As hungry and unpredictable as a Kodiak on April Fool's Day, rugby league is emerging from hibernation.
We'll pick up where we left off; in depleted stadiums, the acoustics of which to once again lay bare the true bone-crunching nature of the game.
Difficult as it is for a sport to be any more reductive than grown men playing an expensive version of schoolyard Red Rover Cross Over, just before coronavirus sinbinned NRL for 10 weeks, those doomed Round 2 fixtures treated or subjected followers to a kind of uncensored physicality rarely experienced anywhere but ringside.
Staying north of the 49th parallel for a moment, each time one grunting player collided with another on those lonely ovals of long-gone March, it was as if we were watching and hearing rutting bucks clash on a Yukon mountainside. With no white noise of humanity in the bleachers to blunt the televised brutality, skin meeting skin slapped like lightning; muscle against muscle like deep thunder.
Their bodies facing such seismic expectations each week, it's little wonder footy players have ballooned from a once-agile species draped in ill-fitting guernseys hot off the coach's Hills Hoist to tumescent hulks popping the seams of their gaudy polyester epidermises.
The death last weekend of dual-code legend Arthur "Stumpy" Summons (a short bloke) threw this contrast of old hard men v new into sharp relief. The Gladiators photo of mud-caked Summons and Norm "Sticks" Provan (a tall bloke) after the 1963 grand final between Western Suburbs and St George might have inspired the NRL premiership trophy but John O'Gready's iconic picture also seems to be telling us much more, such as what we're doing to ourselves as a race.
Footballing skill, courage and fitness aside, it's hard to imagine such classic chassis as Sticks' and Stumpy's (didn't we used to play that after Red Rover?) holding out for too long against the souped-up models of modernity. In essence, those more natural yet fallible body types have been bred out to make way for the built-for-purpose neckless tanks of flesh we'll see running onto the pitch Thursday night.
It turns out domestic blindness is a communicable disease, so, while men simply cannot see that discarded sock on the floor, our partners are apparently just as oblivious (yeah, right) to the inexorable flow of lumpy bits spreading next to them under the doona like so much male-pattern porridge.
Down the pub and in lounge rooms throughout our little country community, black-and-white photos of the families who carved this place from the bush serve as a reminder as to the death of the old-fashioned male form. Perusing those faces from the past - Robin Williams wheezing "seize the day, boys" in your ear - you can't argue with the science that says diet and environmental factors are making us fatter (guilty) and taller (sadly, not guilty).
In some quarters, such a notion, which seems to border on acquired characteristics, is even earning poor old Lamarck's evolutionary theory a second glance.
We've been a part of this village long enough now to have witnessed the extinction of those male forms of yesteryear. We've farewelled men (not necessarily smokers, either) who stayed lean and muscular all their lives; who lived and died with the same hard edge as the chunks of granite lurking below the shovel every time you try to dig a hole around these parts.
Compared with the female body, it's fair enough the male version is overlooked, but Walt Whitman could well have been eulogising the aesthetic prowess of one of our neighbours (who, before his mind cruelly gave way, elegantly strode town well into his 90s) when he said: "To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more. You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side."
Similarly, with Thomas Eakins' 1885 oil on canvas Swimming (The Swimming Hole) under the microscope in the Los Angeles Review of Books recently, it's fascinating (actually, it's horrifying) to think what such a genius might do with naked men sunning themselves by a river in 2020 - surely love handles and an Esky on wheels could only improve on the original?
But it's not just old paintings and photos which seem to be drawing attention to the decline of a standard. Male-dominated writing rooms have become apologist engines of self-awareness and surrender. Each time attractive Marge forgives selfish, ugly Homer, we silently cheer ourselves on. Each time thin Lois turns a blind eye to fat Peter's boorish behaviour, we know we're flawed but lovable. Whenever one of Seth Rogen's slackers inexplicably cusses his way into the bed of a Charlize Theron or Katherine Heigl high achiever, the status quo isn't only safe, it's being handed its pipe and slippers.
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And in another stroke of deserved luck for Generation Pillow, it turns out domestic blindness is a communicable disease, so, while men simply cannot see that discarded sock on the floor, our partners are apparently just as oblivious (yeah, right) to the inexorable flow of lumpy bits spreading next to them under the doona like so much male-pattern porridge.
Returning to those rutting deer, poet Sharon Olds explores this capsizing imbalance of the pardoning female in her 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning break-up collection Stag's Leap, when she laments the loss of the rather pedestrian shape from the marital bed of the man who knocked her for six by up and leaving in that post-marathon time of life when hard-won security is supposed to be part of the furniture.
"... a north-island baby's body become a man's ... in a sweep, calf shin knee thigh pelvis waist, and I run my irises over his feathered chest and on his neck ... My body may never learn not to yearn for that one ..."
In the propinquity of lockdown, we've been watching our own babies' bodies develop. Different sexes, different ages, we're getting the whole spectrum, sparking bouts of pride and sadness.
Worryingly, however, we've also been watching the children grow while hunched over devices and we've been wondering about Lamarckian evolutionary theory ourselves; wondering what happens when the pliable template of youth that once stretched for tree branches is becoming retarded by the environment of technology.
We suppose sport is as good a countermeasure as any and like a lot of parents we can't wait to send the kids back onto the paddock when things return to normal.
As we talk team competition, I even find myself sizing up my eight-year-old boy's form, as if he were livestock approaching the next stage.
I think how I started playing footy around his age and soon I'm remembering all the great things both league and union gave me over the years - confidence, resilience, heaps of fun, several concussions, a thrice-broken collarbone and even surgery.
He can play soccer.
- B.R. Doherty is a regular columnist.