Friday, 27 April 2018

The 1915 Patriotic Carnival (2018)

Australian Rugby League during the first World War received plenty of criticism for opting to continue competition, largely directed at it from rival code Rugby Union. They argued, wrongly, that League players refused to join up and serve in the military, instead opting to stay at home and get paid to play footy.

There are many stories of prominent Rugby League players at the time who defied this argument, as well as the game’s secretary and then-politician Edward Larkin who died at the landing of Gallipoli. What is rarely mentioned when this argument arises nearly every year is just how much the game of Rugby League donated to the war effort, through the game itself.

They regularly played games where gate receipts were donated and on one occasion, an actual field ambulance was donated.

On June 28, 1915, the League staged its first ever shortened version of Rugby League in a knockout competition played over 5 hours, all to raise funds for the war effort.

The day itself, with great intentions in mind, started tragically when it was revealed that one of the three founding fathers of Rugby League in Australia and brilliant Test Cricket batsmen Victor Trumper, had died at 10am that day while at St.Vincents Hospital.

Trumper had been ill for 2 years and was said to have died from ‘sportsman’s heart’ but later diagnosed as Bright’s disease. He was just 38 years old.

The players though had no idea about this news at the time. They had assembled at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground for the days action. The trustees of the ground agreed to let the venue be used free of charge for the day, so as to maximise the donation to the war effort.

Three games were played between President’s Cup sides to start proceedings. South Sydney defeated Western Suburbs 11-2, before Wests backed up to take on Glebe, winning the contest 8-5.

After these games was a brief intermission before the knockout began. The games were 30 minutes long, 15 minutes each way, with no half time interval, just a changing of ends.

At 12:30pm Glebe took on North Sydney in the first game. The match was played with vigour early on, leading to a try by Frank Burge which was converted by Henry Bolewski. Just before the change of ends, Charlie Sherritt kicked a penalty goal. After the switch, Glebe dominated as Tom Leggo and Fred Saunders bagged tries, the latter also converted by Bolewski. Glebe winning 13-2.

At 1:05pm Wests took on an understrength Souths side and after a dour first half, only a penalty goal by Athol White separated the sides. Wests though ran away with the game after changing sides, with Smith, Clarrie Prentice and Bill Joass all scoring tries, one of which was converted by White. Wests winning comfortably by 13-0.

At 1:40pm Newtown took on Easts in a match that saw the Bluebags forwards dominate. Tony Martin scored the sole try of the first half for Newtown, which was converted by Charlie Russell, while Wally Messenger kicked a penalty goal for the tricolours. The change of ends was a blessing for Newtown, who put on two more tries through Wally Collins and Roy Farnsworth to win the game 11-2.

At 2:15pm, the final opening round clash took place between Balmain and Annandale. The Dales were surprisingly good in this contest, with neither side scoring at the change. A great pass from Horrie Balkwell to Jim Brassill, sent the latter on a fine run to score the sole points of the game. Balmain victorious 3-0.

The first semi-final kicked off at 2:50pm with what was regarded as the best match of the tournament between Glebe and Wests. A spirited effort by Wests was not enough to deny the star studded Glebe side who won 13-5. Frank Burge bagged two tries and Tom Leggo one, while Henry Bolewski kicked 2 goals for Glebe while Wests points came from a try to Clarrie Tye and a goal from Athol White.

The second semi then took place at 3:25pm. It was a hard fought battle again decided by just a try. A great bustling run by Balmain’s Jack Robinson from halfway saw him score the sole try which was converted by George Cummins to give the Watersiders a 5-0 win.

A 15 minute spell was granted to Balmain after their semi before they ran out for the final at 4:10pm against rivals Glebe. The game was a terrific contest, with both sides showing plenty of enterprise in attack, but superior defence ensure that no points were scored at the change of ends. A poor kick from Balmain’s Lyall Wall gifted Glebe the ball and Frank Burge crossed for the sole try of the game. Balmain rallied frequently and late, but Glebe’s defences could not be breached. Glebe winning the final 3-0.

A thoroughly entertained crowd of 12,000 people attended the long day of action.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Dinosaurs Get Their Way (2018)

Rugby League's dinosaurs have seemingly got their way and put an end to the crackdown by referees on ruck, play-the-ball, marker and offside infringements, which had seen a myriad of penalties blown in the opening four rounds of football.

The reasoning, aside from enforcing the rules, was to try and do something to eliminate grappling and wrestling, holding down in the play the ball and a restriction of fast attacking football.

Phil Gould stated on Channel 9’s 100% Footy, that:

“Referees were given instructions Sunday morning to tone back on it, to just get back to refereeing the important penalties the ones that were obvious.”
(See the video here:

Gould, along with Andrew Johns, Paul Vautin and Brad Fittler have been strongly opposed to the penalty bonanza's, aggressively repeating their disdain on Channel 9 from Round 1.

And while many other former players, commentators and fans have welcomed the crackdown, it appears that the NRL has yielded to the whinging old clowns and decided to pull the pin on the crackdown.

This is very bad for a number of reasons:

1.       Essentially clubs and players have got their way. The game has given control of the game to clubs and players to dictate how the game should be officiated. As the saying goes “the inmates run the asylum.” This is the biggest issue of all and directly attacks the integrity of the game.
2.       A handful of whinging commentators, notably Gould, have far too much authority, somehow, over the game, to have something like this modified to suit his agenda. How and why does he have this much power. It’s clearly wrong.
3.       The argument that the crackdown still made mistakes, notably the one that cost the Wests Tigers the game against Brisbane in Round 3 during Golden Point. While a valid argument, the problem with this perspective is that the alternative (less penalties) means infringements have to be ignored. And no matter which way you cut it, ignoring infringements will not eliminate howlers or game-changing mistakes, but will serve to continue their existence. It will not make the game better in the long term.
4.       The whole purpose of the crackdown has been completely eliminated. Everyone has demanded an end to the wrestling, holding down in tackles and off side markers and edge defenders. But they also don’t want the short term pain of a few rounds worth of games with high penalty counts. So now we’ll go back to the massive eyesore of grappling and wrestling, because some people didn’t like hearing the refs whistle.
5.       It makes it pretty clear that the referees are impacted by the NRL and indirectly media scrutiny. So why bother having referees? If they cannot be trusted and respected for the job they are doing, what’s the point of their existence?
6.       Finally, this enforces a modern day issue in all sport, that bitching and moaning about referees is not only accepted, but it brings results, despite the refs doing the right thing on the vast majority of occasions. Referees are accountable for every decision they make. But players and clubs can complain to avoid accountability of their decisions.

The onus should have been on players and clubs to realise that the refs were cleaning this part of the game up and in turn, they should have changed their play to be rules compliant. That’s how the system works. That was the point of the exercise. Because penalties, everywhere in life, have two purposes:
1.       Enforce the rules/law
2.       Deter you from reoffending

Given that after 4 weeks, penalties were still being given in copious numbers, the only step after this was not backing down, but instead utilising the sin bin far more aggressively.

Also, despite the games being low scoring and high in penalties, it certainly had little impact on ratings. Perhaps seeing even contests, producing unexpected results has been great for the game? 

Not one of the top 5 sides from last year are in the top 5 right now. Furthermore, three of the bottom 5 sides last year are in the top 8, while the other two are placed at 11th and 12th. It may only be early days in the 2018 season, but there’s been a lot of transformation on the game which has drawn a lot of interest from fans. Crowd numbers are up, ratings are strong. 

Perhaps this crackdown was working.