Australia’s Lost Aura

MARTYN SADLER, the editor of League Express, laments the reduced status of the Australian Kangaroos.

When I was a young lad, any visit to these shores by the Kangaroos, which used to happen every four years, was looked forward to with eager anticipation.

We couldn’t wait to see the latest stars of the game from down under and Test match tickets were precious, not just for me but for the vast majority of Rugby League supporters.

That anticipation reached its zenith in 1982 and 1986, when the Australians seemed almost invincible and they drew massive crowds and great TV audiences to see the likes of Wally Lewis (above), Peter Stirling, Brett Kenny, Steve Mortimer, Wayne Pearce and many others.

There were articles appearing in the national mainstream media suggesting that the Australians were candidates for being adjudged the best team of any sport in the world.

The brand of the Kangaroos could hardly have been any higher.

But sadly, the Australians have long since lost the aura they used to have in those days.

When only just over 5,000 people turn out at St Helens to see the Aussies playing Italy, that should set the alarm bells ringing, not least for the members of the Australian Rugby League Commission.

They have the best players in the world (although I hope England prove me wrong at Old Trafford on 19 November) and I’m sure that the quality of player in the current squad matches and probably exceeds the quality of any Australian side that has visited these shores at any time in history.

But, unlike in the 1980s, they don’t seem to be inspiring many people to watch them in the current World Cup.

Let’s contrast the Kangaroos with the most valuable brand in rugby union.

In contrast to the Kangaroow, if the All Blacks had a rugby union game in St Helens against a team of rugby union minnows, I can guarantee that their game would be sold out and that tickets would be like gold dust.

The reason for the disparity is that we have just lost the habit of watching Test or World Cup matches that involve Australia, while the leading officials in rugby union have gone out of their way to popularise their international game and they continue to do so, with the result that it generates millions of pounds every year with big matches between the leading nations. The All Blacks could probably play anywhere in the world and sell out a venue, such is the value of their brand.

And if you believe that the tickets for the Rugby League World Cup have been expensive, just try and buy a ticket for a big match at Twickenham or any other rugby union Test match venue. You’ll pay through the nose, if you can buy a ticket at all.

As for the Kangaroos, once you lose the value of a brand, it is very difficult to get it back.

And unfortunately the Australians do nothing to help get it back.

When they are over here they do very little to promote their own presence, they do little to promote the World Cup and they generally present an uninteresting and uninspiring face to the world. You might think, if they were serious about enhancing the value of the Kangaroos, that they would be in constant touch with the media in all its forms to get their players in front of cameras. But they don’t.

And if they don’t change that, then their popularity will continue to slide.

Is that really what they want?

This article is an expanded version of part of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column that appears in this week’s issue of League Express. You can take out a subscription to the print or digital version of League Express by going here.