What do the clubs say they stand for?
Gold Coast Suns
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Port Adelaide Power
St Kilda Saints
West Coast Eagles
The highground in the battle of the footbal codes?
In the battle for national and global supremacy between AFL, rugby league and rugby union, the city of Canberra has never really been thought about as a key market. Nevertheless, it has started to shape up as rugby league high ground that could contribute to rugby union failing in Australia as well as hindering the AFL attempts to lobby the federal government for funding.
In the early 1980s, the organising bodies of Australian football (VFL) in Melbourne and rugby league in Sydney (NSWRL) started developing visions on conquering Australia via the expansion of their leagues. Their first salvos were aimed provocatively at each other's direction. Specifically, the VFL moved the South Melbourne Swans to Sydney, right in the heart of rugby league territory. The NSWRL canon didn't quite have the same reach, but Canberra was in pop gun range and so in 1982 the Raider's were born. In terms of strategic conquests, it seems the VFL was going for Mayfair, while the NSWRL aimed for Old Kent Road.
At the time, Canberra was a backwater. It had a population of around 200,000 people, most of whom worked in the public service where they had a reputation for staring at walls all day. So bad was its reputation that the new club didn’t even want to base itself in the Australian capital, preferring to play out of the adjoining NSW town of Queanbeyan.
For its moniker, the club wanted something with a regional flavour so considered Senators, Capitols and Warrigals. Eventually, the club decided to go with an allegory of the Australian taxation system so settled on Raiders represented by a Viking.
As for the colours, although Canberra is by far the most left-wing region in Australia, the choice of green had nothing to do with making political statement; rather, it was used because no other club was using it. (Logically speaking, perhaps there was a reason for why green was still available. As far as fashion talk is concerned, green has never been spoken about as the new black.)
Early years for the Raiders were tough as the club found it hard to persuade quality rugby players to move to Canberra and play in a green jersey. Struggling to recruit players from outside the region, the Raiders started developing their own. It proved to be a ladder to success. With a very sports minded local population as well as the hub for regional league regions, Canberra became a production line of champions.
The club reached the height of its popularity in 1989 when it defeated Balmain in what many people consider to be the best Grand Final ever. Post match celebrations united Canberra and for the first time it was possible to say that there was a community in Canberra. Furthermore, Australians outside of Canberra started to recognise that the ACT was a real place, not just somewhere to buy pornography and pot.
Through Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the Raiders also got a political face and a popular one at that. Despite being from an AFL state, Hawke became a mad Raiders supporter and frequently entertained players at the Lodge. Although he never dipped into public funds to help the Raiders, he publicly declared that the Raiders should get salary cap exception because,
Unfortunately, with success, however, came corruption of the ideal. In 1995, the club helped establish Rupert Murdoch's Super League, a rebel competition that excluded the traditional ARL clubs. To justify the defection, the Raiders claimed that it was a "victim" because rugby league head office was allowing "rich" Sydney clubs to poach its players. This was the kind of argument that marketers at the Brisbane Broncos has used to appeal to local Queenslanders who always felt victims of far-off bureaucrats. The same arguments didn’t resonate in Canberra because locals have traditionally been those far-off bureaucrats.
Instead of rallying behind the Raiders' "victimisation", the community decided to reject the Raiders. Officially, the Raider’s crowds averaged almost 12,000 during the Superleague year of 1997, but it was a time of very dubious counting practices. Those who attended games said at times it looked like no more than a few hundred people were in the stadium.
To make matters worse, the establishment of Superleague forced rugby union to turn professional in order to prevent a defection of players to rugby league. As union had no real Australian presence outside of Queensland and NSW, it established the Brumbies in the ACT to be the “third” provisional Australian team a global competition involving New Zealand and South Africa. Despite being made up of the rejects of the other two states, the Brumbies proved to be Australia’s top ranked team. Not only was the Brumbies' success important to the competiveness of the national team, it also kept the Raider’s popularity relatively suppressed. Reflecting the importance of the Brumbies, when the Australian Rugby Union needed to cull a team to appease South Africans and New Zealanders, they choose to cut the Western Force, which represented a state of 2,600,0000 rather than the Brumbies, which represented a territory of 380,000. The Brumbies had just become too important in the development of players for the Wallabies, which rugby desperately needed to be successful in its fight with league.
Post Super League war, crowds between Raiders and Brumbies remained relatively even and it was not easy to forsee which code would claim Canberra long term. A tipping point seemed to be 2019, where average crowds for the Brumbies dropped to 8,332. This was almost 50 percent down on the 2013 figure of 14,257. Also in 2019, a palty crowd of 11,112 turned up to watch the Brumbies in their home final. This was almost a third of the 28,750 who watched a Brumbies home final in 2004. In contrast, Raiders crowds in 2019 were an average of 14477. This was almost 50 per cent more than their 2013 average of 10,226. Also in 2019, 26,567 turned up to watch the Raiders in their sold out home final, more than double the number who viewed the Brumbies.
2019 also culminated in the Raiders making the Grand Final against the Sydney Roosters but being shafted in the most dubious examples of officialdom cock ups in the history of the NRL. (See below) If ever there was an opportunity for a coach and team to blow up against referees and officialdom, it was in the aftermath of the Grand Final. Not only did the officials make the wrong decisions, but they also violated the rules of the game when doing so. Instead of blowing up as is common practice by NRL coaches over arguable calls, neither the Coach Ricky Stewart nor the players did so. They simply congratulated the referees and encouraged others to write about what they saw.
Aside from Canberra being a strategic location because of it being a battleground between ARU and NRL for players, it is also strategic between the AFL and NRL for government influence. The importance of government lobbying for the codes was reflected in the 2019 federal election campaign where AFL was promised more than $131 million in funding from either the Coalition or Labor party. The next highest code was netball with $50 million and then cricket with $16 million. The funding was for facility upgrades of AFL facilities and administration of their programs. The election pledges showed that over the last two decades, the AFL had developed strong skills in government lobbying. By way of comparisons, in 2001, rugby union received grants of almost $2 million, while rugby league and AFL received around $1 million each. This was out of total sports funding of around $2 billion. (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue 4147.0 - Sport and Recreation Funding by Government, Australia, 2000-01.)
In some ways, the lack of electoral pledges for rugby union and league indicated that having a team based in Canberra does little to cultivate government favour. Then again, it can be questioned as to whether the two clubs have been used to try to cultivate government favour. On a basic level, there has not been an Australia prime minister to declare that the Raiders are his or her team since Bob Hawke even though the Raiders are the obvious choice for any politician from an AFL state. This begs the question about whether the Raiders have been open to government.
Via the GWS Giants, the AFL also have a team that can be used for government lobbying. Playing at Manuka Oval, which is a stone throws from Parliament House, the Giants provide an opportunity for politicians to be invited for a game where they can discuss grants in a festive atmosphere. Obviously, the funding the AFL has already received indicates it doesn't need the Giants to get themselves on a good wicket, but if the Raiders became a vehicle to offer a different perspective about where funds should be allocated, maybe the Giants would be more important.
The 2019 Grand Final; the biggest cock up in NRL history
The 2019 Grand Final between the Raiders and the Roosters was the biggest cock up in the history of the NRL in the sense in that head office had lacked the foresight to see how outdated rules could be exploited by modern practise, had allowed a timid culture amongst referees to avoid making decisions and finally, stated that a referee made the right decision to change his decision even though the laws of the game clearly state that decisions can not be changed in the absence of foul play. The cock ups saw the best team lose on the day.
Three minutes into the game, the Raiders should have had a charge down try, but the ball hit the Roosters' trainer, who had actually started on the field. Trainers are only meant to be on the field to attend injured players so there were questions as to why he was on the field. There were also questions as to why the trainer had positioned himself behind the kicker. Nevertheless, under the laws of the game, the "foreign" interference meant that the Roosters got the scrum feed for another 6 plays. The Roosters subsequently scored to make it a 12-point turn around. Although the referees applied the laws correctly, it was a cock up by head office for the law to exist in the first place.
A second cock up occurred when a Raiders player was denied a penalty try after being tackled before taking possession of the ball while charging towards the try line. Had he not been interfered with, it was unlikely that he would have been stopped. The laws of the game state,
A referee has to make a decision of yes or no even though it is not possible to be certain either way. The uncertainty of the decision is reflected in the grammar of the sentence. Specifically, it uses the word "opinion" and the modal verb of "would" rather than the definitive “is going to.” Because the grammar communicates it is a decision of probabilities rather than definites, a penalty try should have been awarded because a reasonable referee would conclude that a stationary 88kg half back is more unlikely than likely to stop a charging 110kg second rower with only 5 meters to the try line. Rather than making a decision, the video referee stated that he was unsure so would not award a penalty try. Refraining from decision making was not what the law required the referee to do. Instead of making a decision, the half back was sin-binned for 10 minutes and the Raiders awarded a penalty. The inference from the sin binning was that the referees thought the Raiders would probably score; they were just too afraid to stand by the decision.
In short, whereas referees had followed the letter of the law when the ball had hit the Roosters' trainer, they diverted from the law when deciding not to award a try to the Raiders. It was another cock up by head office because for too long they have allowed referees to get away with not making hard decisions where penalty tries are concerned.
What is the probability of an 88kg halfback stopping a 110kg Josh Papali who has a history of scoring tries?
The worst cock up occurred with scores tied 8 all in the final ten minutes. On the fifth tackle, the Raiders put up a bomb that bounced off the shoulder of a Raiders player but may also have been touched by a Roosters player as well. (Video footage is unclear.) After the Raiders regained possession, the referee Ben Cummins (who was in perfect position to judge) made the split second decision that was required of him and signalled six more. Thinking they had six more, the Raiders did not put up another bomb, go for a field goal or put a kick in goal and instead took the ball to ground in a tackle. When told to hand over the ball, the dumbfounded Raiders asked why six again had been called, only for Cummins to deny making the call. In their confusion, the Raiders lacked the concentration to properly defend and the Roosters scored a length of the field try to win the Grand Final. After the game, ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie defended Cummins and said he was right to change his decision. Again, this was in violation of the laws of the game that state decisions can only be changed due to unknown foul play:
As well as not being allowed under the laws of the game, Cummins was in a better position to decide if the Roosters touched the ball than the touch judge on the sideline and the assistant referee. Therefore, he should not have been taking the input from them.
Aside from being against the laws of the game, one of the problems with the argument that the referee was right to "correct" his decision was that the “correction” penalised the Raiders. Specifically, the "correction" denied the Raiders the logical option on the last tackle. If a correction had to be made, the fair correction should have included giving the Raiders another tackle so they could take the option of kicking. Obviously, there is nothing in the rules that allow for fairness in a "correction" because the rules do not allow six again to be signalled and then taken back on the advice of a touch judge or video referee.
Even though the rules do not allow a decision to be changed in the absence of foul play, they do allow for a referee to explain a decision. Specifically, they state,
At the very least, Cummins should have explained his decision to change his mind, which would have given the Raiders some time to get their head re-focussed rather than remain in a state of confusion as they questioned their memories. Rather than explain why he changed his mind in violation of the laws, Cummins allegedly denied making the six again signal.
A bigger problem with Beatie's defence of Cummins was that if decisions could be corrected retrospectively, then after the game, referees could in theory correct the decision not to award a penalty try to the Raiders and thus give the Raiders an extra six points. NRL officials could also retrospectively change the laws of the game to state if a trainer interferes with the play, his or her team will be penalised 8 points. The Raiders could then be retrospectively crowned champions.
Of course, such retrospective changes are problematic because the flow of games change directions after decisions are made therefore they just can’t be undone. That said, if Beatie could justify a retrospective change by Cummins, then he should be able to justify a retrospective change to the result by the NRL.
Roy Morgan research
2004 - When compared to other NRL supporters
2006 - When compared to other NRL supporters