AS Rugby League revelled in the commercial and PR-success that was State of Origin 2 at the MCG on Wednesday, the bigwigs at NRL HQ could have been forgiven for not seeing the terrible toll the game took on some of the best players in the game.
But as the communal back-slapping died down and the casualties begin piling up, the game that has bent over backwards to arrest its perceived image problems of brutality and violence was instead left looking cowardly and stupid.
Rugby League is a tough, hard, violent game.
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Like Union or AFL, it is the closest thing that society has to the ancient days of gladiatorial Rome.
There are a few subtle differences of course – now we use a little ball instead of swords and lions for example.
And instead of getting killed for losing you just don’t get a predetermined number of imaginary points.
But people still get hurt. That is PART of the game, it will never change.
Indeed that is the reason the game exists.
So either you like it for what it is or you don’t – but certainly it would be pretty silly to attempt to change the game in ways that dilute fan enjoyment but make it slightly bearable for people who already detest it to watch or let their kids play.
In an attempt to be seen as the ‘safe’ sport for kids to play, Rugby League has compromised its product and pushed itself off what is a very slippery slope.
I am not condoning violence here – if society deems that sports such as rugby league have gone the way of Maximus, then kudos society.
But until we get there, if we ever do, is it worth changing the fabric of a game to save that game?
What if pressuring kickers becomes seen as ‘too rough’, or contesting a ball in the air?
What if tackling becomes too violent? And instead players must simply put two hands on the man with the ball.
The NRL have a real problem on their hands and it is completely of their own doing.
Instead of embracing the tough, sometimes brutal aspect of their game and showing pride in what they are about, they have gone to extraordinary lengths to convince parents that their game is nice and soft and cuddly.
But ask Paul Gallen (rib cartilage), Josh Morris (neck), Ryan Hoffman (concussion), Nate Myles (ankle), Robbie Farah (shoulder), Billy Slater (shoulder) if the game was soft and cuddly on Wednesday night?
If only the law-makers at league HQ would display such courage.
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