There is something about Rugby League that really pisses some people off.
I can not think of another sport anywhere else in the world that is supposed to justify its existence, as well as its ability to survive long term, despite the fact the tough old bastard has been around since 1895.
It is not as though Rugby League is the type of sport that gets forced on people. In fact, in most cases, to play or watch a game of Rugby League, you have to go out of your way to do it.
Imagine being a Rugby League player in France for instance.
You have Soccer, which is easily the number one sport. If that’s not your thing, it would be so much easier to play Rugby Union, and more lucrative. Yet, you get blokes that say “No, Rugby League looks like my game”. They go out every weekend and they play the sport they love.
New Zealand are the Rugby League World Champions. Even there you still hear stories of youngsters being told by their schools Rugby Union team that if they don’t stop playing Rugby League on the weekend, they can consider themselves out of the side. When this happens, the school usually has to go looking for an extra player, because when Rugby League is in your blood, it has you for life.
Why do we love this game? What is it about Rugby League that captures us and never lets us go?
For me, Rugby League is the smell of freshly cut grass. The feeling of running down a sideline while others try to cut you down. It’s the moment of confrontation, bracing for impact and driving through a tackle. Sometimes you get dragged to the ground and you feel the full impact of the planet hitting you. Other times, you feel the defenders fall off you, that power turns into speed, and when you run it in for a try, you feel like a king.
Rugby League is a game for the athletes and the magicians. It is a game of power and speed. It is a game of grit and agility. Just to walk out on the field, just to play this sport, it says something about the person you are.
Not everyone is cut out for Rugby League, and I think sometimes as a sport, we forget that. Lets face it, the idea of running out onto a field and running with the ball while 13 other people try to tackle you, that doesn’t appeal to everyone!
I like that a good Rugby League team needs a mix of elements. That the elements that bring success to a club are constantly changing as the game continues to evolve. I love that I can sit down on any given weekend to watch an NRL game, and even after all these years, I can see something that takes my breath away.
The physical demands of our sport tests a player to their limits. Rugby League breaks everyone, without fail. The greatest players in our sport have always been better for the adversity that the game throws at them. It is the test, and the special ones rise above the set backs to reach new levels of greatness.
My favorite player is Benji Marshall. A young bloke from New Zealand that had a thousand reasons to not make it. As a slightly built touch football player, Benji found himself playing in the toughest sporting competition in the world.
It took its toll.
Marshall endured a number of major injury set backs, and at one point, it looked like shoulder injuries would shorten his career.Yet, today, Benji Marshall is among that rare breed of players that play with magic out on the field. In this physical battle that breaks even the best athletes, Marshall has an ability to do things that he has no right to do.
In last years semi finals series, we all watched in horror as Darren Lockyer had his face smashed by a team mates stray knee. We watched the fight between Lockyers physical, primal reaction to having broken bones in his face, and the pride of a champion player who looked up field at his young side battling away and knew he couldn’t leave the field.
When Lockyer waved the trainers away, it was a moment. They knew to just leave him.
As Lockyer started a slow jog back into the game, clinching his jaw shut in an effort to keep his shattered face braced, you knew you were watching something special.
Those raw moments are what get me. For such an unforgiving game, every so often you have players that just refuse to give in. Who refuse to be broken.
How can you not love a sport that give you all of that? How can you watch all the sport in the world, and then see what Rugby League brings to the table, and decide it’s rubbish?
Rugby League isn’t played all over the world, but very few sports are! Unless you are Soccer or Basketball, you are a mainstream sport that is only popular within a select few geographically confined areas of the world.
As a realist, I can tell you Rugby League is played throughout Australia, through a large portion of New Zealand and throughout England. It is played in parts of Wales, Ireland and France. It has outposts in Russia, Canada and a fairly healthy competition in the United States, where is has enough playing that the sport is actually split into two different competitions over there!
Rugby League is played in the Pacific Islands and it is the national sport of PNG. All of that and I haven’t even touched on the countries where the game is played in small numbers by committed fans who love the game just as much as the rest of us do!
The thing is, Rugby League has never pretended to be a game the entire world plays. Sure we have the second oldest World Cup in all of sports, but you wouldn’t hear Rugby League pumping out pompous suggesting like our World Cup is “The World In Union”.
If all of Rugby League was encompassed by areas serviced by the National Rugby League, damn, it would still be a great sport!
Uneducated, ignorant hacks have been taking shots at Rugby League since 1895. After all, there is no way a sport formed in a hotel in Huddersfield is going to go anywhere. Yet, here we in 2012, and you get a sense that this is a sport that might be doing OK for itself
With a billion dollar television deal just around the corner, further expansion on the horizon, a World Cup next year and a sense that the game is finally standing on its own two feet and ready to push into new areas once again, Rugby League is doing alright.
So, when ever you read another attack piece on Rugby League, I want to you think one thing for the poor old writer that wrote that article.
“Its OK. You’re going to be OK.”
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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