Aussies love their sports – and they are really good at them too. Australia consistently wins a disproportionately large number of medals for its population size at the Summer Olympics – putting the US to shame. League sports are also huge in Australia despite its comparatively meager population. The funny thing is: none of the sports really overlap at all with the US. North America’s big four are (American) football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – and maybe soccer is fifth nowadays. In Australia, it’s rugby league, Aussie rules football, rugby union, and cricket – with soccer as fifth here too. There’s also this thing called netball which appears to be just like basketball but without the backboard. WTF?
If you know me, you know that I’m an avid sports fan. And by “avid sports fan”, I mean that I generally try to watch the gymnastics and swimming at the Summer Olympics, and the figure skating at the Winter Olympics. And that’s pretty much it. But, I have been to a handful of baseball games, and one game each for football, basketball, and soccer. So, while in Australia, I decided I’d give the local sports a go and attend a game or two. First stop: NRL – National Rugby League.
Rugby league is one of two codes of rugby football played internationally. While it is generally not as popular internationally as the other code – rugby union – it is massively popular here in Australia. What’s amazing about the leagues here: they are segregated geographically. Rugby league is massive in Sydney – 8 of the 16 teams in the league are from the Sydney region – with two other teams in the state, three up in Queensland, and one each from Melbourne, Auckland, and Canberra. On the flip side, Aussie rules football is insanely popular in Melbourne, and half of that league’s teams hail from that metropolitan area. Can you imagine if the NFL had half of its teams based in New York? Each borough and most suburbs would have their own football team with the remainder of the teams scattered about the country in a few select places. It would be ridiculous. But it works in Australia. Who knew?
Also a bit strange: the term “footy”. As I have mentioned before, Aussies love the diminutive form of words, and are a bit lazy with pronouncing all syllables. So, footy is a good shortened form of football, but which type of football? In Sydney, people say footy when talking about rugby league. In Melbourne, people say footy when talking about Aussie rules football. I think some people also use the term footy to refer to rugby union or soccer. It’s very confusing.
Coming from a culture that is focused on American football, watching a rugby league game was actually a breath of fresh air. Now, I won’t go into all of the rules of the game, but at first glance, it seems a hell of a lot easier to follow than American football. The game is 80 minutes long and played in two halves of 40 minutes each. There are no time-outs and the clock keeps running during each 40 minute half (unless maybe someone gets seriously hurt, but generally, they won’t stop for anything). So, when the game starts at 3pm, you know exactly what time it will finish. None of these extended time-outs or commercial breaks.
The field is rectangular and slightly larger than an American football field. In rugby, you run the ball forward but can only pass it back. Similar to football, the object is to make it past the competing team’s goal line with the ball and touch it to the ground. This is their version of a touchdown and is called a “try”. It is worth 4 points. A kick for a conversion is worth 2 additional points after a try. There are also field goals worth 1 point if the team doesn’t think they are going to be able to score a try but they are close enough to the goal to kick it in.
Similar to the concept of downs in American football, rugby league allows six attempts for the attacking (offensive) team to score a try. If after six tackles, the attacking team hasn’t scored a try, possession of the ball switches sides. After the fifth tackle, the attacking team usually just kicks the ball far down the field so that the opposing team has farther to run when they get possession of the ball. There are penalties, but there seem to be fewer of them and none of them are game stopping, so I’ve just ignored them.
Speaking of tackling, the game is rough. Super rough. Players wear what look like polo-type shirts and “footy shorts” – which are short shorts which show off footy players’ masculine and powerful legs. Footy shorts are often a big fantasy for many women and gay men in Australia. Lacking from the attire: padding. They don’t wear padding. None at all. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Because wearing protective padding wouldn’t be very masculine, now would it? Can you imagine NFL players walking out onto the field with no padding on at all? The field would look VERY different. Now, the lack of padding leads to some pretty serious injuries.
My first NRL game was last year with my mates David and Glen. It was the semi-finals and local team the Manly Sea Eagles were playing the Brisbane Broncos.
The Broncos didn’t stand a chance as they were missing their best player because he had broken his face in a previous game.
Let me repeat that.
HE HAD BROKEN HIS FACE IN A PREVIOUS GAME.
They don’t wear helmets either, so I reckon your face can get pretty fucked up. To risk breaking your face just to play rugby – well, it just doesn’t sound worth it. Which is why I play Scrabble instead. There is no face-breaking in Scrabble unless something goes horribly, horribly wrong.
For my second NRL experience, I decided to take Della & Eric when they were here from the States in June. As big football fans, I thought they may appreciate the closest thing to it that Australia has to offer.
This time it was my home team – the Sydney Roosters (go cocks!) vs the Brisbane Broncos (again – meh). The crowd gathered despite the pouring rain, though nearly everyone huddled together into the covered section higher up in the stands. But despite the rain, the players were still out sporting their skimpy outfits. My question to you: who wears short shorts?
Aussie rules football players actually wear what appear to be SHORTER shorts and singlets (tank tops). Also, rugby players are generally really meaty and very muscular (gross) whereas Aussie rules football players are generally more delicious – I mean trim and lean! Who said that?
I really need to get to an Aussie rules match next.
You know, because I love sport…