State of Origin: Haters will hate

The Melbourne Cricket Ground or MCG, looking magnificent.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground or MCG, looking magnificent. Pictures courtsey of the NRL.

The latest match in the 35 years of State of Origin was true to type. A ferocious physical confrontation, thrilling ball movement, repeated swings in momentum and a victory to the (marginal) underdog. The game was played in front of a record crowd of 91,500 at the AFL (Australian Rules Football) cathedral that is the MCG and was easily the most watched TV program in Australia in 2015. Highlights here

Contesting a bomb. The AFL loving Melbourne public might have appreciated this bit.

Contesting a bomb. The AFL loving Melbourne public might have appreciated this bit.

Despite the continued fascination with the annual three match series by the broader public, it still isn’t short of detractors both at home and abroad. The morning after the match the AFL dominated media in Melbourne weren’t keen to talk about the game’s excitement or huge audience, but instead became fixated with some disruption to the minutes silence for the late legendary Aussie Olympic runner, Ron Clarke. Hysterical headlines like “State of Origin overshadowed by minute’s silence disgrace” abounded and the AFL/soccer/rugby union fans joined in full force on Twitter.

Social media adds balance as always

Social media adds balance as always

Instead of blaming the 40 or 50 idiots out of 91,000 that couldn’t keep quiet, or tarring the people of Melbourne, the rugby league haters seized on the one negative aspect of the whole evening to bash the entire sport.

What’s curious about this is that it happens every time. Despite being a relatively niche sport, people actually feel threatened about any success rugby league does have. If it hadn’t have been the disrespect shown to Ron Clarke by a small minority of the crowd, they would have picked on something else.

When a young player is arrested for an off-field misdemeanor, it’s the game that is at fault. When a player is subject to a bad injury, it’s the game at fault. This standard is never applied to other sports, but both in the UK and Australia, negative publicity is magnified for rugby league, by a media that rarely wants to focus on the game itself, for fear rugby league might finally be taken seriously by casual sports fans, and not just aficionados like myself.

Michael Jennings, unlucky to not get Man of the Match was arrested for "obstructing police" on Friday morning, encouraging another torrent of handwringing.

Michael Jennings, unlucky to not get Man of the Match was arrested for “obstructing police” on Friday morning, encouraging another torrent of handrwinging.

In Australia the rivalry between AFL (the main sport in Victoria, South Australia, & western Australia, and rugby league (the main sport in New South Wales & Queensland), and latterly soccer (Association Football – beloved of recent immigrants and a growing section of the self-hating Australian upper-middle class) is the driver of this in the modern era, with the mullet headed boofheads of AFL and the polyglot sporting monculturists of soccer somehow feeling able to claim the moral highground.

AFL - 22 blokes with mullets chasing a seagull.

AFL – 22 blokes with mullets chasing a seagull.

That’s baffling given AFL is a drug riddled, and somewhat rigged sport, while as we all now know, soccer is corrupt from top to bottom.

Anyway, State of Origin game III 2015 takes place on July 8 at 8pm AEST, and no doubt it will be a sell out at Suncorp stadium in Brisbane, and attract another huge TV audience. Being unable to ignore the game, the anti-rugby league media will be sharpening its claws for a fight in the car park, a player’s marital dispute, a boozy night out by the Queensland kitman or some other distraction.

Jonathan Thurston - JT was superb behind a beaten pack in game II. He could be the decisive creative figure in game III.

Jonathan Thurston – JT was superb behind a beaten pack in game II. He could be the decisive creative figure in game III.

I’ll be focused on the game. Some of the world’s best rugby players are on show including the peerless Jonathan Thurston and the phenomenal Greg Inglis for Queensland. NSW have a tough, young forward pack led by the floppy haired youngster Aaron Woods and some talent in the backs including the great Morris brothers. Can’t wait.

 

Richie Benaud – A Civilized Role Model

How i'll remember him. In the BBC commentary box. Picture courtesy of the BBC.

How i’ll remember him. In the BBC commentary box. Picture courtesy of the BBC.

Paying tribute to Richie Benaud is not a minority sport. Pretty much all Englishmen (& many women) & Australians over the age of 30 are united in mourning today as he was hugely popular as a cricketer & broadcaster in both nations, with the BBC in England, and Channel Nine in Australia.

The key to his success was his understated, calm delivery, knowledge and generosity of spirit. He wasn’t controversial or partisan, and crucially he never attempted to be funny. He was very funny though, because the humour came naturally when something amusing happened. He was part of my childhood & youth that I will always treasure, and contributed to my love of cricket a lot more the the public schoolboy silliness of BBC radio’s Test Match Special crew.

He was a great role model for me – and I hope in some small way he was an adult who tempered my youthful attention-seeking mode of conversation. He was the quiet voice of authority and demonstrated you didn’t have to be hysterical, regardless of your strongly held opinions, or which team you wanted to win.

Sadly his legacy has been betrayed by the BBC who have dumped cricket as they search for ratings with non-stop cooking shows and Top Gear-like dross. Channel Nine on the other hand have put more money into cricket than ever before, but have lowered the standard of commentary to unprecedented depths. With the honorable exception of Mark Nicholas, their team of ex-Australian players try so hard to be funny with their non-stop “banter” that they now detract from the cricket. Here’s a superb takedown by the Guardian if you want the gory details about ‘Tubby’, ‘Slats’ and ‘Warney’.

RIP Richie – you truly will be missed.