Carting it up with Stevo

Depending on who you want to listen to, this week was either a gigantic or an enormous week in Rugby League.

The NRL were happy with the huge TV Ratings and attendances, the fans loved the hard fought games and the thorough coverage, and the clubs were undoubtedly pleased with the exposure their sponsors enjoyed. However what seemed to be surprisingly lost in the NRL coverage this week, was any hype surrounding Matt Rogers? return.

Rogers announced on Wednesday that, as of 2008, he will be returning to Rugby League to play for the Gold Coast Titans. Rumours surfaced on Tuesday that the former Shark was about to proclaim his return, with Gold Coast Chairman Michael Searle commenting that he had a ?massive? announcement to make. If history is an accurate guide, Wednesday?s revelation was destined to be massive.

When Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri signed with the ARU, it was a huge news story, with front and back pages repeatedly filled with the details of their defection. The ARU had, like thieves in the night, stolen the NRL?s best right from under their noses. Some argued that their defection would ensure Rugby Union would overtake Rugby League in the popularity stakes, while others pondered whether this was the beginning of the end for the NRL.

So to coax one of these premium ARU signings back to the fold should have been one of the greatest victories for the NRL this season. Yet, the media attention the Rogers signing achieved didn?t go near matching the intensity of when he originally defected. Admittedly the story, for the most part, earned back page coverage when the rumours surfaced on Wednesday. But in Sydney?s Daily Telegraph on Thursday the official announcement was buried between the Beach Volleyball news and the soccer results, albeit behind some more relevant news such as Danny Buderus? suspension.

I?d imagine fans of the Titans, and of the NRL, generally were overjoyed with the news of Rogers return. But why was it reported so moderately, especially compared to the original defections? Maybe, at age 30, Rogers is getting a bit long in the tooth to stir up too much excitement. Maybe it?s because his return is still a whole season away. Or maybe if Rogers signed with a more traditional club it may have provoked a greater reaction.

While these reasons may have contributed to the underwhelming reaction, one factor may reflect the continued strength of the NRL. When Rogers, Tuqiri and Sailor signed with the ARU, Rugby League in Australia was still suffering from a Super League hangover. While the game was strong on the field, it wasn?t as sure footed off the field. Crowds were decent but not outstanding, the League had gone through a few CEOs in a relatively short space of time and sponsors hadn?t returned to the game in large numbers. The game was healing, but defections such as Rogers rubbed a little salt into the wound.

Ironically the defections of Sailor, Tuqiri and Rogers played their part in the healing of the game. The loss of three superstars created an opportunity for fresh stars to take the limelight, with players such as Billy Slater, Matt Bowen and Greg Inglis filling the void. While the ARU has continued to pursue NRL players, League fans and administrators are a little more circumspect about panicking every time one of their players is linked to the ARU. Sure, possible defections such as Gasnier and Johns will still create a stir, but NRL fans will be confident that another superstar is waiting in the wings to replace any defector.

So, ten years on, the paranoia that was born with the Super League war may have finally died, which can only be a good thing for the game.