Can long lost lovers reunite?

If you’ll allow me the analogy, rugby league and rugby union are like two bickering, divorced ex-lovers – and the combined sporting consumer base its collective offspring. Once happily married, money tore them apart and now, years later, they’re thinking about a second wedding. But what for?

The temporary reconciliation took place a month ago, with heavyweights of both codes – Robbie “Dingo” Deans, Bob “Bozo” Fulton, Max “I probably have a nick-name” Krillich and Tim “Sheensy” Sheens – among the 4000-strong crowd braving icy conditions to witness the respective schoolboy champions, Keebra Park and St Augustines, face off in the historic cross-code exhibition.

Many have mulled the idea of a hybrid game, but aside from making great conversation at the building site worksite over a Four’nTwenty – or over a skinny latte by the photocopier in the office – is the cross-code experiment now destined to become a weekly reality? While some see it as a Frankenstein-ian monster, many accept a hybrid code is fated to happen. Hardened ex-players of both codes have gone on record backing the product. Even die-hard league immortal Noel “Crusher” Cleal admitted to sports journalists that “the concept is inevitable; it’s going to happen.” He’d had 12 schooners at the time, but it’s there on the record.

THE RULES: When attacking in their own half, the teams played under rugby league rules, with the rules reversing once the attackers passed half-way. The points system was league-based – four points for a try, two for a conversion – and scrums were union-based. A 60 second “shot clock” system regulated the flow of possession, keeping the game moving by eliminating those frequent lulls during the match.

The discussion of which rules from both game would be best suit a new form of the game would be better left to a longer column. A much longer column. And personally, I’m as biased towards rugby league as Piers Akerman is allegedly towards sexually confused new members of the Young Liberals. So I’ll leave that one well alone – as should Piers. Allegedly.

THE QUESTIONS: With the enthusiasm from ex-greats from both sides of the spectrum in getting behind an alternative game, this writer is wondering what the emergence of a popular hybrid game would mean on a grassroots social context? Would the white collar/blue collar archetypes be phased out? Could we, socially, adapt to a change of this magnitude?

Here’s another one: is there something wrong with the existing products? I really enjoy watching both forms of the game; they’re entertaining, comfortable and full of characters. In saying that, so was Australian family sitcom “Hey Dad” back in the late 80‘s early 90’s. But we now know something wasn’t right there. Come to think of it, David Gallop does look a little like Robert Hughes.

THE HISTORY: The phrase “Rugby League” was first muttered – I hope by a man not dissimilar in looks to Tommy Radonikis – upon the 1901 merger of Northern English rugby union teams Yorkshire and Lancashire. The clubs, which were working-class in nature, essentially broke away from their amateur status to create the means of paying players who couldn’t perform their blue-collar jobs after sustaining injuries. At the time, union clubs were of the belief that if a player couldn’t afford to be injured he shouldn’t be playing the sport. Hence, the founding clubs set the blue-collar tone of Rugby League in the Northern Hemisphere. The same scenario played itself out again, this time south of the Equator, in 1907. This led to the creation of the NSWRL and QRL, and their respective seasons of 1908. Media reports at the time described the large crowds as drawn to the “new, fast-paced, exciting” code.

Rugby league continued its blue-collar grassroots by establishing links to Labour unions and the development of the ‘Leagues Club’: the incoming dollars from big crowds and problem gamblers helped secure rugby league at the forefront of East Coast sport. Not only did this close the door on AFL campaigners with the disdain one offers to an unwanted Jehovah’s Witness at the doorstep, but it also, most importantly, cemented the social stereotype of the ‘league supporter’. Much to ThePublicApology’s appreciation, the pokies-playing, Winfield Blue-smoking, singlet-wearing, fluoride-starved rugby league supporter has become a solid archetype; similarly has the privileged, private school-educated, collar up, corporate trader/banker/surgeon rugby union fanatic.

THE VERDICT: In reality, the existence of a hybrid code may work as a novelty schoolboy game, or even annually at the elite level. But as a genuine alternative to existing codes, I don’t see the potential. If a new game was introduced one of the existing codes would suffer financially – and eventually dissolve. League supporters are passionate and not particularly adept at dealing with change, note the rise and fall of Super League. Union has strong structural support locally and even stronger internationally. Both codes have hands too strong to fold and there is just no room for a third player.

So if a new game is not a viable long term option, then why bother? If a few elite players are injured during an exhibition game, then clubs would rightfully cry foul.  More importantly, if a cross-code form of the game did prove an unlikely success even annually, then we might soon find ourselves short of two comedic social stereotypes. I’m not sure I’m OK with that.

Rugby union and rugby league have been apart for so long that I doubt they could get back together and make it work. After all these years – not to mention the inherent rivalry and, given both codes are now professional, the different economic context – they’ve simply grown apart. They’ve also thrown too many insults at each other: rugby league is “stupid” to union lovers; rugby union is a “boring kick-fest” to leaguies.

It’s a little bit like the current situation with Woody Allen and his ex-wife Mia Farrow. They might reconcile one day, but at the back of Mia’s mind would be the eternal thought: he fucked and consequently married my daughter. I wouldn’t be cool with that, either.

I better wind this up; the footy’s almost on the tele. I’m dying for a dart and I’ve still got to make it to the TAB before kick-off. Guess which stereotype I am?

By Luke Meredith

TPA Joins Twitter

The Public Apology has joined the Twittersphere (or is it the Twitterverse now?).  After holding out for a week after the website launched, the editorial team has finally taken the plunge.  As one of the most influential athletes in the media game, Shaquille O’Neal told legendary sportswriter, Mike Wilbon (of ESPN and formerly The Washington Post): “Bro, if I was one of your bosses at ESPN and you didn’t get on Twitter, I’d fire you. How you gonna be relevant?”

That was in February 2009 when the only people on Twitter were pornstars, re-habbing ‘celebrities’ and Justin Bieber fans, but nearly 2 and a half years on, it turns out Shaq was right. Wilbon, one of the world’s leading Twitter-bashers recently caved and signed up. He has since taken to Twitter like The Wire’s Bubbles took to crack. And if Twitter is dope, then ThePublicApology team will soon be wandering the streets of West Baltimore looking to score.

Now we can be first on the scene when a high-profile athlete/celebrity makes an online gaffe in 140 characters or less. Wayne Rooney recently threatened to bash a fan; Stephanie Rice directed a homophobic slur at the South African rugby team; and Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Rashard Mendenhall, launched into some rambling psychobabble conspiracy theory about the Twin Towers.

All this and more happened on Twitter.  Whether you like it or not, this is where news happens. Somebody said that.

So check us out @ThePubApology and join our legion of followers – the first three of whom were either  trying to sell us insurance, a cut-price mortgage or get us to join their Ponzi pyramid scheme.

By Mike Davis

Rugby league cards depreciating in time: analyst

In a sad reflection of the state of rugby league, a rare pack of signed 1995 Kangaroos footy cards sold for a paltry $4.48 on eBay last night.

The market analyst firm ClarityCapital compiled a report on the auction price of rugby league paraphernalia on eBay and found that bids for retro rugby league items had more than halved in just five years, on average.

The firm found that a set of glow-in-the-dark Canberra Raiders ‘pogs’ was sold for to an Philadelphia-based Australian expat in 2006 for $38.00, but an identical set went for just $8.37 to a buyer in Queanbeyan last week.

At time of publishing, a signed Paul Sironen jersey sat at $16.00 with just five minutes left on the bidding clock, having not attracted a single bidder.

Earlier in the week a napkin that allegedly had been used by ex-Origin prop David Gillespie at a post-match function – according to ‘try09bears’, a seller with a 100% feedback rating – was listed at the BuyItNow price of $1.20.

To give context, a similar signed product in 2006 – a beer coaster that Noa Nadruku had famously used immediately before his well-documented ’22 schooners and one bottle of wine’ rampage in the mid-90s – sparked a 12-way bidding war, finally bought for $84.40 by an unknown buyer.

“You know the market is slow when great products that once attracted multiple buyers are now sitting there without attracting a solitary bidder,” said the report’s prinicipal analyst, Nick Marshall.

“It goes to show that rugby league is no longer in the top pantheon of Australian football codes.”

The news is not good for those punters who held out on selling rugby league paraphernalia in the hope that it would appreciate in value over time.

“I kept a discarded mouth-guard that I found after a Brisbane v Manly game in 1994, which belonged to the lesser Walters brother, Kerrod, in the hope the value would skyrocket in time,” said Andrew Hill. “People told me I’d make a few hundred out of that.”

Despite the grim forecast, Hill remained hopeful that his product – and rugby league products in general – would once again attract an interested buying market.

“My wife tells me ‘throw that filthy shit out’, but I still think it’ll go up in price one day.”

“I’m confident that history will judge Kerrod Walters to be the best hooker/utility back that ever played in the pre-super league era, and in 40 years I’ll be the one laughing when I collect my money.”

By Dave Edwards