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Hell for leather as out come the Sherrin, Steeden, Gilbert, et al

Israel Folau ... is barging  into a back line that boasts more raw talent than a Beijing ping-pong academy.

Israel Folau ... is barging into a back line that boasts more raw talent than a Beijing ping-pong academy. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Swans chairman Richard Colless has often described Sydney as the most competitive football market anywhere in the world.

The cynical might have interpreted that proposition as an excuse for the club's failure to turn a profit, or detected a dog whisper to the AFL to continue providing generous salary-cap concessions. However, as a muddled cricket season is elbowed aside by the boys of winter, Colless's words have credence.

Sydney is about to enter a period when the ecumenical football fan is at risk of leather poisoning. Eight spoiled-for-choice months packed with marquee events. A time when the competing acronyms - NRL, ARU, AFL, FFA - will have to work hard to retain the limelight, and might get a better idea of their place in the pecking order.

It will be a rugby league season - in what remains very much a rugby league town - featuring two State of Origin matches at ANZ Stadium. Arranged, as awkwardly as ever, around an NRL season in which several heartland clubs will arouse interest. Des Hasler attempting to take his Bulldogs one step further. Ricky Stuart hoping to bring the Eels back to life. Gus Gould working assiduously to create sustainable success at Penrith. And the headline-grabbing act, Sonny Bill Williams, who has already created more enthusiasm among Roosters fans than he appeared to show when signing his contract.

The Waratahs promise exciting, expansive and perhaps even winning football under new coach Michael Cheika. Israel Folau is barging into a back line that boasts more raw talent than a Beijing ping-pong academy. If another make-or-break season finishes with the Tahs in pieces, there is the British Lions tour - culminating, the ARU will pray, with a deciding third Test in Sydney on July 6.

The Swans start the season, unexpectedly, as champions. Importantly, unlike the 2005 model, this one plays an exciting brand of football, and the Swans have used their now somewhat dubious salary-cap advantage to attract controversial forward Kurt Tippett. Meanwhile, Greater Western Sydney Giants will be a whipping boy for those who ignorantly, or wilfully, fail to grasp their long-term strategy. One that could have them become the first club to field a team comprised entirely of first-round draft choices. Thus, the wise will judge GWS's still unproven ability to win converts. Only the foolish will believe the team itself will remain in the cellar for long.

The A-League's wise decision to start after the NRL/AFL finals means a notionally summer game is also part of the winter - or at least autumn - glut. While the others rested, the Sydney soccer dynamic changed. The game no longer lives and dies by the feats of Sydney FC.

The Western Sydney Wanderers' first season has been in direct contrast to that of GWS. Outstanding results, strong crowds, a vibrant feel. Ensuring the sustainability of new franchises has not been the A-League's speciality. Even clubs that have produced solid results have withered on the vine. But - without seeing their bottom line - WSW already have a here-to-stay feel.

The Socceroos play World Cup qualifiers in Sydney next month and in June, and Manchester United are here for an exhibition in July. A flexing of the global muscles that can be both a strength and, for those who make unflattering comparisons with the local league, a weakness.

This might seem like a routine recitation of football fixtures, augmented with a few special events. But for club, state and national teams - and their umbrella bodies - the crammed schedule is a major challenge. One that has tested the creativity of those compiling fixtures, and attempting to ensure maximum exposure. The Swans, for example, will play their annual blockbuster against Collingwood in August instead of the usual mid-year date. Away from the British Lions/Socceroos/Origin frenzy of June and July.

Sydney has proven big enough to accommodate, and sustain, four types of football. Yet those who blithely ignore the ''battle of the codes'' overlook the obvious long-term implication. That squeezing so much football into one city in an era of spiralling player wages and operational costs, just as media and corporate dollars dwindle, surely means something - or some code - must give.

With the NRL, AFL and FFA having signed new rights deals in the past 18 months, those sports at least have time to breathe. But this winter's battle for hearts, minds and bums on seats will be revealing.

email -rhinds@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Twitter -@rdhinds

2 comments so far

  • Im sorry, the other competitions dont get a look in until April 21, thats the day after the A-League grand final, actually if the wanderers win, make that April 27, a week later to recover.

    This, coming from a long term NRL fan, the A-League with WSW have got me hooked now.

    If you are unsure of what is happening with the wanderers, get out to parra stadium and check it out, but buy your tickets early before they sell out.

    Commenter
    jb
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 8:54AM
    • In a city with 4.5 million there should be enough people to support all codes.

      Commenter
      Redback Rebel
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 7:53PM

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      NRL Season 2016

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      CBR vs PEN 15:00GIO
      WST vs NZW 17:30CSS
      NQL vs CRO 19:301300
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      SYD vs SOU 16:00AS
      GCT vs NEW 18:30Cbus
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      NEW vs CBR 17:30HS
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      Thu, 07 AprTimes shown AEST
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      PAR vs CBR 15:00Pirtek
      NZW vs MAN 17:30MSS
      PEN vs NQL 19:30Pepp
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      NQL vs SOU 19:501300
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      GCT vs STG 15:00Cbus
      CBY vs NZW 17:30Westpac Stadium
      BRI vs NEW 19:30SUN
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      CBR vs CRO 14:00GIO
      WST vs MEL 16:00VAS
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      Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
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      CBY vs GCT 15:00ANZ
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      NQL vs PAR 19:301300
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      PAR vs CBY 19:50ANZ
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      SYD vs NEW 17:30CCS
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      WST vs NEW 15:00CSS
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      Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
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      CBR vs CBY 16:00GIO
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      NQL vs NEW 17:301300
      MEL vs PEN 19:30AAMI
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      SOU vs GCT 18:30nib Stadium
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      NEW vs NZW 15:00HS
      PAR vs GCT 17:30TIO
      SYD vs MEL 19:30AS
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      MAN vs PEN 16:00BO
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      STG vs CBY 16:00ANZ
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      Round 16
      Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
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      CRO vs NZW 17:30Shark Park
      CBY vs BRI 19:30ANZ
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      GCT vs CBR 14:00Cbus
      MEL vs WST 16:00AAMI
      Mon, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
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      BRI vs MEL 19:50SUN
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      NZW vs GCT 15:00MSS
      WST vs PEN 17:30ANZ
      CRO vs PAR 19:30Shark Park
      Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
      CBR vs NEW 14:00GIO
      SOU vs NQL 16:00Barlow Park
      Mon, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
      MAN vs STG 19:00BO
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      PAR vs SYD 19:50Pirtek
      Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
      CBY vs WST 19:30ANZ
      Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
      PEN vs CRO 16:00Pepp
      Mon, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
      CBR vs NQL 19:00GIO
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      Round 19
      Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
      STG vs GCT 19:50Jubilee Oval
      Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
      MAN vs NZW 17:30nib Stadium
      SOU vs BRI 19:30ANZ
      Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
      NEW vs MEL 14:00HS
      PEN vs PAR 16:00Pepp
      Mon, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
      SYD vs CRO 19:00AS
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      Round 20
      Thu, 21 JulTimes shown AEST
      NQL vs CBY 19:501300
      Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
      BRI vs PEN 19:50SUN
      Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
      CBR vs NZW 15:00GIO
      GCT vs PAR 17:30Cbus
      MEL vs SYD 19:30AAMI
      Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
      CRO vs NEW 14:00Shark Park
      STG vs WST 16:00ANZ
      Mon, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
      SOU vs MAN 19:00ANZ
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      Round 21
      Wed, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
      NZW vs PEN 22:00MSS
      Thu, 28 JulTimes shown AEST
      SYD vs BRI 00:00AS
      CBY vs STG 00:00ANZ
      GCT vs CRO 00:00Cbus
      PAR vs WST 00:00ANZ
      SOU vs CBR 00:00ANZ
      MAN vs NEW 00:00BO
      NQL vs MEL 00:001300
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      Round 22
      Thu, 04 AugTimes shown AEST
      STG vs BRI 00:00WIN
      PAR vs MAN 00:00Pirtek
      CRO vs CBR 00:00Shark Park
      NEW vs CBY 00:00HS
      MEL vs SOU 00:00AAMI
      GCT vs NZW 00:00Cbus
      WST vs NQL 00:00VAS
      PEN vs SYD 00:00Pepp
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      Round 23
      Wed, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
      NZW vs SOU 22:00MSS
      Thu, 11 AugTimes shown AEST
      CBY vs MAN 00:00ANZ
      BRI vs PAR 00:00SUN
      WST vs GCT 00:00CSS
      STG vs CRO 00:00Jubilee Oval
      NEW vs PEN 00:00HS
      SYD vs NQL 00:00AS
      CBR vs MEL 00:00GIO
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      Round 24
      Thu, 18 AugTimes shown AEST
      BRI vs CBY 00:00SUN
      SYD vs STG 00:00AS
      NEW vs GCT 00:00HS
      NQL vs NZW 00:001300
      MAN vs MEL 00:00BO
      CBR vs PAR 00:00GIO
      PEN vs WST 00:00Pepp
      SOU vs CRO 00:00ANZ
      View All Fixtures
      Round 25
      Wed, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
      NZW vs WST 22:00MSS
      Thu, 25 AugTimes shown AEST
      CBY vs NQL 00:00Belmore Sports Ground
      MEL vs BRI 00:00AAMI
      GCT vs PEN 00:00Cbus
      MAN vs CBR 00:00BO
      CRO vs SYD 00:00Shark Park
      NEW vs SOU 00:00HS
      PAR vs STG 00:00Pirtek
      View All Fixtures
      Round 26
      Wed, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
      NZW vs PAR 22:00MSS
      Thu, 01 SepTimes shown AEST
      BRI vs SYD 00:00SUN
      CBY vs SOU 00:00ANZ
      STG vs NEW 00:00Jubilee Oval
      NQL vs GCT 00:001300
      MEL vs CRO 00:00AAMI
      WST vs CBR 00:00VAS
      PEN vs MAN 00:00Pepp
      View All Fixtures

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