20 years ago Rugby League players would have been proud of a late night biffo after 2 dozen schooners at the local pub and while many locals watching would have known who various players were, the private lives of most players rarely if ever reach the front page of newspapers or were talked about on TV.
My how things have changed.
To hear the news this week that Parramatta Eels centre Kris Inu celebrated his 21st birthday with a few cups of soft drink and the odd cordial – it certainly made me think. At first, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Rugby League players were meant to be tough, rough souls that live on alcohol and breathe fire. What is the story with a few of the boys eating fairy bread and sucking back red cordial?
Yes, times have really changed.
While there is nothing illegal about NRL players heading out for a drink on occasion, these days it seems the public spotlight and speed of media reporting mean that if players so much as sneeze on a member of the public, it goes front or backpage in NSW and Queensland.
However, the image portrayed by Kris Inu this week while still in the minority amongst League players – it does demonstrate how far the game of Rugby League has really come in the past few decades. As crowds continue to return to the game after the Super League war, many females are now also starting to take a keen interest in the game too – as the ‘thuggery’ of the past seems to have been successfully weeded out.
The movie ‘The Final Winter’ for those that have seen it, is a perfect example of what the game of Rugby League was like in the 1980s. While well followed and having it’s own unique appeal, it was a game where braun came first and skill came second. Male dominated and lacking a wider TV audience, it had some potential – but certainly needed some remoulding. Some guys that possessed amazing talent probably couldn’t make the top grade for fear of being bashed out of the game or restricted from plying their trade on a weekly basis as the hard heads moved in to thwart them.
Fast forward to today.
On the field, players have full protection of officials. Video referees and cameras in every corner ensure a sly punch, a stiff arm or dirty tactics are quickly pulled up and the offender will generally find himself costing his team the game and himself a spot in the top grade the following week. Discipline is key in the modern game.
While off the field there are still some negative headlines around player drinking and behaviour – a lot of this is due to the rising profile and stature of the players. Victims in some cases of their own success and the increasing popularity and reach of the NRL game – they regularly are spied on and dobbed into reporters for relatively minor indiscretions.
In the centenary year of Rugby League, we really should appreciate how far the game has come. Guys like Kris Inu, Israel Folau and Will Chambers are not only the future of the game but represent a skillful, highly entertaining brand of player that possibly would not have made first grade sides of 30 years ago. As the thugs have been weeded out, the true players have been able to display their talent with the protection of the officials and the winners are the fans. Yes, there is an element in all of us that likes a bit of biff and there are still a few blokes that crave the old ‘cattle dog’ call – made famous by Tommy in his NSW Origin coaching days when the fight was on.
So as the doom sayers shout about shootings in Kings Cross, the infiltration of AFL in some states and anything else they can find to whinge about. Think positive. Just think about Kris Inu and his cordial brigade and what the game has become in the modern era:
* Highly Televised, every game now on Television – the days of 1 or 2 TV games are long gone.
* Increased skill levels due to thugs being weeded out – sorry Les Boyd, we don’t miss you.
* The most even competition ever, the envy of many sports due to salary capping
* Expansion back on the horizon, success of the Titans proves this.
So settle back and if you’re a guy cracking a Beer or girl sipping a Bacardi Breezer before you watch a game – just take solace in the fact that Kris Inu and his cordial brigade have the game and it’s future in the best shape ever.
NRL Rugby League for 2008 is only days away. Bring it on.