What do the clubs say they stand for?
Gold Coast Suns
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Port Adelaide Power
St Kilda Saints
West Coast Eagles
The National Rugby League
It has been said that rugby league is a gentleman's game played by thugs and rugby union is a thug's game played by gentlemen. Unlike union, league doesn't have the mess of players that allows for dirty play such as eye gouging, biting ears, grabbing testicles or stomping on hands. Aside from the odd finger in the date, rugby league has generally been free of the dirty play seen in union.
Considering the nature of rugby union, it is a little unusual that it has managed to maintain a gentleman's image for more than a century and a half. This unusual outcome is best explained by union's history as an amateur sport. As an amateur sport, union attracted well-educated players that didn't need to rely upon the sport for their income. Today, professionalism is slowly resulting in its boganisation.
The first rugby club formed in Australia was the Sydney University Club in 1864. In 1874 a Sydney metropolitan competition was established with the new league being administered from Twickenham, England. The new league suffered a blow in 1877 when the powerful 'Waratah' Rugby Club invited Carlton (an Aussie rules club) to play two matches, one each under union and Australian rules. For many Sydney football fans, union was slow and unattractive and the Waratah club hoped to make the point in a direct comparison with the Australian game.
A week later over 100 footballers formed the New South Wales Football Association (NSWFA) to play the Australian game. For the next three decades, the two codes battled for the hearts and minds of Sydney siders. Union used its influence in the corridors of power to have Australian football banned from Sydney's enclosed grounds. As a consequence, Australian football was unable to raise money to pay players or promote the code.
Meanwhile, in the 1890s in England, working class rugby union players started demanding payment to cover the work days they lost due to injury. When the administration refused, in 1896, they broke away to form rugby league with an emphasis on making the game more attractive to paying spectators. 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 the Southern states.
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.
Although Super League failed, it was hugley influential because it caused Rugby Union to turn professional. With rugby league paying a fortune to anyone who could pass or tackle, the entire Wallaby and All Black teams threatened to defect. To provide a professional league, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia hastily organised the Super 12 and Tri Nations. A new force in the Australian professional sports market had emerged.
Without the shackles of a popular club competition to weigh them down, all of rugby union's resources were directed towards the success of the Wallabies. Thus Australia, where union ran a distant last in terms of playing numbers, became a powerhouse of world rugby. In less than two decades, it won two World Cups, and narrowly missed out on a third.
The success of the Wallabies allowed union to gain a following in Australian markets that had no history of support for the code. Testament to the value of a national team was the 2003 World Cup final between England and Australia, which attracted a national audience of 4.01million.
Despite the promise to take over rugby league, rugby was unable to move beyond a fringe sport. As a competition, the expanded Super rugby was quite limited. Because it spanned three countries, games were played in the middle of the night, thus making it difficult to form a tribal following. In addition, because fans were in different countries, fans rarely came into contact with each other to voice their prejudices, which make football interesting. Finally, super rugby was sold as a Pay TV product, which made it difficult to grow outside of its upper class niche to reach mainstream audiences.