Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian SportAustralian IdentityAustralian animals


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Why aren't American sports more popular in Australia?

How did AFL evolve?

How has class warfare shaped the NRL?

Why does rugby union have a private school boy image?

Does soccer suffer discrimination in Australia?

How have notions of identity been expressed in cricket?

Why does only one code play State of Origin?

Why are there 4 football codes in Australia?

What are some team names in Australia?


The National Rugby League

Rugby league was the last of the major football codes to be invented. Consequently, it has always had to fight the hardest to survive. It broke away from union in 1896 over the issue of money for play. Working class players wanted money for 'broken time' - compensation for time off work due to injury. This idea was resisted by the upper-class players, who were happy to remain amateurs.

Because rugby league's survival depended upon getting paying spectators, it changed its rules to heighten its appeal. Specifically, it did away with the lineout, focussed on running rugby and made the scum nothing more than an excuse to sniff bums.

Despite being designed to be aesthetically superior to union, rugby league struggled to build a following in markets where union had been established. This was mainly because union used its influence to have league banned from grounds. In France, rugby union ever went a step further. It had rugby league banned outright, its assets seized, and league players blacklisted.

Australia was one of the few countries where league was able to gain a foothold. This was mainly because a battle with Australian football had kept rugby union weak. In 1908, that weakness was exploited when Australia's first rugby league competition was established in Sydney by test cricketer Victor Trumper. Rugby league quickly attracted the professional-minded players of both rugby union and Australian football, and went from strength to strength. Union retreated to private schools, and Australian football retreated to Victoria.

By the 1980s, rugby league was powerful enough to start expanding nation wide. In 1982, the Canberra Raiders were established. In 1987, the Brisbane Broncos were established. In 1988, the Newcastle Knights were established. In 1994, the Auckland Warriors, the Nth Queensland Cowboys and the Western Reds were established. Rugby league was taking the fight for national supremacy directly up to Australian football, and winning.

Unfortunately for the code, its potential caught the eye of News Ltd; a media giant that saw rugby league as an inefficient business that could be streamlined, and reconstituted into Australia's premier football code. News Ltd made a raid upon rugby league ranks. They signed up the best players, all the international boards, all of Australia's expansion teams and three teams in Sydney ( Penrith, Cronulla and Canterbury.) A new competition was launched, Super League, and News Ltd's global media might went into overdrive to sell the vision.

But Super League flopped - largely because it was unable to attain critical mass in Sydney. Fans of the Sydney's Super League teams were unable to engage in discussions with fans of the ARL teams.

The ARL's victory in Sydney ultimately won it the war. Much like the VFL defeated the SANFL and WAFL because it had the symbolic image of Melbourne to back it up, the ARL won the national battle because it had the symbolic image of Sydney to back it up.

As Sydney fell, a domino effect hit the other Super League clubs around Australia and all suffered massive downturns in crowds. A sporting competition, backed by the most powerful media company in the world, was on its knees in its first year.

With rugby league looking like it would soon become extinct, the AFL made plans for a second Sydney AFL team. Such was their confidence, the AFL even signed a contract with Stadium Australia to play 11 games a year at the venue from 2000. Much to the AFL's surprise, rugby league did not become extinct. Super League and the ARL merged to form the NRL and quickly reclaimed ground lost to the AFL and rugby union. In less than a decade, rugby league had reasserted itself as Sydney's favourite code.

Today, rugby league has an image of being some what of a bogan sport. From a marketing point of view, this is not necessarily a bad thing as bogan clubs in the AFL (Collingwood, Port Adelaide) are among the most popular. While sponsors and administrators like a sport to have an image that reminds them of themselves, the bogans who attend football games often feel the same way.

Activity 1- Battle of the Codes

Look at the statistics comparing the fortunes of Australia's football codes

  1. Do you notice any trends?
  2. Find up to date figures to identify any trends
  3. Is there a sign of any change in the status quo?
  4. If one code emerges to dominate all others, which one do you think it will be? Why?


Activity 2 - Join in the banter

Polite civilities are often suspended in a football crowd. For each AFL club

  1. Research their history and find examples of novelties
  2. Define a culture of the club
  3. Find a picture of a player or fan that you feel represents the essence of the culture
  4. Find a picture of the area that the club represents and which you believe represents the area
  5. Create a slogan to describe the club

Some examples are found below

Penrith Panthers

Chocolate soldiers to Black Pathers

In a little known fact, the Penrth Pathers, or panfers as they are known locally, used to be referred to as the Chocolate Soldiers. It was a name championed by radio commentator Frank Hyde, who wrote in the Penrith Club journal "these chocolate soldiers from out west - they don't melt!" Despite being well liked, chants like "chocolate soldiers clap clap clap" seemed a little awkward. After considering more chant friendly names like Freddo Frogs or Rum and Raisons, the club adopted the Panther name.


Parramatta Eels - If only they would be bottom feeders

The Eel logo came in the 1970s after the late sports reporter Peter Frilingos pointed out that the aboriginal meaning of the word 'parramatta' is ‘the place where the eels lie down'. Indeed Parramatta players have laid down far too often!

It would be nice to be able to use fishing terminology and say that Parramatta fans, like their eel moniker, are bottom feeders. Unfortunately, the bottom feeder label belongs to Canterbury fans. Parramatta fans are usually of the generic, middle-class variety; predominantly mullet with the occasional bream.