Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Competing codes sustain strife in rugby

By Barry Cohen - posted Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Six shillings a week spawned a new code of football in 1895. It was the amount demanded by 21 Yorkshire and Lancashire rugby clubs to compensate injured players. The idea that gentlemen should be paid for playing rugby horrified the upper-middle class that ran the game from London.

In the industrial north where winning was paramount, the clubs recruited stout-hearted lads from pit and mill and quietly slipped them a few bob to put food on the table when they were injured.

When London ordered them to desist, the 21 clubs met at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, resigned en masse, and rugby league was born. In 1908, Australia followed suit, which is why we are presently celebrating league's centenary.


Celebrating? Not a week passes without a major league identity bemoaning the fate of the "greatest game of all". "League is dying in the bush; crowds are down, Australian rules is taking over and, horror of horrors, league's finest are switching to union."

"No loyalty, no sense of history, no feeling for the game's traditions," they wail. Union officials, after a century of watching league snaffling union's finest, can't resist a wry smile.

Aware of their all too brief playing careers and the damage inflicted on their bodies, players are following the money trail to ensure their future. They realise how quickly their star status will disappear once they cease playing.

When union went professional in 1995, it was obvious that, with the game being played in more than 120 countries, a far wider television audience would guarantee it could buy the best talent. League, a major force only in eastern Australia and northern England, was in trouble.

Common sense and self-preservation should have been sufficient for both codes to end the century-old divorce. Suggestions of a remarriage unfortunately never got beyond the "wouldn't it be a hoot" stage. Union immediately started raiding league's talent base, and it hasn't stopped. Mark Gasnier and Sonny Bill Williams are merely the latest. It will get worse.

The obvious benefits of a merger were ignored. A century of fear and loathing between a class-conscious rugby establishment and working-class battlers was too deeply entrenched for reunification to be taken seriously.


League's response was equally bizarre. Despite its tiny support base, it resorted to macho breast-beating and sneering insults about union: the game and those who ran it. League, it boasted, would be bigger and better than ever. It was whistling in the dark and deep down league knew it.

Union then made some extraordinary decisions. The introduction of provincial football, now known as Super 14, was an outstanding success, providing rugby of international standard; but with only 15 matches a year from February to May, the season is over just as other codes are starting. And it can be viewed only on satellite TV by those who can shell out $1,000 a year, while league is on free to air.

Then followed internationals with third string northern hemisphere teams playing the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies. Tri-Nations was next, providing fabulous rugby, but three teams do not a competition make. It appears that is about to change. SANZAR has indicated that Super 14 will become Super 16 or more and will run from March to September. Extra teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will, hopefully, be joined by teams from Argentina and the South Pacific.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Australian on July 28, 2008.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

8 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Barry Cohen was Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Environment in the Hawke Government from 1983 to 1987. He currently runs an animal sanctuary in Calga, NSW.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Barry Cohen

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 8 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy