I’ve been idly following the discussion in rugby league circles about the possibility of adding two new teams to the NRL, probably one on the Gold Coast and one on the NSW Central Coast.
Rupert Online reported yesterday that the Gold Coast consortium was totally opposed to shifting an existing NRL team up there:
The last time Gold Coast had a team in the competition, they had to be propped up by the ARL at the end of 1995, and they were closed down three years later as part of the Super League peace deal between the ARL and News Limited (publishers of The Australian).
“I’ve said from day one that we think the Gold Coast would be very cynical of a relocation again, given the fact that they were betrayed with the exit of the Chargers,” Gold Coast Dolphins director Michael Searle said yesterday.
I suppose you can understand their cynicism, but it’s a short-sighted attitude. The AFL has had considerable success in shifting Melbourne teams to create a truly national game. Brisbane people have taken Fitzroy to their hearts, as to a slightly lesser extent have Sydney people with South Melbourne.
The rugby league experience is more equivocal. Post-Super League mergers worked OK (Wests Tigers; St George-Illawarra), but the experiment with a combination of a merger and partial territorial shift in the Northern Eagles was a spectacular failure, with the Bears ceasing to exist and a drastically weakened Manly now fighting desperately to avoid the wooden spoon.
But there’s no reason why shifting an existing team, without the additional disruption of a merger, wouldn’t work, especially if the transplanted teams are nurtured for several years as the AFL did with the Lions and Swans.
The ridiculous aspect of the current situation is that the team they’re apparently thinking of shifting is Melbourne Storm. Sydney clearly has too many teams, and if rugby league has any pretensions at all to ever becoming a national game instead of a parochial joke, the NRL must keep supporting Melbourne Storm.
The real problem is that Australia generally just doesn’t have the player or fan base to support 2 separate rugby codes played at elite international level. That stark reality probably isn’t quite as obvious to the dwindling band of rugby league followers. Australia still manages to dominate the “international” game, because league really isn’t played anywhere else to a significant extent. League is very much the poor cousin to rugby union in New Zealand, and to both soccer and rugby union in Britain and France.
In rugby union, however, which is a truly world game these days, Australia’s relatively thin player depth is a potentially serious problem. Britain, South Africa and New Zealand all have much larger pools of senior rugby players from which to choose their elite provincial and national squads. Australia has so far managed to remain at or near the top of world rugby despite that disparity, but for how much longer can we keep playing above our weight?
Rugby league is a bad joke that is draining the strength from the real rugby game in Australia. It should be quietly euthanased and its players welcomed into rugby ranks. The skills and strategies of the two games are far more similar than the parochial supporters of either code like to admit. You only need to look at the recent appointment of former Melbourne Storm coach Chris Anderson to coach a top Welsh rugby union side, and recall that Australia won its first two Rugby World Cups in considerable part because it adopted rugby league-style defensive skills and patterns.
Rugby league should do the patriotic thing and commit collective suicide. After all, they only broke away from proper rugby in the first place because the stuck-up Pommy wankers who then controlled rugby wouldn’t let working class lads from northern England make a buck out of the game. Now that rugby is fully professional and a world game, the rationale for league’s continued existence has disappeared.
You know I’m right. This isn’t Sam Kekovich.