Central Coast/Wellington/Port Moresby/et cetera. This column is actually a supporter of the MELBOURNE Storm. They've been there 13 years now, and they've marshalled together a small but dedicated following. You can generally rely on around 8,000 fans turning up for even the least interesting game of the season, and 20,000+ for the big ones against St George Illawarra and Brisbane, stadium size permitting. The news of their rorting, however, is a huge blow.
Rugby League in Melbourne was always a hard sell, but with a team of superstars playing attractive footy, the Storm were making inroads. The new stadium looks sensational, and the addition of a rugby union team would actually increase public awareness of both sports. But how can the Storm attract fans now? We as a code went to Melbourne with cap in hand and said, "come support us".
They delivered minor premierships, grand final wins, Dally M medals and two State of Origin coaches, plus the New Zealand coach. They've been rewarded for taking the plunge, but now the game has punished them. Are the Melbourne Storm long for this world? What chance is there of anyone turning up to see them play the Warriors this weekend, let alone their Round 26 clash against Newcastle. Melbourne is finished.
Manly and Parramatta...
This weekend. Forget about angling for the Premierships to be handed over to Singapore during World War II. Premierships are won through winning Grand Finals, not through losing Grand Finals by 26 and 7 points and then having the trophy Fed Exed up from Melbourne up to 2.5 years later.
If the NRL did give Manly or Parramatta these premierships, does that suddenly mean the Corso and Church Street would be agog with celebration? Of course not. Manly know the exhilaration of winning a Grand Final, so their fans would know this would never compare. Some older Parramatta fans would know too. A premiership is there to be won for both sides this Spring and, at the very least, they won't have to play Melbourne to attain it.
Season 2011. Is this season already a write off? Will the victors on Grand Final day be able to celebrate knowing they were the best team all year when, quite clearly, they have not had to overcome the greatest side of the last 20 years? It's a real Catch 22 for the NRL: they had to ensure that Melbourne couldn't win the league, but they also had to maintain the integrity of the competition.
They have failed in the latter, but they still made the right decision. After all, what's the point of letting Melbourne win the comp just to take it off them.
But stripping the Storm of their 2007 and 2009 triumphs? This was a tactical error. The AFL has been won in the past by teams that were then found to have been rorting the salary cap. There was handwringing and fines and stern warnings, but no real punishment. The truth is, the NRL has looked strong, but it has weakened itself by irrevocably damaging its most important asset. Is Andrew Demetriou sitting in his office admiring David Gallop's hard stance? Doubtful: he's probably thinking about how today made his Western Sydney and Gold Coast sells just that little bit easier.
State of Origin...
Tomorrow. The showpiece event of the NRL now can't come quickly enough.
Two states battling it out, with Queensland looking for their fifth straight title. But should it be New South Wales chasing that distinction. The undeniable truth is that Queensland have dominated State of Origin based on a core group of Melbourne Storm players:
players that were brought together, trained to play to each others strengths and taught to trust one-another. And all of this was illegal.
Should Inglis, Smith, Slater and co be allowed to play State of Origin and for Australia this year? They probably should, but how can you justify picking a player who, every round of the season from now on, will literally be playing for nothing?
St George Illawarra, Penrith, Cronulla and Newcastle...
Up the ladder. Do the teams Melbourne have stolen two points off deserve to get them back? Considering every team that plays Melbourne for the rest of the year will have the advantage of actually having a reason for the rhyme, it would make sense.
Your team's match this weekend. Make no mistake, this was the biggest shock to the game of rugby league since the Super League war. And it's much bigger than 2002, when the Bulldogs were caught before doing something stupid like winning the premiership. Rugby League fans need to get out there and support their team this week: the game is in serious trouble.