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Even gymnastics and trampolining have the jump on rugby league

By Tim Grau - posted Thursday, 2 June 2005

If the National Rugby League knew what was good for it and the game, it would dump the Nine Network as its broadcaster and make sure the boneheads who host Channel Nine's present stable of "football" shows are never allowed to do it again.

After years of attempts to broaden rugby league's appeal being thwarted by the continuous indiscretions of wayward players, now it is the supposed "league legends" hosting the Nine Network's Footy Show, Sunday Roast and Boots 'N' All who are dragging the game backwards.

For three weeks in a row these programs have dedicated a large portion of their air time to discussing the "good old days", highlighting on-field fights, justifying the violence, calling for the return of player clashes and fisticuffs and on two occasions encouraging viewers to send in their choices for the "best" brawls.


Recently the much-promoted "all new" Footy Show was no different, with former players Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer chortling about a boxing round they had in a past State of Origin match. Even the lead-up publicity for the show focused on the "fight" between its chief boneheads Paul Vautin and Peter Sterling and short-lived recruit Rebecca Wilson.

One of the Sunday Roast hosts, a senior league reporter for a daily newspaper, previewed the State of Origin game under the headline "Origin Biffo", saying the match would "erupt with a good old-fashioned brawl" and quoting NSW's first Origin captain saying "that would be lovely to see".

There's nothing "good" about a brawl and it certainly isn't "lovely".

Allowing the game to be promoted and marketed in this fashion would be like Soccer Australia highlighting the ethnic-based crowd violence as an integral part of the game, or a political party using Question Time slanging matches to attract swinging voters.

Can you imagine the Australian Jockey Club, rather than using its successful embracing and friendly "Princesses Welcome" campaign, lamenting the "good old days" of race fixing and underground SP bookies to encourage new sponsors and crowds to their events?

If the NRL is wondering why it has a problem with the game's image, participation in the sport and players who have questionable judgment, they need look no further than Nine Network's "league legends" reminiscing about brutal punch-ups, head butts and team slug-fests.


Not to mention the banal stupidity of Mathew John's alter-ego Reg Reagan campaigning to "Bring Back the Biff".

It certainly isn't the sort of thing any responsible parent would encourage their child to participate in.

The NRL knows, or at least should know, research shows that most often the key decision-maker in a family about which sport a child will play is the mother. Is it any wonder that more and more children are choosing to play a sport other than rugby league? And their parents, particularly mums, are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief.

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Article edited by Angus Ibbott.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald  on May 26, 2005.

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About the Author

Tim Grau is a one-time adviser to former Queensland Labor premier Wayne Goss and ex-federal attorney-general Michael Lavarch. He is the founding director of the public affairs firm, Springboard Australia.

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