The NRL season kicks off tonight, I think. It marks another year towards my eventual divorce from the sport that, as a 15-year-old, I was completely obsessed with.
I used to write letters to Rugby League Week. They were always published. There was something enthralling about getting your letter published in the rugby league bible; it made you feel like you were part of the action. I eagerly awaited each edition of Big League and maintained a not-entirely-ironic appreciation of the Sunday Footy Show. I listened to the 2GB Continuous Call Team well before I realised that Ray Hadley was a complete and utter fucktard.
As a Raiders fan, I used to trek to games out at Penrith and Parramatta with my mate Richie on a Saturday night and bask in the hostile, foreign atmosphere, clad in our baggy, post-Super League era jerseys, getting verbally abused by liquored-up locals, thinking that rugby league was just fucking awesome. Just breathing it all in.
And even though the Raiders sucked in that specific era – 1998-present – their lack of on-field success did not dent our die-hard fandom one iota. It was enough to sit in the Raiders Army and chant poorly worded songs (usually self-deprecating in nature) along with the other 50 or so deluded Canberra fans. We would take solace in the knowledge that Raiders fans generally enjoy a higher socioeconomic status – and are likely more intelligent – than any other NRL team’s supporters.
But I no longer feel close to rugby league. These memories are hazy. How did rugby league turn out like this? What the fuck happened to my game?
It’s easy to say that it’s not the game that’s changed, but me. I don’t think that’s entirely true. Sure, I don’t buy rugby league magazines anymore – I have a life – and I no longer look up to rugby league journalists because I know that, with the exception of Roy Masters, they’re all just wide-eyed NRL sycophants who can string a few pars together.
But I can still appreciate a good game of rugby league, I think.
However, it’s getting harder and harder to do that. The entire fabric of the game has been altered. Rugby league is now Parramatta Westfield and Australian Idol, as opposed to Norton Street and Rage. That’s a shit parallel, but I’ve come too far in this article to turn back now.
It also seems to be constantly heading for a fall. I’m not even going to go into this drugs in sport bullshit. One esteemed pundit has even compared rugby league to Karl Kennedy off Neighbours. The good times are so tenuous; the supporters are, in the end, always let down. But rugby league will keep on kicking, as long as these new money Western Suburbs supporters continue to prop up the game with their love for the pokies and a night out at Panthers.
Why can’t rugby league just be the reliable friend it once was? Why does it have to be this flaky guy with all this new-found cash and popularity who’s trying to be something he’s not? Why can’t he just wear jeans and a white T-shirt and drink Carlton at the local pub like he used to?
I’m pretty sure rugby league changed and not me.
By Dave Edwards