Rugby union fighting for its share of competitive Australian sports market
Rugby league, Aussie Rules, cricket and soccer all vying for the attention of the sports-mad public ‘Down Under’
Paul Gallen of the New South Wales Blues and Nate Myles of the Queensland Maroons during a controversial incident in game one of the popular ARL State of Origin series at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Phtograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
The thought has occurred over the last three weeks while following the Lions around Australia, that rugby union is possibly a little too sanitised as well as middle class for Aussie sporting tastes. Aussies like a bit of biff, which rugby league allows a good deal more of than its rugby union counterpart.
State of Origin is the main game in town, and this annual three-match series between Queensland and New South Wales is generally compelling viewing and by some distance the highest quality league head-to-head the game has to offer; World Cups included.
The skill levels are extraordinary, all the more so when placed in the context of the games’ ferocity and intensity.
Ahead of next Wednesday’s Origin 2, the fallout from the opener in Sydney a fortnight ago was dominated by the NSW captain cum hero/antihero/hate figure, Paul Gallen, unloading a volley of crisp left and right punches into the face of Queensland’s Nappy Miles.
For this he was penalised, stayed on the pitch, and was banned for one week, making him comfortably eligible for next Wednesday’s Origin 2 in Brisbane, when Queensland must win to level the series and keep alive their hopes of an eighth success in a row.
The debate raged as to the right or wrongs of this decidedly lenient punishment, and usually depended on which side of the fence the pundit was coming from.
One commentator not unreasonably suggested that if it happened in the streets, it would lead to an arrest. Yet neither coach, Queensland’s Mal Meninga or NSW’s Laurie Daly, considered Cullen’s punches out of step with the nature of Origin which, they both maintained, was different in essence from the rest of rugby league.
Even Miles, when followed by cameras to Sydney airport the next day, maintained it was all part of the game, and tetchily blamed the media for making an issue of it.
However, the chance for retribution next Wednesday has apparently been curtailed by the decision of the game’s governing body, NRL (National Rugby League) to punish any punching with a ten-minute sin-binning. ‘NRL BANS BIFF’ ran the Sunday Telegraph heading four days ago. This has seemingly outraged all parties involved.
Gallen himself was part of a four-man panel on a radio chat show later that day which unanimously agreed that the ruling was a timid move from which Origin would suffer, and that the NRL had caved in to a loud minority who had been given too much airspace in the fallout from the opening game. Curiously, as one commentator noted, in the same programme Gallen revealed that he was not proud of his actions, and felt compelled to admit as much to school kids last week.
Hand in hand
A bit of Biffo and Origin have gone hand in hand, so to speak, since the first Origin match in 1980 when rugby league legend Mick Cronin was punched by his Parramatta team-mate Arthur Beetson, thereby engendering the “mate versus mate” concept which has underlined the State of Origin.