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League finally learns to kick with right

Valuable politician: John Howard is revered at St George.

Valuable politician: John Howard is revered at St George. Photo: Jim Rice

RUGBY league, historically aligned to the Labor Party, is set to benefit from a pre-election strategy to embrace the Coalition, while the AFL, wedded to the ALP for more than a decade, will lose influence in Canberra.

The new ARL Commission-Liberal courtship has already paid off, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledging $12 million during the election campaign for a Panthers community and sports centre, $10 million for an upgrade of Brookvale Oval and $5 million for the Broncos to expand their training grounds.

Two weeks ago, the AFL staged a semi-final at Geelong's recently renovated boutique stadium, partly with the hope of attracting more funding from the incoming Abbott government. It was rebuffed.

Julia Gillard was honoured as the Western Bulldogs No.1 ticketholder.

Julia Gillard was honoured as the Western Bulldogs No.1 ticketholder. Photo: John Woudstra

But the AFL benefited from the taxpayer during six years of Labor rule, with generous grants, including stadium upgrades nationally.

Rugby league won some funding under the Gillard/Rudd governments but this was mainly as a result of the influence of former deputy prime minister Anthony Albanese, one of the few remaining Labor powerbrokers with loyalties to a code once called ''the working-class game''.

Albanese, a lifelong Souths supporter, lobbied to hand the Rabbitohs $16 million for a new training headquarters at Heffron Park and helped then minister Tony Burke to secure $4 million for the further redevelopment of Belmore Sports Ground, in Burke's electorate.

Anthony Albanese puts up another bomb.

Anthony Albanese puts up another bomb. Photo: Andrew Meares

ARLC chief executive David Smith sniffed the political wind months ago and invited then shadow treasurer Joe Hockey to speak at a July boardroom lunch attended by key business figures.

He also engaged lobbyists Crosby Textor Research Strategies Results to advise on research undertaken.

Lynton Crosby, the co-owner, works for British Prime Minister David Cameron and was recently in Australia during the visit of London mayor Boris Johnson, where he remarked on the close AFL-Labor alliance. The other half owner, Mark Textor, is the Liberal Party pollster.

While the ARLC has not yet asked Crosby Textor to lobby for federal government funding to match that which flowed, under diverse budgets, to the AFL, the relationship between the lobbyists, the political party and the sporting code is expected to grow.

Smith's predecessor David Gallop, who is now head of the FFA, points out his sport appointed Crosby Textor as a consultant well before the ARLC, an appointment probably promulgated by FFA chairman Frank Lowy, who can outmanoeuvre even the AFL when it comes to having taxpayers pay the bills.

However, Smith did initiate the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of Rugby League groups in Canberra and Brisbane, ironically with the assistance of Chris Brown, the son of Labor's former federal sports minister John Brown.

These associations of state and federal politicians of different parties with a common interest in rugby league died during the Super League war and have been reformed.

In fact, on the day of the second State of Origin match, the federal group played touch football on the lawns of Parliament House at 7.45am, attended the launch at 10am and the Labor members adjourned that evening for the ballot, which led to Kevin Rudd returning to The Lodge. Albanese and Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce played touch football and new Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal MP John Alexander attended the launch.

Essentially, Australia's two biggest football codes have switched their historic political loyalties.

Rugby league was closely tied to the ALP since its inception, with its first full-time official, Ted Larkin, resigning in 1913 to become the member for Willoughby, the first seat won by Labor on the north side of the harbour. Two years later, he died at Gallipoli.

Prominent Labor figures H. V. Evatt and Sir William McKell were fierce advocates of the code.

The AFL, on the other hand, enjoyed the patronage of Sir Robert Menzies and a letter has recently surfaced where another Carlton-supporting prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, thanked the Blues 1979 captain-coach for keeping his government off the front pages of the Melbourne papers.

In recent years the AFL Commission has appointed Labor-leaning board members, such as former ACTU boss Bill Kelty and Sam Mostyn, once head of the Office of the Status of Women in the government of Paul Keating.

Former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello is prone to call the AFL ''the Kremlin'', although the commission includes Liberal-leaning directors, such as Rio Tinto's Chris Lynch.

While Andrew Demetriou insists his code is ''politically agnostic'', his close ties with Canberra, including his central position at the February ''blackest day in Australian sport'' national press conference, have produced a different perception.

Meanwhile, rugby league has drifted from its relatively recent past where it was identified with the right wing of the ALP.

Former Labor ministers and powerbrokers such as Graham Richardson, Laurie Brereton, Doug McClelland and son Robert, Stephen Loosley, Kerry Sibraa, Ben Humphreys and Brown, have all been passionate league supporters.

While rugby league has always maintained a connection with the Coalition - former prime minister John Howard is revered at St George - the code's new leaders felt alienated by Labor, particularly with the constant message Canberra viewed its administration as incompetent and inferior to the AFL.

Now, with a new government, rugby league is striving to change that perception, while the AFL may well paper Liberal headquarters with grand final tickets and invite deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan - nephew of arch conservative powerbroker Ian - to take Demetriou's job.

8 comments so far

  • Just gives me another reason to dislike St George. Sadly, the League smarties might get a few greasy dollars but it will do little for the families and communities that are the heart of Rugby League. League's player will still come from the poorest communities in Australia that the Liberal Party largely despises and disregards. For example, the Liberal Party's elitist education policies that provide huge benefits to private education will do little for our public education which most League players and their families attend.

    Warren Ross
    Date and time
    September 21, 2013, 7:21AM
    • Agree totally Warren, until league is played in private schools and brought back into all state schools this is just a marriage of convenience. League is the working class game and always will be! In QLD it is alarming the number of state schools playing AFL and this has been happening through both sets of governments over a long period of time.
      Roy I really don't understand your obsession with politics in league now, get back to what your good at and write about the game

      Date and time
      September 21, 2013, 9:17AM
  • And with a PM and federal treasurer who are both Sydney boys, may the trend continue. Perhaps Tony Abbott could prevail on the ARLC that if they want more federal largesse, they should allow preliminary finals games to be played again at suburban grounds?

    And isn't it about time that the man who has been promoted above his station, Mr Todd Greenberg, was sacked over the Barba cover-up?

    Date and time
    September 21, 2013, 8:59AM
    • Didn't we leave the Tories with Rugby Union? It suits their fat, soft bodies.

      Yeah right
      Date and time
      September 21, 2013, 9:04AM
      • What a bunch of whinging tossers "warren, what..& yeah" are!

        Rugby League players and supporters come from all sections of the community rich and poor. and what's the definition of "working class" ? for me it's someone who works....I never worked harder than when I had my own business.

        Private education gets more/as much funding because it's enrolments are increasing while public schools are decreasing.

        And if you think the Labour politicians are really interested in the poor part of town have a look where your ex Prime Ministers are living. Paul Keating in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, Bob Hawke in Sydney's lower North Shore and according to the SMH Julia Gillard has recently bought a $1.5 million house in Adelaide. All of them now multi millionaires and I'm sure rarely seen in the poor parts of anywhere.

        Sports funding is like any form of funding...It's whatever suits the local candidate/member/party at the time.

        Steve D
        Date and time
        September 21, 2013, 9:53AM
        • Always remember little Johnny Howard in his ARU tracksuit at night watching the Rugby or cricket then up in he morning doing his walk.Did he sleep in it? Never saw him in St George attire or at a game except for getting booed at grand finals.At least Julia went to some of her Bulldogs games

          Date and time
          September 21, 2013, 11:14AM
          • Roy, it has everything to do with which state the PM and senior officials represent. Fraser, Menzies and Gillard were Victorians and so AFL was favoured. Howard and Abbott are from Sydney and so favour the NRL. It's as simple as that.

            Date and time
            September 21, 2013, 1:27PM
            • Two men and dog at the finals, a big club like Saints can't pay the rent, a bigger club like Parra a shambles, Balmain Magpies broke, State of Origin a one-sided bore, refs can't ref, pointless rule changes every 5 minutes, dumb bogan players with no personality or loyalty, repetitious 5 tackle kick, 5 tackle kick, 5 tackle kick with no contest for possession, token "scrums" , endless delays after every try for a video ref that still gets it wrong half the time, soulless franchise teams...the list goes on.

              Face it the game is slowly dying - and good riddance. Real Rugby League died years ago anyway..

              NRL = Not Rugby League
              Part of the Union now.
              Date and time
              September 21, 2013, 3:27PM

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              NRL Season 2015

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              CBR 20vs STG 22 Report Stats
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              GCT 18vs NEW 20 Report Stats
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              SYD 20vs PEN 12 Report Stats
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              PAR 29vs SOU 16 Report Stats
              WST 24vs CBY 25 Report Stats
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              NEW 26vs PEN 14 Report Stats
              CRO 22vs GCT 24 Report Stats
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              NZW 28vs GCT 32 Report Stats
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              CBR 56vs GCT 16 Stats
              CRO 16vs NZW 20 Stats
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              MAN 30vs NEW 10 Stats
              PAR 10vs MEL 28 Stats
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              CBY 10vs SYD 24 Stats
              NQL 31vs BRI 20 Stats
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              PAR 13vs NZW 17 Report Stats
              GCT 22vs CRO 23 Report Stats
              MEL 16vs SOU 12 Stats
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              STG 32vs CBR 18 Report Stats
              NEW 22vs WST 12 Stats
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              MAN 10vs PEN 11 Stats
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              SOU 14vs PAR 12 Report Stats
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              WST 0vs NQL 8 Report Stats
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              CBR 34vs CBY 41 Stats
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              Round 12
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              PEN 20vs PAR 26 Stats
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              GCT 16vs SOU 22 Report Stats
              CBR 12vs BRI 24 Stats
              NQL 18vs MAN 14 Report Stats
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              SOU 36vs NZW 4 Stats
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              WST 34vs SOU 6 Report Stats
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              MEL 12vs BRI 14 Report Stats
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              BRI 44vs NEW 22 Stats
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              NQL 18vs CRO 24 Report Stats
              PAR 16vs STG 12 Report Stats
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              Round 19
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              MAN 12vs NQL 30 Stats
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              Round 20
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              BRI 34vs GCT 0 Report Stats
              WST 8vs SYD 33 Stats
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              MEL 22vs STG 4 Stats
              SOU 52vs NEW 6 Stats
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              PEN 24vs CBR 34 Report Stats
              CBY 16vs CRO 18 Report Stats
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              NQL 46vs PAR 4 Stats
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              Round 21
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              SYD 38vs CBY 28 Report Stats
              WST 34vs MEL 16 Report Stats
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              NQL 32vs CBR 24 Stats
              MAN 44vs BRI 14 Stats
              Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
              STG 46vs NEW 24 Stats
              SOU 20vs PEN 16 Report Stats
              Mon, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
              GCT 24vs PAR 14 Stats
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              Round 22
              Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
              BRI 16vs CBY 18 Report Stats
              MAN 28vs SOU 8 Stats
              Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
              NZW 0vs STG 36 Stats
              CRO 30vs NQL 18 Stats
              PAR 10vs PEN 4 Stats
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              MEL 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
              NEW 22vs SYD 38 Report Stats
              Mon, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
              CBR 18vs WST 20 Stats
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              Round 23
              Thu, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
              NQL 18vs SOU 31 Stats
              Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
              BRI 32vs STG 6 Report Stats
              Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
              WST 18vs NEW 24 Stats
              PEN 24vs NZW 10 Stats
              SYD 28vs PAR 18 Stats
              Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
              CBR 24vs MAN 26 Stats
              CBY 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
              Mon, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
              CRO 2vs MEL 30 Stats
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              Round 24
              Thu, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
              STG 19vs PEN 12 Report Stats
              Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
              SOU 18vs CBY 32 Report Stats
              Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
              CRO 40vs WST 18 Report Stats
              NZW 16vs NQL 50 Report Stats
              SYD 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
              Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
              GCT 28vs CBR 12 Stats
              MAN 16vs PAR 20 Report Stats
              Mon, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
              MEL 6vs NEW 20 Report Stats
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              Round 25
              Thu, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
              SOU 12vs BRI 47 Report Stats
              Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
              MAN 10vs SYD 46 Report Stats
              Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
              PAR 28vs CRO 35 Stats
              NEW 18vs CBY 20 Stats
              MEL 14vs NQL 6 Report Stats
              Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
              WST 50vs NZW 16 Report Stats
              GCT 28vs STG 26 Stats
              Mon, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
              CBR 34vs PEN 18 Stats
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              Round 26
              Thu, 03 SepTimes shown AEST
              BRI 8vs MEL 15 Report Stats
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              SYD 30vs SOU 0 Report Stats
              Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
              PEN 30vs NEW 12 Stats
              STG 32vs WST 30 Stats
              NQL 42vs GCT 12 Stats
              Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
              PAR 24vs CBR 28 Stats
              CRO 12vs MAN 14 Stats
              CBY 26vs NZW 22 Stats
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              Telstra Premiership Finals Round 1
              Fri, 11 SepTimes shown AEST
              SYD 18vs MEL 20 Report Stats
              Sat, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
              CBY 11vs STG 10 Report Stats
              BRI 16vs NQL 12 Report Stats
              Sun, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
              CRO 28vs SOU 12 Report Stats
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              Telstra Premiership Finals Round 2
              Fri, 18 SepTimes shown AEST
              SYD 38vs CBY 12 Report Stats
              Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
              NQL 39vs CRO 0 Report Stats
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              Telstra Premiership Finals Round 3
              Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
              BRI 31vs SYD 12 Stats
              Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
              MEL 12vs NQL 32 Stats
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              Telstra Premiership Finals Round 4
              Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEDT
              BRI 16vs NQL 17 Report Stats
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              NRL Ladder 2015
              Overall standings
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              Sydney Roosters 24 18 6 0 291 40
              Brisbane Broncos 24 17 7 0 195 38
              North Queensland Cowboys 24 17 7 0 133 38
              Melbourne Storm 24 14 10 0 119 32
              Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 24 14 10 0 42 32
              Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 24 14 10 0 -7 32
              South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 13 11 0 -2 30
              St George-Illawarra Dragons 24 12 12 0 27 28
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