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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Rugby in a Different League

Rugby league is a guaranteed excitement machine, and hence one of the most enjoyable spectator sports in the world. As far as sports predominant in New Zealand go, it is second to none on the entertainment front. League’s lack of popularity is simply criminal.

Unlike its elder sibling and New Zealand’s national game, Rugby Union, league is always played in a fashion which promotes ball running, and hence maximises try scoring. The tackle rules also necessitate that kicking (away possession) is reserved largely for attacking situations.
Rugby Union in New Zealand is undoubtedly some of the very best and most entertaining in the world. While this makes rugby in this country largely enjoyable, it does not bode well for the sport in other countries. Northern Hemisphere teams in particular rely far too much on the Johnny Wilkinson approach—kick, kick and kick some more.

The major downfall of league, in terms of national popularity, is its lack of global recognition. The likes of rugby and football are much more globally played sports, especially on the international stage. This fact is regularly highlighted in the annual Halberg awards, with rugby a consistent frontrunner, and football having recently taken the stage. The latest awards were dominated by the All Whites, despite having failed to make the second round of the World Cup; whereas the Kiwis completed a major upset of their own in becoming world champions.
One of the major factors behind the excitement of league is the far greater level of physicality, compared to rugby and particularly football. This is another aspect which is heavily influenced by the laws of the game(s). League is by far the most lenient of the three sports, in terms of “tackling” rulings. Watch just one game and this becomes so very clear. I can’t remember the last time a crunching shoulder charge didn’t result in strict disciplining in a rugby match (dear Ma’a and Butch—switch code while you still can!).

Rugby is certainly very much a contact sport, but it stops short of defining the term, due to rules assumedly designed to prevent injuries. However, look at statistics for injuries sustained in rugby and league and I very much doubt they would be a telling factor. This is due at least in part to the vastly differing tackle-ball areas of the games. The elimination of the hassles caused by this area, as well as set pieces, is another factor which leaves league clearly leading when it comes to non-stop action and entertainment.

The reliance on forward packs in modern rugby makes for a much less entertaining format, in my not so humble opinion. But let’s face it, we want to see running rugby and try scoring, not fucking drop goals (although it seems somewhat of a given that the ABs need to learn how to in order to nab a second World Cup). Whatever happened to the “All Backs”? … I guess once you go Black, you do indeed never go back. League players, including the forwards, are all about the cardio (by necessity). Coupled with the brilliant interchange system, this promotes the fast-paced, attacking style and hard-hitting defence that rarely fails to enthrall.

Where rugby flails, football falls flat on its face. The seemingly dying craze that erupted during the All Whites’ admirable road to the FIFA World Cup, and unbeaten run therein, looks set to be replaced imminently by a renewed fervour for rugby, as the Rugby World Cup approaches.

It’s difficult to see how a sport in which a scoreless draw is fairly commonplace can garner such a colossal worldwide audience every day. Yes, there are plenty of intriguing and exciting contests played out, but watching two sides play out a game without troubling the scorers is an a hour and a half you simply can’t get back.

While league players have proven to be successful in extra-curricular activities in the ballpark of boxing, football players (with the exception of the likes of Vinnie Jones—that guy’s a fucking legend!) would be more at home at acting school. Thank god referees are starting to crack down on “Hollywoods”, because nobody likes a faker. That shit is just sad.

Another of the key aspects which makes league such an exciting game is salary capping. With the exception of those who chose to code-switch (not mentioning any names *cough* SBW *cough*), league players are among those who can often be presented as playing for the “love of the game”; a trait which eludes too many professional sportsmen of today. Yes, there’s a salary cap in the A-League but let’s face it, it’s not exactly what you’d call world class.

I don’t disagree with Kiwi rugby players heading abroad to finish off their careers, and talented local football players need to leave New Zealand to improve their game, but surely there’s an element of personal and national pride which needs to be instilled.

Probably the most compelling reason to watch league is the NZ Warriors’ very own Manu “The Beast” Vatuvei. The immense 112kg, 189cm Beast defies all laws of physics to hold his own with the quickest wingers the NRL has to offer, as well as offering a wicked step and the drive force of a bulldozer. Manu has already broken the Warriors’ try-scoring record at just 25 years young, averaging the best part of a try a game, and seems to get even better every single season. Unfortunately, he will be out for up to eight weeks following a knee injury suffered after just 14 minutes into the Warriors’ opening game of 2011.

Although Manu is a big loss, and round one saw a disappointing loss to the Paramatta Eels, the Warriors squad looks perhaps even stronger than the side which finished fifth in 2010, thanks to the smart signings of nippy Australian veteran Shaun Berrigan, blockbusting offload specialist Feleti Mateo and Kiwi goalkicking utility back Krisnan Inu. The future also looks bright, with the Junior Warriors having won last season’s Toyota Cup and already looking slick this season. Watch this space!

Rugby and football are decent enough sports; they just don’t deserve to be so much more popular than league. In my opinion, the majority of (one-eyed) rugby supporters who slander league have probably never given it a proper go. And football simply is not New Zealand’s finest sport. Having said that, indoor football is some seriously good fun. Check out the Multiple Scoregasms carving shit up on Wednesday nights at Shed 1. I hear they are fucking class.

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