What do the clubs say they stand for?
Gold Coast Suns
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Port Adelaide Power
St Kilda Saints
West Coast Eagles
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Looking down upon the rest
In Sydney, rugby league has traditionally been thought of as a working class sport. It had its genesis in 1908 when working class footballers defected from rugby union in order to get compensated for work time lost through injury. As a result of its origins, rugby league clubs tended to represent the less prestigious areas of Sydney, such as the inner city and western suburbs, while rugby union held sway on the prestigious north shore where it remained in favour with the wealthier members of society.
The unfortunate side-effect of the socio-economic split was that rugby league lacked the kind of class warfare that can make for very interesting games. In 1947, the situation changed with the entry of Manly, a suburb with the finest beach on the north shore. For the first time, rugby league had a club that fans could really hate. Unfortunately, rugby league also had a club that was in an area that was great to live in, and naturally attracted great players from other teams.
Ironically, Manly Council was very pro rugby union and refused to let Manly play on Manly oval in case rugby league proliferated. As a consequence, Manly played at Brookvale in the neighbouring suburb of Warringah. Thus a team that was Manly in name wasn't truly Manly in nature.
For the moniker, Manly chose the Sea Eagle. Officially, this was because the Sea Eagle was the native bird of prey of the Sydney coastline. Of course, a cynic may have wondered whether it was because Manly residents looked down upon all others and had designs on preying upon other clubs.
The first club to suffer was the neighbouring North Sydney Bears, which immediately suffered an exodus of players and dropped to the bottom of the ladder. North Sydney was by no means the worst suburb of Sydney, but it was a relatively soulless area and the club’s home ground was an oval with one of the hardest turfs in the league. Sore bodies naturally had pleasant thoughts of the beach.
In 1979, Manly raided the ranks of the battling Western Suburbs Magpies. Critics accused it of being a chequebook club, but truth be told, the players didn’t need a cash incentive to change teams. For them, moving from Wests to Manly was like trading in a bicycle for a BMW. While riding a bike may be a noble pursuit, driving a car is far more enjoyable.
Ironically, karma came back to bite Manly hard. When factories were relocated out of the inner city, Manly started to lose some of its chief selling points over other clubs. To make matters worse, having a rugby league in a well-to-do area didn’t necessarily result in a well-to-do rugby league club. One problem was that well-to-do areas tend to have low quantities of bogans that are willing to pump their Centrelink payments into poker machines. A second problem was that well-to-do fans tend to be quite fair-weather and don’t support the clubs through the bad times as well as the good. Thirdly, well-to-do areas of Sydney often have large quantities of fans that support rugby union over rugby league.
With its own financial prospects looking bleak, at the end of the 1999 season, Manly agreed to merge with the insolvent North Sydney Bears. Although technically a merger, in reality it was a takeover designed to get NRL funding and gain access to the Bears' proposed Gosford stadium on the Central Coast. Reflecting the one-sided nature of the partnership was the new name "Northern Eagles." North Sydney fans, already uncomfortable about getting into bed with their historical enemy, wanted a neutral name. Manly just told them to get stuffed.
For two years the board was plagued by conflict between the Norths and Manly factions. Eventually the joint venture collapsed and the licence reverted to Manly. The Northern Eagles name continued for the 2002 season before reverting to Manly for the 2003 season. Poor crowds at Gosford led to the stadium being abandoned as well. Local residents identified themselves as being working class or respectable middle class and they just couldn't bring themselves to cheer for Manly.
For a while, there was a paradoxical attitude to Manly. Most League fans wanted the club to do well as every competition needs a club to hate. Much to the distress of Manly fans, because the club was short on money and performing poorly, they evoked feelings of sympathy. Fortunately, the club became privately owned and an injection of cash has taken back up the leader board.
Roy Morgan research
2004 - when compared to other NRL supporters
2006 - when compared to other NRL supporters