The Land of Oz |
What a trip! I had such a great time in Oz at my god-daughterâ€™s wedding and sightseeing, but I am still spitting tacks at the timing. I had to return a couple of hours before the first match of the NRL season, so did not get to see the Bulldogs run on at the Telstra stadium to start the season off against the Dragons. I did, however, manage to visit a few clubs, see some training sessions and watch the first Footy Show of the season. Training on the beach at Cronulla looks and feels a bit different from Kirkstall!
For the first time in three years the Bulldogs do not have any controversy hanging over them at the start of the season. They do, however, have to face the challenge of winning back-to-back premierships. No team has done it since the NRL was formed in 1998 and the last team to win two in row was Brisbane 10 years ago. This is what seemed to occupy the press as the weekend began. There was no mention at all of their loss to us! Most of the fans (admittedly from other teams) I had spoken to seemed to be very pleased that we had won. They all hated the Dogs with a vengeance! The other team to beat seems to be Manly.
It was interesting to compare the high profile of RL in Oz during my visit â€“ huge great billboards along the roadside promoting the clubs, urging people to â€˜Scream for your teamâ€™, pages of coverage in newspapers and an item in every TV news bulletin, never mind sports report. There was a lot of stuff covering the allegations concerning Newcastle Knights but even more about Sonny Bill, Mason and Anasta. Many papers were commenting on the over the top hype, but it was, of course, largely hype of their making. Loads of â€˜paper-spaceâ€™ is covered with speculation and chat. The general feeling is that Sonny Bill will go nowhere, but it may cost the Dogs an enormous amount of money to keep him. The salary cap and the impact on his team mates canâ€™t be ignored and they are still smarting from the 2002 fine. There is no shortage of advice for SBW from others such as Brad Fittler, all urging him to stay.
The other news items were about Russell Croweâ€™s latest challenge â€“ selling Rugby League to Hollywood, with the ground breaking sponsorship deal which sees the name of his latest film â€“ Cinderella Man - emblazoned across the shirts of Shaun Mc Reaâ€™s South Sydney Rabbitohs from July.
There was little or no coverage of the London Broncos story.
â€˜Fanstalkâ€™ frequently concerned the playing of matches at the Telstra â€“ a move orchestrated to make use of the Olympic site so that it does not lie unused or is seen as a white elephant. It is clearly not full when they use it and fans think this gives a false image of the support and fanbase. They donâ€™t like it and would much prefer the games to be played on their traditional grounds even though these do not necessarily have the best facilities or the best views!
I did come back wishing we could adapt at least two of the Aussie ideas. The â€˜league clubsâ€™, often attached to sporting/footy clubs, or RSL clubs (Returned Soldiers League clubs), funded almost totally by gambling machines apparently, are great. They are big, popular and have social, sport and leisure facilities for members, which might include bars, restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, big screens etc. etc. We used restaurants in these clubs, including a great Chinese one, and they were great and real value with discounts for members. New gaming rules here, with plans for casinos, like those for Elland Road might lead to something similar. How about somebody at Headingley having a look? It is harder to do something like this here with lack of space but there is potential for a real sport/business/leisure opportunity.
The other is the Footy Show. For those who havenâ€™t heard about it, Australian TV is crâ€¦p with adverts every 10 minutes or so, unless it is ABC â€“ the non-commercial government-run station, which is full of British programmes. Breaks even come about 5 minutes before the end of programmes and then the credits follow the ads. However, Channel 9 has The Footy Show - 2 hours of focus on the NRL- far better than Boots â€˜n All and funny! It was mix of regular serious items including very frank interviews with, this week, Willy Mason, challenges for the presenters, Peter â€˜Sterloâ€™ Sterling, Paul â€˜Fattyâ€™ Vautin, Paul â€˜The Chiefâ€™ Harragon, and Matty Johns and other comedy items. Steve Irwin was on (why?) and Craig McLachlan was supposed to be funny but he was rightly booed off! It is usually done in front of a live audience just up the road from my god-daughterâ€™s place but this first show was also from the Olympic site. It attracts a good following and so helps the keep profile of the game high on the agenda.
We are always looking to raise the profile of our British game and we could learn from some of the things they do in Oz. They did have a thing or two to teach us at Elland Road after all.