I’ll never forget the first game of Twenty20 cricket I ever watched. The Black Caps were playing Australia and to mark the occasion they donned the old beige uniforms and unleashed some atrocious seventies facial hair. I can’t remember who won (probably the Aussies), but that didn’t matter. It was a party. A celebration. Everyone was so swept up in the moment to realize that this format of the game was going to revolutionize the sport.
Twenty20 cricket is popular because it is bite-sized. It pleases short attention spans and because it is so easy to digest, it opens the door to an audience who wouldn’t usually give cricket the time of day.
Similarly I don’t think we should underestimate just how important the Auckland Nines will be for the growth and development of rugby league. This tournament isn’t about who will win. It’s an advertisement. It’s squeezing all the brilliance of a traditional game of league into a short space of time to showcase just what we get to enjoy every weekend with the NRL. As much as we love a good old-fashioned grind-it-out Origin match, it’s the fleet-footed magicians such as Ben Barba and Shaun Johnson that make the highlights reel.
But to make sure this new audience gets to see the brilliance of Ben Barba and Shaun Johnson, we need to make sure these marquee players will be doing just that – playing. This tournament can’t turn into a City vs Country match where the players turn up if they feel like it on the day. It needs to be treated as a serious sporting event if the NRL are serious about marketing rugby league to a wider and hopefully international audience.
There’s still a month to go and Sonny Bill has already decided he won’t take part and Brad Fittler is supposedly dusting off his walking stick to play in the tournament. This is the sort of thing that gives the Auckland Nines less credibility. The NRL should be doing everything within their power to ensure each team gets their best team on the park.
Just look at how popular rugby sevens is. The playing circuit stretches right across the globe even though a select few countries are truly competitive when it comes to the 15-a-side World Cup. Why is sevens popular? It shows the true athleticism of rugby union players who are usually confined to tedious rucks and mauls. For once they get to stretch their legs and show us just how quick they really are.
Just wait until they see Greg Inglis in full flight.
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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