League Express writer Aaron Bower questions whether our interest in Australia’s NRL has gone beyond the ordinary..
Whilst sat in the press box at Headingley on Thursday night, it was hard to shake off a particular buzz that was emanating around the stadium.
The clash between Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants was a real thriller for the most part. However, the inevitable comparisons with the NRL following last weekend’s World Club Series wouldn’t go away, with the general consensus that an NRL side would have taken either Leeds or Huddersfield to the cleaners had they made so many errors against them.
In many ways, we’ve got South Sydney to thank for this. Their performance on Sunday night was so outrageously good that there’s now an imaginary gulf the size of the Grand Canyon been opened. Incidentally, there isn’t. It’s just Souths are on another planet compared to any other Rugby League side in the world at the moment – the start of the NRL season will prove that next weekend.
Why have the opening two games of last weekend’s World Club Series, which were closely fought and intense until the very last kick of the game, suddenly been forgotten? There’s always been a tendency amongst Rugby League fans to find the negative in a positive, and Souths’ blowout is a prime example of that.
Warrington v St George and Wigan v Brisbane were games that left everyone in awe of the Super League v NRL concept, and indeed, impressed with how the new season has gone thus far. But one game involving a truly world class side from the NRL, and there’s a need to revert to type again, and obsess and fawn over how much better the NRL is than Super League.
Here’s the thing. If the NRL is better than Super League: so what? There isn’t a sport in the world that doesn’t have a dominant division or code, and nobody stresses about it as much as Rugby League. Not once will you have heard anyone complain that the Super 15 is classier and better than the Premiership in rugby union, and it’s rare these days you hear anyone comparing La Liga and the Premier League.
Super League has a brilliant product at its disposal, and it’s time everyone got behind it, not kicked it in the teeth whenever there’s a minor setback. The opening two weeks of the season (plus Thursday’s game) have been brilliant – the TV games have proved it.
For years, all we’ve begged and pleaded for is less blowouts and a more even keel in Super League. Here are the results of the six televised Super League games so far this season:
- Widnes 22-22 Wigan
- St Helens 18-7 Catalans
- Salford 6-52 St Helens
- Wigan 24-16 Huddersfield
- Catalans 13-12 Castleford
- Leeds 28-24 Huddersfield
You can disregard the Salford result, because that is a team who are clearly struggling for any kind of form at the moment, against a very impressive St Helens side. But even if you do include it in the general consensus, that’s one (ONE) blowout out of six TV games, the games that really matter when it comes to selling our product to new people.
Why not throw in Warrington 12-18 St George and Wigan 12-14 Brisbane, too. Those were the games that had celebrities tweeting about how good our game is. Yet we seem to be more interested in beating ourselves with our own stick, and hammering a point about the NRL that doesn’t really matter. Every time we overcome a hurdle – such as the determination to produce more close games – instead of celebrating it and triumphing it, we look for something else to be negative about.
It isn’t always skill that proves to be the most important factor in making an entertaining game of Rugby League. Last night was a perfect example of that; it was dramatic, it was end-to-end, and the result wasn’t confirmed until the final hooter had sounded. That is what quality sport is all about – unpredictability. Super League has that in abundance, and we should be immensely proud of it.
It isn’t just on the field, either. The NRL released a season launch video on Thursday which was, to be fair, sensational. But rather than be impressed with how good that video is, we’re more bothered about saying the NRL’s version was better than the Super League’s version. Why? Both videos were excellent – comparing them both side-by-side is not really productive at all, given how they have completely different concepts to them.
There’s a league table at the moment which has surprises at all ends of it – whether that remains to be the case, who knows. Castleford’s success story last year (and Widnes’) was the stuff of sporting fairytale – that is something you wouldn’t get in the NRL.
Is Australia’s premier competition of a higher standard in terms of skill than ours? Probably. But is it as gripping and entertaining? That is doubtful. We won’t even see the Australians for another year at any level of the game, so it’s time to start investing some faith in the Super League brand. So far this season, it’s more than delivered.