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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.