My rugby league pitch


Apologies in advance for the Creed you will hear by playing this video

Alternate title: If it’s cool enough for Maximus Decimus Meridius, it’s cool enough for you.

If you’re like me, there was a little sad spot in your heart after the Super Bowl ended. Yes, even though the game managed to be incredibly boring when it all came down to it and resulted in a classic example of a bad marketing stunt on the part of a website. Maybe that’s cynicism on my part for being a 49ers fan.

But, no matter how blah I felt while watching the game, I still had to watch. I could care less who won (For everybody who remembers all the Patriots gear I wore in high school, let me clarify: the Bledsoe-era Patriots I liked. The Belichick/Mr.Gisele-era Pats, not so much), but this was going to be the last football until August.

It’s interesting how football fans go about dealing with the offseason. Sure, there’s basketball. I lost count of how many friends posted messages on Facebook right about the Super Bowl counting down how many days until pitchers and catchers report.

Me, I turn my attention south. No, not the Cactus League. I go really, really far south. Down under, to be exact. Yes, football season is over, but the National Rugby League is getting ready to start, mate! G’day!

I accidentally came across rugby league just shy of a decade ago, back with the NRL would stream match replays for free. I was pretty much hooked right away because it was so much like football, but went at a faster pace and had so many exciting plays packed into an 80-minute running clock. It almost seemed like I had found this secret that nobody else knew about. At least in my little corner of California.

But, I’m convinced that if people in America really gave watching the NRL a shot, they’d be hooked. In fact, here are my reasons that I think rugby league would be popular in the US:

1) It’s a lot like football: The general assumption about rugby, no pads and it seems like everybody piles on top of a guy when he gets tackled. Well, not always. See, there’s actually two different forms of rugby: There’s rugby union (which is what you’re thinking of, those “piles” are called rucks, btw), and then there’s rugby league, which is the subject of this post. League acts a little more like football, in that each team has “sets” of tackles, which can be thought of like downs in football. The NRL also marks their rugby league pitches with lines every 10 meters, so it even looks fairly similar to a football field.

Side note: There’s a rugby union team getting started here in Salem. You should give them some support.

Russell Crowe cheers on his beloved Bunnies (March 15, 2009 - Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images AsiaPac)

2) A celebrity owner: How many major sports teams in America are owned by celebrities? Yes, Jay-Z owns a little piece of the New Jersey Nets, but it’s still mostly the Russian guy. Meanwhile, the storied South Sydney Rabbitohs are owned by none other than Russell Crowe. Yes, that Russell Crowe. “Gladiator”, “Master & Commander”, “Cinderella Man” Russell Crowe. He purchased the Rabbitohs in 2006, which was fascinating in and of itself because the team, like most Australian sports and unlike every major American sports team except the Green Bay Packers was publicly owned by dues-paying members. That public membership had to take a public vote in order for Crowe to become the owner. Overall, this probably is a little higher up the celebrity sports ownership ladder than when Bon Jovi and John Elway owned Arena football teams.

3) A legendary announcer: Here in America, there’s Vin Scully. And Chick Hearn. And Bob Uecker. Rugby League in Australia has Ray Warren. Awesome voice.

4) All-star games that actually mean something: The Pro Bowl is a joke. NHL All-Star games have about 24 goals. The purpose of the NBA All-Star game is to show how little defense you can play. And for a baseball game to end in a tie, you either have to be in Klamath Falls or be in an All-Star. Rugby League has the State of Origin matches, in which the best players from the states of Queensland and New South Wales face off. And these things are intense.

5) More reasons to love/hate Rupert Murdoch: The man who brought you Fox News also had a pretty major influence on rugby league back in the mid/late 90s. The details can be read in this Wikipedia entry on the Super League war, but the Reader’s Digest version is: Murdoch wanted to broadcast Australian Rugby League games on his TV stations. He couldn’t. So he convinced a bunch of ARL teams break off and form a new league. The dispute caused salaries to skyrocket, the two leagues eventually called a truce, the NRL was created. Hey, can’t hack celebrities’ phones all the time.

6) Some interesting team names: Where else can Tigers play against Roosters, or Titans face off with Eels?

I don’t know if anybody will actually want to watch rugby league after I wrote this, but at least I got a chance to make my case.

So, did I convince anybody?

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