What is wrong with Australia?

Martyn Sadler
Martyn Sadler

If you’re like me you’ll find it rather odd this week not to have any World Cup games to watch before Saturday.

With the group games and the quarter-finals now having been completed, we only have three more matches to look forward to.

I wonder how many Rugby League supporters will have withdrawal symptoms as we head into December.

Unlike some England supporters, who are afflicted with chronic pessimism, I don’t think Saturday’s result against the Kiwis is a foregone conclusion, despite their excellent form going into the game.

They are certainly beatable.

And in the second game on Saturday it is highly unlikely that we will see Fiji mount a successful challenge to Australia, although I hope they can get closer than they did in the group game between the two nations.

What will be interesting, though, will be to see how many supporters remain in their seats to watch the second game of the Wembley double-header.

If England are beaten by New Zealand, it may not be very many.

The RFL is confident of drawing a crowd in excess of 65,000 on Saturday, and it would be tremendous if the two games could beat the figure of 62,963 who turned out at Wembley last Friday night for England’s 0-2 defeat by Chile.

With a full house now seemingly guaranteed for the final at Old Trafford, this World Cup has easily been the best supported in the history of the competition.

But it’s interesting to note that two of the lowest crowds in the tournament have been for Australia’s last two games, against Ireland and the USA respectively, which both drew fewer than 6,000 spectators.

So why does the best team in the world, which the Kangaroos probably are, draw such modest crowds? What is it about them that is so apparently unattractive to the general public?

Some people may suggest that fans don’t like watching one-sided encounters. But I’m fairly sure we could stage a game between the All Blacks and any number of minor rugby union teams anywhere in England, and it would draw a full house to see a 100-point drubbing.

I still recall a newspaper article in 1986 labelling the Kangaroo squad that toured that year as the greatest team of any sport in the world. They were way ahead of the All Blacks at that time.

And the Australian team today is probably at least as good as that 1986 team was.

So why does no one seemingly want to watch them?

Shouldn’t the Australians feel acutely embarrassed about being so apparently unattractive?

The fact is that the Australians have done absolutely nothing since the 1980s to develop interest in the Kangaroos. In fact they seem to have been hell bent on damaging the brand values that the Kangaroos used to represent.

If I were playing for Australia in this World Cup I would feel very angry at the accumulated incompetence that this lack of interest signifies.

There was an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day about a forthcoming Major League Baseball game that is due to take place at the Sydney Cricket Ground in March.

“One of the biggest sporting events in Australian history is about to get bigger, with Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson set to jet in for the historic Major League Baseball series opener in Sydney,” the article began.

You would never see anything like that written about the Australian Rugby League side in that newspaper, despite the Kangaroos having athletic ability that other sports could only dream of.

The Australian authorities should learn to value their own team much more than they appear to, and then perhaps the rest of the world would learn to appreciate them too.

The trouble is, the Aussies could only do that by recognising the importance of the international game.

I’m not sure they are capable of doing that.

Signings galore

Over the next few weeks I dare say we’ll hear about our clubs swooping to sign players who have appeared in the World Cup.

I hear that one or two American players are attracting plenty of interest, with winger Taylor Welch going on trial with Hull FC for a few weeks, while their prop forward Mark Offerdahl is interesting Wakefield.

And the American halfback Craig Priestly is attracting interest from London Broncos, who clearly need to sign someone, and Wakefield.

Meanwhile, as we were going to press on Sunday night we heard some news from Australia that former Bradford captain Heath L’Estrange, about whom we have a story on page 7 of this issue, looks likely to join Sydney Roosters.

So although at the time we wrote the story he didn’t have a club, it now looks as though he has got fixed up with the NRL Premiers.

Heath was a great clubman at the Bulls, and it’s good to see him getting fixed up back in Australia.

Fantasy League shock

After the shock of losing Steve Prescott just over a week ago, we at League Express had another shock last week when Richard Bailey, the organiser of our Fantasy League competition, died suddenly.

Richard was a Rugby League enthusiast in his 60s, and he was a man steeped in Rugby League history.

A former referee in the Huddersfield society, he was also a mainstay of the Rugby League Collectors’ Federation, as well as being a speedway fan who was at one time a promoter of the Newcastle Speedway.

I would like to send our sincere condolences to Richard’s family.

His funeral was held last Friday.

Rest assured that we will be holding discussions with Richard’s family to ensure that the Fantasy League, and its tremendous prizes, continues next season.

First published in League Express, Monday 18th Nov 2013