FOR years, it didn't make sense.
Whopping score lines, atrocious mismatches, mediocre crowds - you name it, and odds were Rugby League Internationals provided it.
Code critics could hardly be blamed. People were more interested in predicting how many concussions Martin Lang would attain rather than predicting test score lines. As the gap in international competition increased, just about everything else declined. Revenue started dropping, ratings started dropping and eventually eyelids started dropping.
Occasionally -- and I mean rarely, like about as often as Phil Gould made sense -- you got a match that contained lukewarm excitement, but even those matches had a rather predictable script.
While Australia, New Zealand and Europe grew in technical strategy, the rest of the world adapted to the grand two-fold strategy of old:
"Play with your hearts. Try not to get smashed"
End of strategy.
International Rugby League could be read like a book or perhaps even a short story. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
Which is why this year's Tri-Nations is a breath of fresh air. Finally, a tournament with no fore-ordained winner.
Game one of the series provided sheer excitement, and more. Bone rattling hits, inconceivable line breaks, exposure to Nathan Hindmarsh's rear end for the better part of the game - it had the works.
The post-match procedures were just as surprising. Australia could've blamed the draw on anything. Injuries, exhaustion, a pitch that had been significantly narrowed in width without being brought to the Kangaroo's attention prior to arrival.
Unlike coaching staff's from the past however, Wayne Bennett chose to bite down on pride, even defending the draw upon the outcry for extra time to be an added rule.
Games like these don't come along too often. It's much easier to find an attractive photo of Willie Mason then it is close internationals that end in humility.
And the best is yet to come.
New Zealand has a tendency to follow up great outings with sub-par performances, and the early form guide of history repeated itself when the series shifted to English soil last weekend.
For Australia, Craig Fitzgibbon returned from injury to provide relief in the forward pack, and on the goal kicking front. New Zealand on the other hand were riddled of notable contributors through injury. Joe Gulavao, Tony Puletua and Matt Utai -- each premiership winners in the last two seasons -- were all under an injury cloud in the coming weeks.
Filling their void will be return of Ali Lauitiiti, Robbie Paul and Superleague runner ups Logan Swann, Lesley Vainakolo and Shontayne Hape each familiar with the weather conditions that London provides.
The signs of another thriller are ominous.
While the Kangaroos and Kiwis were gearing up for another outing, the Lions patiently waited on the other side of the equator.
This is the type of series the foot balling gurus had been praying for. This was the level of excitement that Union fans had taunted League loyalists with for the better part of the last decade.
Two years ago, the curtain would've been raised revealing a trophy that may as well have been Kangaroo-shaped and no one would've said a word. As the curtain was drawn, a thick mist blinded the view of the Nation embedded on the winners plaque. The mysterioso of not 'really' knowing what happens next sends organises into an unfamiliar frenzy.
This is what Rugby League has been bleeding for!
Sure - one good game, or series or even World Cup, doesn't mean the code has forever shaken the once tedious tag of "internationals you thought were going to be so much better than they were", but it's a good start.
I've never tingled in preparing for Test Matches and know that I'm still a long way from the euphoric Origin-like state of mind, but as the wise man once said "every journey begins with a simple step" - or something like that.
Here's to a great Tri-Nations tournament!
FEEDBACK or ?fan mail? as I like to subconsciously call it is always good. If you can forget the fact that a good three quarters of it is critical, any response is complementary to an author.
LET?S think of a game of chess for a moment. You have your pawns, your castles, your bishops, your knights and your coveted King and Queen. Each piece is placed on a chessboard where the objectives of all pieces are to protect their King, whilst attacking the other. Through all this the King is responsible for the movement of his troops across the battlefield as he so pleases. His organisational skills will ultimately determine whether he will win or loose a battle. Welcome to the life of a rugby league half back.
THE 'function' that discerns half backs - Editorial