Long Live Rugby League


And although I wanted to stand here and promise you nothing we do is from fear, the truth is I’ve fallen hard, and sent a calling card, and the price to be paid is unclear.John Forté “The Price to be Paid

Monday it got taken away.

On Saturday it seemed likely. The virus has been coming for a while. Playing in front of no one was always only there going to be a temporary solution. We’d seen that path followed overseas already. The pinch was starting to be felt in Australia and across the world. People were really sick and I was talking about a football competition. It felt dirty. It felt empty.

On Sunday the AFL admitted a strategic defeat and scampered back into its foxhole. At that time it seemed like the whole world turned and asked rugby league “well, when are you shutting down?”

Rugby league responded in the most rugby league way possible: with ramshackle defiance, desperate conjecture and pie-in-the-sky plans that were never going to take off.

Then eventually it came. Of course it was the right thing to do. The sport is in all kinds of bother because of the economic impact, but what’s a job if everyone is sick and dying? What the point of a job but to keep your family safe? The players deserved to be safe just like us. Their families deserve to be safe.

We all deserve to be safe.

The czar and the princess, the king and the empress, decided to meet over tea. They laughed and they roared because we ignored the greatness we were destined to be – John Forté “The Price to be Paid

I’ve heard people say what we’re in the middle of at the beginning of is unprecedented so often I just start to block it out. I believe it but I don’t know what to do. Even with that stress, I had hoped rugby league would be my little social distancing buddy, in the bunker with me as my toddler screams during the inevitable lockdowns that are coming our way. I was ready to write even more in-depth game reviews, more over-the-top exclamations about the importance of rugby league, like it matters when you look at what is happening around the world.

But it does matter. It matters to me, and I suspect it matters to you. Rugby league is a game that few appreciate, and I’ve always liked to think we are part of the crew that do. Plenty of sports fans think it’s boring, that it’s repetitive. They talk it down because they think it’s a sport for “bogans”, but they just don’t get the nuance. To me it’s like the blues as musical structure. If you don’t listen it’ll sound the same every time. But when you really pay attention, you’ll see the beauty in small changes. A lot of people love the most eye-catching things in the sport – the Inglis’, the Mitchell’s, the Tedesco’s. For me, I always loved the tiny things. The way Josh Papali’s feet perfectly dance his way between defenders. The way a back line linking together just perfectly is almost unstoppable. How you’re almost better off guessing which way Cameron Smith or Josh Hodgson is going based on which way they’re not looking.

I also liked how much it mattered. How Jarrod Croker cried in Terry Campese’s arms. How sometimes when I think about the moments after Josh Papalii running over Damian Cook to win the preliminary final, I get teary. I have written hundreds of thousands of words about the Canberra Raiders, and I do not regret it for a second. For now that’s all gone, and it might never come back, and that makes me sad.

Sometimes I think the NRL would get the credit it deserved if it was run differently. But even the oft-lauded AFL will he hit by the wave that is coming. We are all in the firing line.

Standing our ground and staring them down we were never prepared to run. So much has come and gone, and some paintings were drawn to remind us of where we are from. John Forté “The Price to be Paid”

There are actual ramifications beyond my sadness though. I can’t even bring myself to think about what this is meaning for so many people; in the world and in footy. Jobs. Families. Homes. So many people in and around the sport are joining the rapidly increasing queues outside Centrelink. We, as a community that love rugby league, a country of people and a fucking race of upright sapiens are in a fight. A fight for our lives, our livelihoods and the things we hold dear. And now we are fighting for rugby league too.

It shouldn’t have taken league getting taken away to make you realise how important this battle is. But maybe it did, and if that’s the case welcome to the fight. Your weapons are soap and willingness to stay inside. People’s lives are at stake, and now so is rugby league. I’m afraid. For myself, for my friends, for people I don’t know. And for the game. I can’t tell you rugby league, in its current form, will ever come back. The price to be paid is unclear.

But I’m ready to fight. I hope you are. Rugby league is dead.

Long live rugby league.

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