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Politicians insult rugby league by treating it as AFL's poor cousin

<em>www.michaelmucci.com</em>

www.michaelmucci.com

Both the Raiders and the Sharks need to win today's elimination final at Canberra Stadium to shore up future support from contrasting stakeholders. Each club has what the other wants.

Canberra have strong licensed club support but a fickle fan base.

They need to rekindle the glory days, when devoted fans lit fires in the garbage bins of Seiffert Oval at Queanbeyan to warm their hands and federal politicians wore lime green jumpers to Parliament House.

Cronulla have the support of ''the Shire'', including politicians of all persuasions, but they need more cash than their recently approved property deal, which eliminates $10 million of their debt.

The Raiders are the dark horse in the eyes of many NRL players and, if they progress through the finals, watch their members and publicity-hungry politicians jump aboard the bandwagon. Raiders chairman John McIntyre said early this week: ''We sold 9000 tickets on Monday … all to members … but six weeks ago our email system was choked with members saying they would not renew their memberships.''

Cronulla's fan base is more loyal but they need to win for the sponsors' cash to build the resources of the football club.

The words of former Cronulla coach John Lang are still valid. ''People talk about the Sharks never winning a premiership but it's a victory for the club every year just to survive,'' he said.

The playing strengths of each club also offer contrasts.

Canberra depend on tries from their big right-hand side attack.

They reach a ''train line'' on the field in line with a position to the left of the goalposts, giving them almost two-thirds of the field to swing the ball to their right wing.

Cronulla's great asset is their captain, lock Paul Gallen. Against Melbourne two weeks ago, he was the best player on the field. The Storm could not prevent his offloads, which resulted in tries.

While the Sharks have been in the league 45 years without a premiership, the Raiders took only seven years to win their first one, the 1989 extra-time thriller over Balmain. They even celebrated their first grand final loss. It was a reserve-grade grand final against St George in 1985.

McIntyre recalls: ''It was our first grand final team and they put on a reception for the team in King's Hall in the Old Parliament House. When we won the first-grade grand final in 1989, we were invited to the Lodge by (the then prime minister) Bob Hawke and his wife Hazel.

''Kevvy Walters, who comes from a large family in Ipswich, said to Hazel: 'Gee Mrs Hawke, you must have been up all night making these sandwiches.'''

These were the days veteran politician Fred Daly and Canberra MP Ros Kelly were regulars in the Raiders' dressing room. Now, however, the local politicians are eulogising the AFL.

ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr recently justified the $26 million of ratepayers' money he has given Greater Western Sydney to play three games a year at Manuka Oval by implying the decision to play rugby league's Anzac Test at Canberra Stadium next year was in response to the success of the Giants.

''From the vantage point of year one, it's exceeded expectations and I'll make the bold prediction that if the Giants find themselves in finals in five years' time … this ground will sell out,'' Barr said. ''It hasn't gone unnoticed that the rugby league have stepped up with the Kangaroos [playing the Kiwis at Canberra Stadium for the Anzac Test] … my observation of the AFL is that they don't often get shown up.''

A Kangaroos Test scheduled for Canberra to thwart the Homebush Giants' growth in the ACT? Rubbish. The Australian Rugby League Commission's decision to play New Zealand in Canberra had nothing to do with the Giants.

Next year is the centenary of Canberra and the ARLC merely responded to an invitation from the committee to help celebrate the city's 100 years. Still, the ARLC was paid less than $1 million to bring the game to the federal capital, about the same value as one game of the three for which the ACT pays the Giants $2.6 million a year for 10 years.

At finals time, the politicians like to be seen at the football. After the Broncos' win against Penrith last week at Suncorp Stadium, former prime minister Kevin Rudd asked Brisbane chief executive Paul White if could he visit the dressing room and speak to the players. White told him the players' schedule did not allow it.

The ARLC should follow his lead and withdraw all hospitality to politicians until they fund rugby league in the same measure they give grants to the AFL. In the Canberra region, rugby league has three development officers and AFL has 11.

Politicians shouldn't forget the people of the ACT didn't call themselves Canberrans until the Raiders won the 1989 premiership with a team based in Queanbeyan.

With the Giants playing only three games a year in Canberra and the Brumbies using the city as a dormitory during the winter, the Raiders are the only genuine football team in the national capital.

Four Nations 2014

Round 1
Sat, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
ENG 32 vs SAM 26 Stats
AUS 12 vs NEWZ 30 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
NEWZ vs SAM 14:00Toll Stadium
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
AUS vs ENG 16:00AAMI Park, Melbourne
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 08 NovTimes shown AEDT
NEWZ vs ENG 17:30Forsyth Barr Stadium
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
AUS vs SAM 16:00WIN
View All Fixtures
Four Nations 2014
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 1 1 0 0 18 2
England 1 1 0 0 6 2
Samoa 1 0 1 0 -6 0
Australia 1 0 1 0 -18 0
View all
 
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