Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday Story - Rugby League vs Rugby Union

I've been noticing, but it came to a head this week, that I'm extremely passionate about making the distinction between Rugby Union and Rugby League. This simplest reason for this is that I'm a sports nut, and they are two different games.

But there are a heck of a lot deeper reasons for my reactions, which has taken me a while to dig deeply into, and be willing to share. Here's what I've found:

I grew up in Sydney in the 1970s and 1980s. It wasn't like it is now. Football was a suburban game, and although allegiances weren't quite as parochial as in Melbourne with Aussie Rules, there were 'unwritten' allegiances that I didn't really understand - from years before when Sydney was less like it was then. I didn't know that but I became conscious of it as I grew up, or maybe upon reflection.

Rugby Union was on TV on Saturday afternoons, Rugby League on Sundays. I watched both. I admired both. Rugby Union had some unbelievable tactics that weren't available/used in League - like the fullbacks' kicking duels, pushing scrums to gain advantage or to score, and twisting scrums for penalties or field position. League seemed rougher, coarser, tougher. Union was played with an intellect that I didn't quite understand, and I had no idea how to explain/question the differences I saw. I read books and books on both sports trying to understand the differences. It was fascinating trying to fathom this.

In my late teens I babysat neighbours' kids. Somehow I scored a job babysitting for a guy who was huge in Rugby Union. A tough forward. A great intellect of the game. Maybe even a commentator (I can't quite remember). I was stoked. I was going to meet a hero. When I arrived, he opened the door for me. He didn't look at me or greet me. I stuck my hand out saying that I was very pleased to meet him (which I was, but I was trying not to fangirl). He gave me a limp fish handshake and turned away. His wife gave me the rundown. They left. He had no interaction with his children that I saw, or his wife. I babysat. I never asked for an autograph as had been my plan. He shattered my image, of him, but now I look back, I think it may have been the beginning of the shattering of my love for rugby union.

I moved to country towns then. I had no idea that I had to choose between union and league but I was soon told by the union supporters that there was no way on earth I could support both. Maybe they were joking, but when a few of them all had the same reaction and they didn't know each other and weren't with each other at the time, I had to conclude that the sentiment was real and not a jest. I still went to games. I knew a couple of guys from my touch footy team who played for various teams and codes. I lived near a union ground so my dogs and I would often spend a sunny arvo watching a game.

Then there came more comments. What was I doing at the union when I wasn't a property owner (ie large landowner, farmer from the right side of town)? Surely I didn't imagine I could mix with the union players (or the women who followed the game) when I was new to town? Girls had waited their turn to date XX, didn't I realise I couldn't be here drinking with them? I was a work colleague, and hadn't imagined I was dating or trying to date the guy. I was watching a game of footy and drinking with them after the game.

It took an old bloke at the pub telling me that rugby union was for those with money, and I'd be better off sticking to league. Yep. Apparently football had a socio-economic barrier that hindered fans...or maybe it was only female fans. It was never quite clear.

I didn't stick around watching either game. I went back to watching on TV. But Rugby Union had lost its joy. I'd been hurt, badly, by the judgement of people involved in that sport. I didn't want to have anything to do with it.

I do still watch the Wallabies. I still admire some of the technical differences between the two games. But my love of the game was ruined by a limpfish handshake, and a class distinction that I wasn't even aware existed in Australia.

That's why I write Rugby League stories, and why I'm passionate about the distinction.

If you're not a sports nut, there's no difference. In my mind, there's a world of difference.


  1. you are passionate! and allowed to be passionate.
    And we love you and wouldn't want you to change for the world!