Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
The air stale with the smell of smoke and spilt beer, salted peanuts and stained oak. The dim lights cloak much of the scene in shadow ? save for the fluorescent green of a pool table which stands out like a neon light towards the back of the room. A row of cubicles lines the wall to the left, each impenetrable with darkness, opposite the bar itself, where a lone bartender wipes down dirty schooner glasses with a greasy old rag. Occupying the cubicle furthest from the door, the man notices two shady figures seated side by side, smoking. Save for the bartender and the man himself, they are the only people inside the ragged, rickety old bar. Naturally, the man at the door ? let?s call him X ? lights himself a cigarette and moseys over and plants himself on the cushioned seat opposite the two shadowy gentlemen. No pleasantries are exchanged. Smoke wanders aimlessly from a cigarette butt left to burn in an ashtray.
?You?re game is dead,? says the man on the left.
The words crack through the silence like a rifle shot. Cold, spiteful, hating. X does not say anything.
?Where do we begin? What about the crowds?? probes the man on the right.
?Poor weather or not, the last round of football could not draw an average of more than nine thousand people. The corresponding round of AFL lured an average of more than thirty thousand in attendances.?
The man on the right raises his voice somewhat in frustration.
?The fact of the matter is that your inferior sport appears to have a paltry fan base. The Australian Football League consistently fills large scale stadiums ? your game usually struggles to reach capacity at second rate suburban football ovals. Even in one team cities, attendance levels are measly. What reason could there be, other than that your sport is a dying code??
Still no response. With a sly grin on his shadowy face, the man on the right lifts his cigarette to his lips and smirks.
?There is no room for your sport in this marketplace. Face it ? it?s time to let rugby league die a natural death.?
?? Or have it merge into its bigger brother, rugby union,? retorts the man on the left.
No response. The bartender, rag in hand, has ceased cleaning the dishes. He leans over the counter, trying desperately to pick up wafts of conversation drifting from the cubicle at the back of the bar.
The man on the left pipes up again.
?You?ve been succeeded by rugby. Your international game is a tattered wreck ? a disaster on the precipice of a thousand foot canyon. You can?t match our crowds and you can?t match our player payments. Accept it, give up. The game is over.?
?Our World Cup drew record breaking crowds and a television audience of millions? nay, billions! Players drawn from all corners of the globe! And what can rugby league muster up? A second rate Tri-Series featuring the best of Sydney, Auckland and Manchester? You call that an international game??
Again, no response.
?We sign your best players, and then keep them. We have more money than you, and will continue to buy your code?s best players until there aren?t enough to fill up Premier League. We will buy the grassroots out from under your own football boots, we?ll buy out the international game and we?ll completely over-run the northern states with rugby union.?
?The future is rugby union. Face it, your code is dead.?
The bartender is holding his breath. Smoke curls from the discarded butt still lying in the ashtray. Silence hangs about the bar like the smoky, sweaty, stale air. Both men are reclining, their faces again obscured by shadow, awaiting a response.
Finally, X speaks.
?Gentlemen, so long as somewhere, somehow a little kid pulls on his boots and runs out to play the greatest game of all ? a game he loves and plays with a passion, rugby league will never die.?
With that, he grinds his cigarette into the ashtray and saunters out the door, leaving the two gentlemen sitting stunned amid the darkness.
The barman smiles and resumes polishing schooner glasses as those five words resonate through his mind.
Rugby league will never die.
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