Apathy in old Dart like an arrow through our heart


NOT many days go by in Australia without a reminder of the general apathy about British rugby league. The England team had been expecting to attend a press conference in Melbourne on Thursday befo...

NOT many days go by in Australia without a reminder of the general apathy about British rugby league.


The England team had been expecting to attend a press conference in Melbourne on Thursday before tomorrow's game against the green and golds at Telstra Dome, but the players were politely told their presence was no longer required because of a far more pressing priority - a media launch for the first match of next season's State of Origin series, which will be played on neutral territory in Victoria on June 3.

If the England players had been invited, rather than left to arrange sightseeing trips to Ramsay Street on their day off, they'd have heard Channel Nine's commentator Andrew Voss refer to Origin as "the jewel in the crown of rugby league". That's not a criticism of Voss, who showed he's anything but an ignorant, arrogant Aussie in trying his best to talk up the patchy Poms with Peter Sterling and Laurie Daley during last Saturday's opening game against Papua New Guinea. It was one more indication of the amount of damage that has been done to the prestige of the international game during the past four decades.

You can't really blame the Aussies, either. For the 28 years since the success of the first, experimental Origin game at Lang Park in 1980, the interstate contest has been consistently compelling and unpredictable, while games against the old Dart have too often been anything but. You don't have to be here long to see for all the problems it has had in recent times Australian league remains light years ahead of the game in the northern hemisphere, at least in terms of its profile.

It's the little, trivial things that sum up the gulf: the fact The Sydney Morning Herald chose the rugby league controversy of the moment - grapple-tacking - to illustrate the closing stages of the US presidential election, with Barack Obama in a South Sydney jumper being throttled by "Brisbane Bronco" John McCain; the fact that Snoop Dogg has one of those Rabbitohs jerseys and has been parading it through the Block in Redfern with a few Souths players to promote a Sydney concert; the fact that Wally Lewis's son is now a star of Home and Away ; the fact that the Melbourne Storm are still regarded as a failure by some in Sydney because they "only" attract crowds of around 10,000 (what would Harlequins, their closest British equivalent, give for such problems?).

Rather than moaning about various aspects of Australia's organisation of this World Cup, maybe we should just be grateful that enough of their administrators were prepared to host it at all. They've provided an open goal to the understandably cynical and insular local league media, and it isn't immediately obvious what they stand to gain.

These early stages of the tournament have been a classic case of the glass being either half-full or half-empty. From this perspective, the games between England and the Kumuls in Townsville, Scotland and France in Canberra, and Ireland versus Tonga at Parramatta, have been thoroughly enjoyable occasions, celebrating rugby league's peculiar global range from industrial west Yorkshire to tropical north Queensland via Papua New Guinea and Catalonia, with the only damp squib so far coming from New Zealand's no-show in Sydney.

And we have the prospect of four terrific games this weekend: tribal warfare at the foot of the Blue Mountains last night, Fiji's eagerly awaited debut against the equally appealing French in Wollongong this evening, followed by the cock-a-hoop Kumuls having a crack at the unconvincing Kiwis on the Gold Coast, and then the big one in Melbourne tomorrow. Sorry, but I'm struggling to find anything to be miserable about.


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