the NRL is to have a joint venture between Papua New Guinea and Darwin, with players living in the Northern Territory but playing every second home game in Port Moresby. A new pipeline in Darwin harbour will, locals say, result in a population explosion that will make the plan viable.
Rugby league has had plenty of them – but that’s literally a pipedream.
Filed for: FORTY20