By STEVE MASCORD
THE old ‘Aussie take on the British game” routine has been done to death over the years – but I’m sure it’s what you’re expecting from me this week.
Since about 1970, Australian media types have been talking down their noses at British players, administrators and supporters about what has to be done to “fix’ the game here.
The fact is, it’s become such a cliché that it no longer seems to carry much weight. You just shrug and go watch your team this weekend like you always have.
Last weekend, I went to three games: Leeds-Hull, St Helens-Hudderfield and London-Widnes. I thought the middle one was compelling, the others had different flaws as spectacles.
Let me say off the bat that I love Super League. I sit up and listen to commentaries online on a Sunday night at home and tweet scores –that’s how much I love it.
I love the ball movement, I love the sense of adventure and the risk taking and I love the crowds who make the audiences at home seem like they are painted onto their seats.
No-one has sent me here for the first month of the season. Sure I pick up some work doing the World Club Challenge but I cannot think of a better place in the world to be right now than here, watching three games a week.
So if I must do the old “Aussie preaching to poms” routine, let it be known that I am not approaching the issue from a perspective of arrogant distance.
Leeds remains a true hotbed for rugby league, up there with Brisbane and Wigan. Game night is compelling and uplifting and the Rhinos are a great team to watch, with Ryan Bailey the perfect pantomime villain.
Now Hull, to me, do not look the part at all – and Gareth Ellis’ presence would have made no difference to the result on Friday.
They seem to lack penetration and play off the top of their heads. It’s hard to see them joining the top echelon of Super League sides this season.
Huddersfield on Saturday played like an NRL side – an NRL side with a point to prove. Please, don’t tell me playing against a coach who left you for “greener pastures” the previous year is not a motivator.
This is the sort of situation I see time and again as a rugby league writer. Players deny being motivated by factors that are as plain as the nose on Laurie Daley’s face and mock us as cynics for suggesting such a thing – and years later in their biographies admit we were 100 per cent right.
Whereas Friday night’s floggings were bad for rugby league, this one was good for the comp (sorry Saints fans) and injected much interest in this weekend’s Widnes-Saints game.
Which brings us to Sunday’s events at The Stoop.
I found it to be a rather depressing afternoon all round. The main reason, perhaps, is outlined in the item below but the 2800-odd crowd and dismal performance of the Broncos made it a particularly downbeat occasion.
On one hand, we want London to spend up the salary cap and be competitive. On the other, we seen tiny crowds like this come through the turnstiles. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that one of these things will continue at the expense of the other.
You can talk all you like about them playing at the wrong venue. London are like Melbourne – they are in hostile/apathetic markets and must ALWAYS be competitive (challenging for titles) to be a success.
In Australia, the AFL signed Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau and then just gave them to expansion clubs. I know it would never be tolerated in the north but maybe the only answer for London is for the RFL to adopt a similar policy with the Broncos.
I know Red Hall has had its funding cut and is laying off people but at some stage they have to revisit central contracting and take dramatic, unusual measures to help London – as the AFL did for its missionary franchises. Yes, I know the culture is different here and you are still getting your heads around salary caps and play-offs but we have to do SOMETHING.
As an outsider, it is obvious to me that rugby league needs a team in London. But what we have IS not is not working. Another Aussie example (sorry) – the A-league soccer body founding itself running some of the teams in its own league to prevent them collaPsing.
OK, end of arrogant, ignorant sermon. I hope you found my thoughts interesting, even if you didn’t agree with any of them. I just figured I had to write about the first round of Super League this week.
I was having a beer with my friend Howard Scott in the main grandstand at The Stoop on Sunday when I received one of the worst phone calls of my life.