Why rugby risks getting the State of the Union all wrong

When Hamish McLennan and Rob Clarke unveiled rugby’s big and diverse new broadcast package this week it was seen by many as a statement that the game is still here and will do whatever it takes to remain relevant and pertinent. The offering is broad and complicated and a lot of it requires forward-thinking from […]

Why rugby risks getting the State of the Union all wrong

When Hamish McLennan and Rob Clarke unveiled rugby’s big and diverse new broadcast package this week it was seen by many as a statement that the game is still here and will do whatever it takes to remain relevant and pertinent.

The offering is broad and complicated and a lot of it requires forward-thinking from a flexible mindset given so much about the future is uncertain.

Yet one thing that has been a point of speculation for so long seems now to be part of the official offering: the State of the Union, which is essentially State of Origin by another name.

At first look this seems a wonderful idea considering the NRL equivalent is Australia’s most-watched television event and has the ability to sell out stadiums all across the nation. Indeed one wonders why rugby have waited this long to try and emulate it.

(Photo by Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images)

Some of the reluctance and pushback is understandable: ‘rugby encompasses the whole of Australia, not just two states’, and, ‘We risk devaluing the international game’ are lines of thinking often trotted out when an Origin-style contest is considered for rugby, yet it appears the appeal of a match that attracts nearly three million sets of eyes every time it’s played is too big an attraction not to at least emulate.

The mere proposal of an idea like this was an immediate success, with instant coverage in News Corp papers and websites – a company supposedly meant to be hostile towards Rugby Australia – and much discussion from fans of both league and union fans.

Yet on closer inspection this concept strays from Origin as we know it. When spruiking the new broadcast deal Hamish McLennan stated that the game would involve players from outside of New South Wales and Queensland through the form of a televised draft. That isn’t Origin; that is something entirely different.

The beauty of Origin is its simplicity. Two teams full of players going back to where their sports careers started, tearing lumps out of each other. Because the game represents heritage, there is always something to play for, and whether it be crowds, ratings or merchandise sales, every metric reflects the game’s success.

Josh McGuire

State of Origin just works (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Many argue that rugby doesn’t need an engaging domestic representative because the game has such a broad and popular international component. Yet evidence suggests that trying to push the ‘rugby is growing globally’ line isn’t resonating with many Australians. The fact is a lot of sports can’t afford and don’t desire to see a packed Twickenham, Millennium or Newlands, and it has been a long time since the Wallabies filled Olympic Park and had a team stacked with national icons.

Recently it seems that club, grassroots and provincial rugby have been seen as the ingredients of the Wallabies cake. Perhaps now it’s time we see these elements as the cake itself and the Wallabies as the icing.

It will be a challenge for rugby to set this game apart from any other Reds vs Waratahs encounter, but as stated earlier, the media is paying attention and very eager to talk about this concept. If it goes ahead, rugby needs to work hard to get the eligibility criteria spot on, with players willing to give their all for their state.

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Yes, there were times when the NRL got this drastically wrong – names like Greg Inglis and Tony Carroll come to mind – but they have since tried hard to arrest this. Rugby Australia has a much smaller group of top-class players to pick from but still must resist padding out the teams with players from Perth, Melbourne and Fiji.

The NRLW manage to pick their Origin squads from four clubs, one of which is mostly ineligible New Zealanders, and the game still attracts over a million viewers, so it can be done when all those involved buy into the idea.

Though I am a huge NSW fan and I write this from the standpoint of someone who resides in Western Sydney, my origin lies in Thessaloniki, where I was born and lived until I was 11. Desperate to integrate seamlessly and quickly, my father sought the advice of colleagues of his in the Greek navy who told him that Sydneysiders love rugby. The fact there were two distinct codes was lost in translation, which is how I ended up playing rugby union as a kid, yet at my local public school each winter the talk of Origin swept up all and I couldn’t help but become enraptured by the game, which is why both my son and daughter now play league.

Origin thrives in places like Western Sydney, a place in which rugby has traditionally struggled.

Ultimately the success of an enterprise like this lies with the players and coaches hyping the game like crazy. The mention of Origin will have the media paying attention, and it’s up to those involved to get their faces in front of the cameras selling stories. Punching may be a thing of the past, but the State of the Union series needs its own Arthur Beetson-Mick Cronin story, something that will launch the game into Australian sports folklore.

If you look at the viewing numbers of the current Super Rugby AU season, it points out that games involving New South Wales or Queensland rate far higher than games that don’t, so don’t the two biggest rugby states in Australia deserve a game that celebrates this fact while also taking the fight to the NRL?

Rugby is at a pivotal time in its history in this country. The new broadcast deal will cement its future, and it should have an event that stretches its viewership beyond traditional audiences and packs stadiums.

Source : The Roar More   

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Super Rugby AU Round 9: Tight, but not tipping panel tight

Super Rugby AU has set itself up for a thrilling conclusion, with only two points separating the Brumbies and Reds, and just one splitting the Rebels and Waratahs below them. The final finishing order won’t be fully known until the end of the last round next weekend. This weekend’s equations? The Brumbies on 23 can […]

Super Rugby AU Round 9: Tight, but not tipping panel tight

Super Rugby AU has set itself up for a thrilling conclusion, with only two points separating the Brumbies and Reds, and just one splitting the Rebels and Waratahs below them. The final finishing order won’t be fully known until the end of the last round next weekend.

This weekend’s equations?

The Brumbies on 23 can wrap up the minor premiership with a win over the Force in Canberra on Friday night. That would put then at least six points clear of the Reds, who have the bye this weekend and host the Brumbies in the final round.

The Waratahs on 15 must beat the Rebels on Saturday night (a bonus point would also be handy) to remain a mathematical playoffs chance with the bye next weekend. A win would put them five clear of the Rebels on 14, and they’d then be sweating on the Rebels-Force result in the final round.

The Rebels can secure a playoffs berth by beating the Waratahs, and then a combination of their result over the Force and the Reds-Brumbies result next weekend would determine their final position.

It’s tight. But not nearly as tight as the tipping panel, with a three-way deadlock on top, and the rest of the field falling within three points. And there are just six games to play.

Last week: Harry one; everyone else two.

Overall: Harry, Brett, and The Crowd 26; Digger 25, Dan 24, Nobes and Geoff 23.

Harry

Brumbies, Waratahs
The tipping competition has tightened, like a scrum reset and reset again. The Waratahs needed luck to win in the sleet, but received less than none from Angus the Chatty Gardener. With the first match a foregone conclusion (Brumbies by 60+), the key to tipping supremacy will once again rest on the fickle fortunes of the lads from Melbourne and Sydney. The short answer is: I don’t know. I don’t even have a strong feeling.

The reason it is hard to split these two teams is they are on par. The Tahs score 0.2 more tries per game, tackle only one per cent better, carry 3.3 meters per run (equal), and have only three per cent more “good carries” (carries which end in a beaten defender or clean break). The Rebels kick better from hand, and have a 1:2 ratio of winning to losing turnovers (the Tahs are a woeful 1:3), but the Tahs kick better from the tee (around 88%). Set pieces may matter most.

The Tahs have to beat the Rebels with a bonus point (and prevent the visitors from obtaining a losing bonus point) to guarantee a third-place finish on the log. The Rebels can sneak into the playoffs with a bonus-point loss in Sydney, plus a bonus-point win over the weakening Force. Thus, we should see a fired-up home team, full of ‘us versus the world, especially the referees’, which does seem to be the best mood for the Tahs.

I remain impressed with Wee Will Harrison (but not so much by the captaincy of Queenslander Red Rob Simmons, and the proto-captaincy of Mad Michael Hooper), and there are intriguing Wallaby-relevant matchups across the park, with Reece Hodge versus Jack Maddocks particularly of note. The coaches should be embattled, but in this forgiving world where any sport is welcomed and everyone gets ten chances, I think Rob Penney is more worried about the axe.

I will stick with the team whose jerseys match my lovely eyes. Tahs in extra time, courtesy of a Rebel lineout error.

Sure thing: Brett will create seven spreadsheets, and five new metrics, to sort the second game.

(Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Brett

Brumbies, Rebels
I’m not sure seven spreadsheets will be enough, Hairy Man. But I do agree there’s less than the proverbial bee’s between the Rebels and Waratahs on Saturday night.

However, before they go at it, the Brumbies and Force will run out in Canberra.

And the Brumbies win that for one simple reason: the Force haven’t been able to go for the full 80 minutes thus far. The Brumbies have only conceded four tries after halftime in Super Rugby AU; the Force have only scored three.

The Rebels and Waratahs are tough to split, I certainly agree on that front. But the thing that does split them for me is a little bit unconventional.

Come with me on this, because it’s a wired way to split them and it’s weird to cite it as a reason. Where the Rebels have an edge is that they’re not nearly as inconsistent as the Tahs. That’s not to say they’re definitely more consistent, just that they’re not nearly as inconsistent. Their best and worst haven’t been as far apart as it feels like the Waratahs’ have.

It’s a bit finger-in-the-air and gut feel, I’ll admit, but that’s how I see them. I told you it was unconventional.

Sure thing: The deadlock will again be broken this weekend, before quite probably reuniting again next weekend. Has the tipping panel ever had joint winners? I feel like that’s probably information I have somewhere.

Tom Banks chases the ball

(Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Digger

Brumbies, Rebels
Unfortunately, it appears the Force have been fading in the last few weeks, certainly a result of a squad lacking recent week-in and week-out competition for some time. I don’t see the Brumbies making it any easier for them this week.

Continuing on with my ‘seems to be the teams coming off a bye perform really well’ theory proposed last week, the Rebels will price too strong for the ‘Chookatahs’ this week.

Sure thing: The move to Wellington for the North-South clash with an empty stadium is a smart move as a ready-made excuse under level 2 COVID restrictions for the all the empty yellow seats.

Dan

Brumbies, Rebels
Starting with the higher-stakes match, the Rebels-Waratahs clash gives us a kind-of-final a few weeks out from the postseason proper.

The Waratahs will be hoping to have Karmichael Hunt back, whose sore hamstring was sorely missed – along with the rest of the centre – against the Brumbies, but even if he does return, I’m pencilling in the Rebels for this one.

Teams have routinely performed strongly after having the bye, and Melbourne have shown twice already they’re capable of handling the youngsters from NSW.

As for the other game, the Brumbies will win. That is all.

Sure thing: Dan McKellar to make 16 changes to his team every week given how well it worked last round.

Dan McKellar

(Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Nobes

Brumbies, Rebels
This round is do or die for the Waratahs, who started the season badly before a short string of triumphs that puts them in this unexpected position. A win with a bonus point this week against the Rebels would give them playoff chances despite not playing next week.

It is easy to say it but doing it is something else, since the Rebels will come rested to impose their physical game and deploy their dangerous backs. There is not much difference in both teams’ numbers. I think everything will depend on the side that wants victory the most. Rebels for me.

In the other game, the Brumbies should win with a bonus point against a Force team that seems tired and has a hard time playing at a good level for the 80 minutes.

Sure thing: A controversial call will be crucial in the Waratahs-Rebels game.

Melbourne Rebels players after a try

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Geoff

Brumbies, Rebels
It’s been another tough week in Melbourne, with COVID chaos sending The Masked Singer into lockdown just as we were about to find out if the Wandering Water Buffalo really is Izack Rodda or not.

It’s not so tough to predict the outcome in Canberra though. The Brumbies will win in their sleep against a fading Force, and in doing so, stitch up a home final.

Unfortunately for the Waratahs, they’ll be stitched up as well, their season coming to an end at the hands of the Terrigal Rebels. The Melbourne pack has been too abrasive for the Tahs twice already this year, and while the Tahs will give it plenty, because that’s what you do at the last chance saloon, it will be left to the Rebels and Reds to fight it out for ‘home’ ground advantage for the upcoming second versus third playoff.

Sure thing: TMOs to be on their best behaviour this week, having been issued by Rugby Australia with a ruler and a marker pen to draw the offside line on their monitors.

AU Week 9 Harry Brett Digger Geoff Nobes Dan The Crowd
BRU v FOR BRU BRU BRU BRU BRU BRU ???
REB v WAR WAR REB REB REB REB REB ???
Overall 26 26 25 23 23 24 26
Last week 1 2 2 2 2 2 2

Get your votes in now – The Crowd’s tips will be revealed Friday afternoon (AEST).

Source : The Roar More   

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