Will we look back on this Saturday’s Super 15 final as a key turning point in Australia’s long-running Code Wars?
The Code Wars, a protracted and at-times bloody battle between four entities – soccer, rugby league, rugby union and AFL – represent the longest continuous conflict in modern society.
Since the late 19th Century, a battle has waged over which of Australia’s four footballing codes will emerge as the undisputed victor. At times it has been nothing short of a gruesome, gratuitous land grab. AFL has been the most recent protagonist, sending troops into rugby league heartland in a bid to win the hearts and minds of young Western Sydney-siders.
Of course, small sectarian conflicts have reared their ugly head over the years. Rugby league, too, had its own Civil War during the 1990s. Super League rolled into town, all bravado and swollen pockets, looking to make a statement. It didn’t work out – and the Super League War (a battle within the larger Code Wars) now goes down in history as one of the ugliest, bloodiest Civil Wars that the country has ever seen. The code has never been the same since.
Soccer had its own renaissance around 2005-6 – a period which is arguably continuing now that the A-League has proved itself a worthy, viable product. This product is now so good that Manchester City, no less, moved to invest in the A-League this year, taking over Melbourne Heart and rebranding the club as ‘Melbourne City’.
But the FFA Cup, too, demonstrates that CEO David Gallop gets that it’s not all about market share, foreign investment and near-term revenue growth trajectories. The spirit of suburban football, as written about here on TPA, has not been neglected in the pursuit of commerce, and that’s really quite refreshing in 2014.
Rugby union, however, remains the outsider. At times it can appear a boring, soulless game; lacking in heart and passion. It lacks the suburban aspect that defines rugby league. The one thing it does hold over league, of course, is the perception that it is a “global” sport.
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State rugby has never really caught on in NSW. The ‘state against state’ shit might have meant something in the early-mid 90s, but that was before the Super 12 came along. NSW has always played third fiddle to the Brumbies and the Reds in the various incarnations of the Super Rugby competition – and the Waratahs had indeed become a metaphor for chronic underachievement.
Could the recent success of the Waratahs propel Sydney-siders to give a fuck about rugby union once more? Will children once again blu-tack Waratah posters upon their bedroom walls, like this scribe did back in 1995-6 (in my case, the players in mention were Sam Payne and Tim Gavin, veritable stalwarts of 1990s state rugby).
Fans are fickle – and none more so than Sydney-siders. We are products of the Emerald City; we have short attention spans and enjoy cocktails at dusk by the harbour. We really don’t want to travel to Western Sydney to catch a game of rugby union, and why should we? The game owes us nothing, and it’s on Foxtel anyway, right?
But in the Code Wars, winning is everything. And winning brings crowds. And crowds bring buzz. And buzz is good, let me tell you.
A Waratahs victory this Saturday night could really re-ignite Sydney’s interest in rugby leading up to the international season. It may even stir misguided hope that the Wallabies could win the Bledisloe for the first time in years.
The Code Wars will flare once again; the interim peacefire will come to a close. Get your guns out lads, this is about to get violent.
By Dave Edwards