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During the year we may be enemies, wearing different colours and cheering for rival teams but one moment unites the game, when the Kangaroos run out to represent our game and our nation.
For those moments a rare thing occurs, we all support the same team.
Our Kangaroos receive wide spread support, growing sponsorship and fantastic ratings. But the support is top heavy with the Kangaroos? television ratings and great levels of sponsorship not being matched by crowd support while club and interstate football enjoys unprecedented support.
Club level support is enjoying a renaissance with many famous supporter groups enduring and prospering and many new groups starting up. Across the nation the NRL enjoys support from The Burrow, The Dragons Army, The Raiders Army, The Bulldogs Army, The Wests Tigers Fanatics, The Chook Pen, The Sydney Green Brigade and many others such as Southern Stampede and Broncos Sydney Supporters.
The fragmented support at the grass roots level isn?t indicative of indifference to the Kangaroos and the international game. Over the last decade rugby league miraculously survived a civil war, that coupled with an inconsistent international program over the last couple of decades are the main reasons international rugby league has been shunted to being least on the list of priorities.
One wonders why our game can enjoy such fantastic fan support at a club level yet our national team rarely play in sold out stadiums.
With the international program finally being locked into place and Australia hosting regular Anzac Tests and now the 2006 Tri Nations and 2008 World Cup, it is do or die for international rugby league.
We need to unite the supporter groups and draw casual sports and rugby league fans to our green and gold banner. Not only pack out our bays and create a magical atmosphere but raise the profile of the games, get people talking about it.
The Kangaroos are our nations? proudest and most successful sporting team, enjoying an unchallenged dominance since 1978. They are the world?s greatest rugby team, displaying sublime skills, speed and strength. They represent the greatest of our current era and also symbolise the very best from the past eras. They are the pinnacle of rugby league and an enduring link to our heritage.
Next year Australia hosts the Tri Nations and in 2008 we host the World. We want to see the Kangaroos supported and followed by a gigantic army worthy of their standing. Because hosting the world cup is a gamble by the ARL we have to be there to support them. After the disaster of the 2000 version in England compounded by the fact that the Union World Cup in 2003 was such a success, it makes it painfully vital that we not mess this opportunity up.
Speaking of massive punts, off the back of the Anzac Test in Brisbane, which drew over 40,000 people with no SBW hype, the ARL has seen fit to schedule Tri Nations game 1at the 80,000 seat Telstra stadium.
Playing at Telstra Stadium makes us directly comparable to union. They have already had 38,000 people turn up to watch the Wallabies destroy Samoa and have two big games scheduled for later in the year. Both sure to be large crowd pullers. We can?t turn up after patting ourselves on the back from yet another record breaking season and end up with only 30,000 people showing up.
This is a critical moment in the history of international rugby league. Our game?s reputation can not afford to have them playing to an international television audience in front of a half empty stadium. We need to send them off in style and set a high standard for the British and New Zealanders to live up to.
In my opinion it would be a massive public relations disaster.
We want to give the Kangaroos something the Wallabies could only dream of when they hand out free gold scarves to their sponsors, a passionate army of fans supporting them from the heart.
So I ask you to join us. No matter if you are an Eel or a Dragon, a Knight or a Bulldog we are all Australian, come and join us and support our Australian Kangaroos. Help us unite the game behind the Kangaroos.
The next few years will dictate the course of rugby league history, so let us take the opportunity to point it in the direction we want it to go in.
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