Analysis - Karl Juhnke Rugby League Diehard
From 2006 ERASS Report Australian Sports Commission
Participation of players over 15 years of age.
As can be seen, Aussie Rules and Rugby Union have shown a reduction in playing numbers, whilst Soccer and League’s numbers have increased from 2006 - 2007. Whilst the huge participation reduction for Aussie Rules (15%) seems fairly straight forward as many have decided to play Soccer, Rugby Union (Force) and Rugby League (Storm) have record numbers in their respective expansion states (Western Australia and Victoria).
Alarm bells must be ringing for the Rugby Union with the large increase in WA playing numbers offsetting the size of the losses in the rugby heartlands (Qld & NSW). Rugby League it seems has continued to grow in these important areas at the expense of Rugby Union.
The participation rates shown are for male and female players. This advantage stems from the girl friendly nature of Soccer in comparison to the other codes. Soccer is at a distinct advantage here with the other codes seemingly offering little in the way of well established competitions, particularly Aussie Rules.
Upon looking closer, this situation was remedied by Rugby League in the 1960’s with the invention of Touch Football and now Oz League (Flag Belt). These games have given an alternative for those who love the skills of the rugby codes, but are unable or not wanting to endure the bruising nature of the real thing.
Combined participation numbers are at about 220,000 with well established mixed gender as well as male and female competitions throughout Australia and indeed overseas. Both are very popular in schools throughout Australia giving children a taste of the rugby game.
Aussie Rules (in fear of the Soccer mums), has been unable to popularise a less physical parallel game as RL was able to do. Instead, the AFL has panicked and watered down the full version making it even less attractive for those who have been brought up on the rugby codes.
With Rugby Union being so obsessed with The World Cup every 4 years, all else has been sacrificed. The Super 14s is a Mickey Mouse competition in comparison to the NRL and AFL and everybody knows it. In fact the Super 14s has been beaten in FOX ratings by the Soccer A-League thanks to Mr John O’Neil who engineered the A-League structure. O’Neil now finds himself fighting against the monster he created.
For years the AFL and the Australian Media have trumpeted the AFL Grand Final as THE biggest sporting event on Australian Television. This however has been done via selective data that does not represent the population it is said to represent (i.e. Australia).
The AFL wins the metropolitan ratings only (see below) and despite the unwillingness of most AFL supporters to acknowledge this fact, Rugby League is THE biggest sport on Australian Television. All of the AFL teams reside in metropolitan areas, whereas the 40% of NRL teams are located in regional areas (see ratings below) and The Warriors in NZ.
(Probably) A biased analysis of AFL (Aussie Rules)
Promises, excuses and more promises and excuses have been offered throughout 2007 in regards to this drug policy and the AFL handling of out of control footballers. The Age Newspaper calling the AFL “The code of silence” as a result of it being more concerned about silencing the media than tackling its drug problem.
After embarrassing episode after embarrassing episode, the AFL finally pulled up its errant player and gave him a one year suspension from the AFL. Wendell Sailor must have been rolling around with laughter after having been suspended for 2 years over his brush with cocaine. It doesn’t stop there; whilst sportsmen in the other codes receive blanket suspensions over all competitions (League and Union honour one another’s suspensions), Cousins is able to play wherever he likes outside of the AFL. The media must have learnt their lesson and reported this as a tough stance by the AFL.With plenty of money to throw about, the AFL are hell bent on having a side on the Gold Coast by 2010. If rumours of them doing the dirty on The Kangaroos turn out to be true, this will create another huge backlash against a leadership people are describing as dictatorial. Demetriou, like a true tyrant lashes out with bigger boasts (such as having another team in Western Sydney shortly as well as the 17th team on The Gold Coast), as a way of dealing with his agitation on not getting his way with the drug policy or the Kangaroos.
With plenty of money and record numbers both at games and watching on television, the AFL is still in the dominant seat amongst the football codes in Australia. 2008 is likely to be a year of change and challenge for the AFL if it is to continue in its current position. Arrogance (something that has come up and bitten previous AFL supremoes on the arse) is likely to be the key factor in how 2008 and beyond pans out for the game.
NRL (League, Rugby League)
With 2008 being the Centenary of Rugby League in Australia it should be another boom year for the game. Rugby League has always struggled due to its working class background. Like the game itself, the administration has had to play a defensive game, consolidating their strengths against the might dollars of the AFL and ARU. The greatest attribute Rugby League has is the game itself. The biggest drawback is the mistrust between the ARL and News Limited.
A concerted effort is being made at the grassroots level, something that has usually been a strength of the game. The renegade Aboriginal Competition started earlier this year (2007) seems to have been the tonic that bush football needed in the west of NSW, with the CRL suddenly showing reinvigorated support for teams who competitions which have previously been neglected.
With meager funds, a wealthy AFL trying to knock down their door and an ARU keen to poach whatever they can from the Rugby League, the NRL has done remarkably well. Rugby League was the last football code to come into the Australian sporting landscape and by all rights should have been knocked out by the Super League War in the mid 1990s.
Rugby League is The Battler. It is a bottom up sport with its grassroots supporters showing many of the attributes such as resiliency and tenacity needed to play the game. It has done well to cement its place in its heartlands on NSW and Queensland making the AFL’s push into The Gold Coast all that more difficult. The NRL is looking at a 4th Queensland team based around the Ipswich area to further consolidate its position as the number 1 sport in that state.
Unlike the AFL who seems to have panicked in the code war, Rugby League has maintained its own game and has diversified its approach. Its history is one of fighting for survival against Rugby Union here and overseas and this experience is another of the games strengths. The NRL keeps carting the ball forward and should be in a solid position for the next television payout negotiations in a couple of years.
ARU (Union, Rugby, Rugby Union)
There was to have been a thorough examination of where all the money has gone, but that has not eventuated and The Force in WA has been found guilty of fraudulent payments to players, cover ups and other misdemeanors such as the Quokka mishandling. Suddenly Union players are coming under the media spotlight around the world and coming up short with drunken train rides and the like.
With the Northern Hemisphere nations raping the Southern Hemisphere of its best players one wonders what the outcome is going to be for Australian and NZ Rugby Unions. The game itself has been moving closer to Rugby League each year and that means both codes are looking for the same athletes now, whereas in the past Union blokes could be quite a bit slower and heavier.Unions fixation with The World Cup to the detriment of all else seems an unhealthy situation and the top down approach of Union as opposed to the bottom up, grassroots approach of Rugby League can only mean a further reduction in player numbers in this nation. All these things point towards a drastic change of some kind.
Whether that will come about via The Northern Hemisphere gobbling up the Southern Hemisphere making Union and League here and in NZ mere feeders for the North remains to be seen. However, the NRL and Super League in England are in fine health themselves and with Union continuing to become League perhaps it is only a matter of time before someone dangles a carrot to merge the codes that is so big that neither code will be able to ignore it. For mine, that would be the best outcome for rugby as a whole. Then the AFL will be truly shaking.
Whether it has truly overtaken Rugby Union as the number 3 code in Australia is yet to be seen. It takes more than one good year to overthrow another code. Soccer has had many false dawns (I remember the Newcastle team of the 1980’s and people ringing my father for monetary support telling him that Rugby League would be dead in 5 years) and perhaps this is another.Soccer got a good head start in most nations, but Australia is a different kettle of fish to most nations. We don’t like sooks and we don’t like pretenders. Talent, yes: look at the crowd Beckham pulled in his exhibition game. Soccer is aiming its cannons at the AFL, having a decent relationship with the NRL and are looking more for the AFL type physique than that of a Rugby League or Union player.
Whilst Rugby League and Rugby Union will continue their war, the AFL will concentrate at trying to block Soccer out of the football picture. The Sheedy comments and other arrogance shown by the AFL and affiliates (AFL Footy Show) towards Soccer and the Socceroos has not been forgotten, just as the NRL and affiliates (NRL Footy Show) support has not been forgotten.
I see a softening (at least for the public) of relationship between the AFL and NRL. Both codes will realise they would be best served by a tempering the angst between them and supporting one another against Soccer and Union. This tempering has already been in progress with NRL and AFL teams getting together over the pre-season to learn different skills and approaches from one another.
In the short term (5 years), I see further turmoil for Rugby Union with Tahu and Tuqiri heading back to League, or at least making it obvious they are not enjoying the Union culture, game or structure. I think the AFL and NRL will strengthen their positions in relation to the other codes and the NRL will strengthen its position in relation to the AFL.