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August 6, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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A Fool’s Game

Rugby League has often been on the short end of the stick in terms of media coverage in New Zealand. The sport that is often referred to as “the working class game”, has always worn the brunt of media-machinations concerning its rather unflattering image as a ‘poor man’s rugby’. Indeed, while rugby union enjoys an unparalleled level of coverage in New Zealand, rugby league squanders in rank mediocrity, floundering on Sky 1 while an Air New Zealand Cup match is given preference on the more elite Sky Sport channels.

Comparing league with union is nothing new, and no matter how many times it is done, the results are always frightfully similar: union is league’s superior. Perhaps this isn’t so much an indication of the sport’s inferiority in terms of entertainment value or relevance as a code (to what standard do we measure the quality of sporting codes anyway?), but rather a recognition that rugby union has avoided the catastrophic malfunctions that have inhibited league since union became a professional sport in 1996.

Therein lies the rub: league has tripped and bumbled its way through the modern professional age, while rugby has enjoyed a relatively seamless transition from amateur to professional status. And whom might we point the finger at for this? Naturally, it wasn’t the players who allowed their sport to be mangled in such a fashion, nor can we twist blame in the direction of the fans, who have inconceivably steadfast in their appreciation in their love for the humble sport of league.

Naturally, our taunts and machinations turn to the suit wearin’ imbeciles who have torn and ripped rugby league to within an inch of its life, all while little dollar signs rang up in their eyes, excited by the prospect of manipulating an already battered sport into becoming just another media commodity.

It’s a fool’s game – league is really a three-nation sport. While rugby continues to bloom and prosper, rugby league finds itself with virtually no new markets to dip into. Is it too far-fetched to assume that the working class game has reached its peak, that any further expansion it might enjoy will be rendered quaint and of little consequence? Rugby union continues to break new ground on a global scale via its accessible international sevens circuit, and the anticipation surrounding this year’s Rugby World Cup is unprecedented in the tournament’s 20-year history. But what of league? Can it really be expected to grow in a market that is already saturated with far better administered sports?

We may never see a rugby league world cup reach the dizzying heights of its union equivalent, but to never see the chance for the sport to redeem itself is perhaps a far more sobering proposition.

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