NRL's season ends in darkness, AFL's in a burst of light
Melbourne Storm won the grand final which, if the NRL had genuine expansionary zeal, would be a result to shout from the hill tops. Photo: Getty Images
In the Battle of the Codes, the season started so promisingly for the NRL. The $1 billion-ish media rights deal should have made it a roaring success. Yet, in the home straight, the AFL bounded away riding hands and heels.
First came the embarrassment of Gillon McLachlan - the Smithers to AFL boss Andrew Demetriou's Mr Burns - turning down the chief executive's post.
At last report, the ARL Commission was seen interviewing Nathan Stubbles, the 19-year-old assistant manager of the Cabramatta McDonald's. However, Stubbles is believed to be reluctant to take the NRL's top job. Why give up the free upsizing on a Quarter Pounder meal deal when, at League Central, you would have the self-serving club warlords thwarting your every move?
The [Brownlow Medal] winner, Essendon's Jobe Watson, was everything the NRL club's paranoid, delusional media minders strive to stop their players from becoming. Photo: Paul Rovere
McLachlan's snub came - not coincidentally - on the same night as the Dally Ms. The M, it turned out, was for mumble - the sound made by most of the award winners on a night of asinine smart-aleckry barely fit for the Sydney University Liberal Club.
In comparison, not even the routine objectification of female guests on the red carpet detracted from the professionalism of the AFL's Brownlow Medal. The winner, Essendon's Jobe Watson, was everything the NRL club's paranoid, delusional media minders strive to stop their players from becoming. Eloquent, humble, charming and willing to embrace the public, not hide behind the smarmy gatekeepers.
Melbourne Storm won the grand final which, if the NRL had genuine expansionary zeal, would be a result to shout from the hill tops. ''Yes, we have punished them. But you can't keep our only genuine non-heartland club down!''
Instead, when the result became evident, Channel Nine's commentators sounded as if they were describing a state funeral rather than one of the game's great stories. It is a tone that reflects the game's navel-gazing. If not even the rights holders who stand to benefit from sustained growth in new markets can't seem enthusiastic about non-Sydney teams, what chance the public?
It did not help that Bulldogs' forward James Graham packed a bottle of chianti and a plate of fava beans in his kit bag. Yet, worse than the sight of Graham munching on Billy Slater's ear on the NRL's biggest stage, was the abject defence in the face of overwhelming evidence. One that left you wondering why a club that has worked tremendously hard to improve its public image did not act in the game's best interests, giving an apology and a guilty plea.
It is to be hoped the process was not hijacked by Canterbury's football department, and allowed to become more fodder for the retrograde us-against-the-world culture that engulfed the game in the latter stages of the season. The growing assumption, inspired by Des Hasler's success at Fortress Manly and Stalag Belmore, that success comes in direct proportion to the length at which you hold the world.
Deluded by this myth, the fans laud their club's win-at-all-costs mentality and support the lame defence of self-defeating media bans and player misbehaviour. But what if part of the cost is the health of the game they love? What if the supposed injustices coaches use to bond their players create a stench that keeps others, who should be attracted by the NRL's combative athleticism, away?
Most obviously, such self-serving insularity fosters the mob mentality that, since the appalling gang-bang cases of the past, the NRL has attempted to eradicate. Even among the thoughtful and articulate players who should be driving the game's growth, there grows the false assumption that their only responsibility to the sport is 80 minutes of mayhem.
In that environment, little wonder a female reporter is seen as fair game for obscene, cowardly taunts. Or that, in yesterday's unsatisfying ''apology'', the Bulldogs seriously expect us to believe the still unnamed culprits were singing in the shower.
Compare this with the AFL's euphoria about the Sydney Swans' tremendous victory. A heroic battle that resulted in the all-conquering Swans being paraded through the city streets to the cheers of an adoring crowd.
The Swans are, at least fleetingly, beloved champions. GWS will grow fat on more rich pickings from the upcoming draft - which comes after an elongated three-week trade period from which the AFL generates yet more publicity. The risk is that the AFL's new free agency rules will weaken player/club allegiances. But, as the rugby league season fizzles out with a Test match that captures few imaginations, the AFL continues to wheel out the heavy artillery.
The NRL? It, too, has armed clubs for battle. However, at the end of what should have been a great season, it shot itself in the foot.
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