11 hours ago
Off the Wall
The excellent form of the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL premiership is giving rugby league a significant boost in Auckland, the stronghold of New Zealand rugby union.
The Warriors are in fifth place on the premiership table and have a good run home, with a top four placing and a home semi final a distinct possibility. They are unbeaten in their last five games - four wins and a draw.
Last Saturday night the Warriors defeated the Gold Coast Titans in Auckland and drew a crowd of 20,500. The same day the marquee clash in the domestic NZ rugby union competition between Auckland and the reigning champions, Waikato, drew only 13,500 fans.
On Sky Sports the rugby league match drew 182,000 viewers while the rugby union clash attracted only 117,000. Such a result is akin to an NRL match out-rating a top of the table AFL clash in Melbourne, something rugby league could only dream about.
The Warriors are playing very attractive football. Many a good judge regard them as the dark horse in 2007, and with good reason. They are playing as consistently as the premiership favourites, the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Sea Eagles.
The big test will come when they meet the Sea Eagles at their home ground, Mt Smart Stadium, on Sunday week. It will surely attract their biggest ever home crowd.
The Warriors' good form is partly due to their key Australian players - Steve Price, Wade McKinnon and Michael Witt - and a very strong forward pack. But they also have a good record in attack. Only the Storm and Sea Eagles have scored more tries. And they are coached by the former Sydney Roosters first grader, Ivan Cleary.
With the Rugby World Cup now only weeks away, and the All Blacks odds on favourites to win, rugby will win back fans, but callers to NZ radio this week have been complaining about rugby today being