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Australian Rules vs Rugby League

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 7 October 2022

The country had the pleasure of watching two grand finals this week Penrith Panthers vs Parramatta Eels, teams from two Sydney suburbs in the Rugby League, and the Geelong Cats vs Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League. It gives us all the opportunity to compare the two games. We could use a number of comparative criteria, one being as spectator entertainment, a second being a reflection of national characteristics.  We can also decide which game we want, not only to watch, but which  epitomises our national character.

The AFL is essentially a Victorian game; Rugby League was developed in 1895 in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire when the Northern Rugby Football Union broke away from England's established Rugby Football Union to administer its own separate competition. Similar schisms occurred later in Australia and New Zealand in 1907.

What do people think of football in Yorkshire? Wikipedia tells us that the sport was popular amongst the working class of the North, whilst in the South it was a middle-class man's game. The alternate rugby game, Rugby Union was created at Rugby School in Warwickshire in 1823 when a schoolboy picked up the football in a game of soccer, better known to the rest of the world as football and ran with it. This game, Soccer, is one of the oldest sports in history, going back to 206 BC.


The Australian Soccer Final does not enter into this analysis, mainly because this opinion writer did not watch it. But he is convinced after some years of having English football games thrust on him through the TV news, that many if not most soccer games end in a nil all draw which is then resolved by a penalty kick out. The game called the World’s football is the least spectacular of them all.

Back to Australian Rules vs Rugby League. League seems to be a game where the players are battering rams. The player with the ball runs head on into the opposing team. Three, occasionally two, players bring him down. Repeat, repeat, battering your way up the field. 

The big question is whether this style of football reflects the most desirable Australian psyche. In times of national emergency, our wars, do we fight like battering rams? Or should we encourage a faster, more free flowing attack?

 Despite a local newspaper describing the AFL Grand Final as Bloodbath! Cats crush Swans in 81-point demolition, the Panthers defeat of the Eels was also a walkover. But the AFL Grand Final was a faster, more free flowing game. And certainly more spectacular. Do we want to be battering rams? Do we want to fight our wars as battering rams? Or do we want to fight our wars in a fast free flowing manner? Does the first indicate indominable courage in face of massive resistance?   I must admit I admire the courage of League players as they charge full belt into a wall of opponents. The team with the football does this again and again, until one of them kicks to the opposing team which repeats the same process.  Boring! Boring!

This opinion writer has to admit that he prefers AFL to watch, but really wonders whether the battering ram image, or the free-flowing spectacular, should be our national guideline.

Perhaps we can answer that by asking “how are wars won?”  This opinion writer set out on a search to find that answer.   There were many answers.


Sun Tzu’s admonition was to “make an uproar in the east, but attack in the west.” That is, induce the enemy to believe a blow is coming at one place, but actually deliver it at another was one. The defeat of the Romans at Cannae by Hannibal was another.

The Carthaginian infantry swung up to the sides of the advancing Romans, attacking their flanks and further disturbing their organization. It was a smart win, not a battering win. Hannibal’s tactics at Cannae are taught in officers’ training schools. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War dates back to the fifth century BC.

Napoleon’s battle wins also exemplify what a military genius he was. Of the 60 battles in which he was involved during his military career, he lost only 8. The three most notable were The Battle of Austerlitz, 1805, The Battle of Friedland, Prussia, 1807, The Battle of Jena 1806. Napoleonused a variety of military tactics, but never did he fight as a battering ram. His campaignshave also been studied at military schools worldwide.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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