The greatest game of all

Rivals Norm Provan and Arhtur Summons after the 1963 grand final

‘The greatest game of all’ It’s the tagline the NRL loves to endorse for rugby league. But how can we truly make the case that rugby league is the greatest game of all? Of course this is comment is subjective, but with the grand final today, it got me wondering what we could say separates (and apparently elevates) rugby league from all other sports.

My first instinct is to say that it’s rugby league’s great moments that elevate rugby league beyond any other sport. Seeing New South Wales break Queensland’s record long 8 year winning streak in state of origin, or the battle between the West Tigers and Roosters in 2010 which lasted 100 minutes, or even seeing the North Queensland Cowboys draw level in the grand final exactly as the final siren sounds. When these things happen, you realise you’re witnessing history, something that could be talked about half a century from now – and any way you phrase it, that’s magical.

Kyle Feldt scores in the last second to even the scores in the 2015 NRL grand final

But, if I take my personal rugby league bias out of the equation for a minute, it’s actually not that special. Every sport has historic, magical moments that make an impression on people’s lives. So, next I thought of State of Origin. Whether you’re a rugby league fan or not, it seems like the entirety of Sydney stops for 90 minutes, 3 nights a year to witness New South Wales take on Queensland. This isn’t just a game, this is an event; so surely, this is what makes rugby league the greatest game of all, right?

Paul Gallen and Jarryd Hayne celebrate NSW’s first origin win in 8 years

Well, not so fast – again, this isn’t unique to rugby league. I for one, find horse racing astronomically dull. But even I feel inclined to watch the Melbourne cup’s iconic race every year.

So, is there any cause to justify the ‘greatest game of all’ tagline after all? Well, for me there is. It’s the spirit of the game. I know, I’m sorry to be so cliché, but just hear me out. First off, I think we can say rugby league has had a significant impact on Australian culture, I mean even overseas aussies are known as football elites thanks to game like rugby league.

But I think the spirit of rugby league can best be summed up by the iconic rugby league photograph of Norm Proven and Arthur Summons from the 1963 grand final. It’s earned the nickname ‘the gladiators’, but I think most people would agree there’s something more special about this photograph than strength we’ve come to associate with gladiators.

The emotion in the photograph is enough to make you forget that these two players were rivals. There’s just something special about things like this that have made rugby league great in my opinion. It’s hard to put into words, but I think it’s simply that it makes rugby league feel more real than any other sport I can think of.

It’s amazing to watch Cristiano Ronaldo drive a free-kick into the top corner of the goal from 40 yards out, or to see Steph Curry sink a 3-pointer on the siren, but there’s also something esoteric about it. There’s a feeling that these athletes or so far beyond our level of skill, that they’re practically unreachable – they do the things we never could.

The thing that I love about rugby league is that it amazes, but it’s incredible in a way that feels down-to-earth. I think that’s the message I’m trying to promote with the Winners Aren’t Binners campaign – to emphasise that rugby league isn’t a game of ‘gladiators’ but a game that’s full of real emotions.

The iconic gladiators photograph shows both what rugby league really is. It’s a game about passion, pride and excitement, but it’s not a game about violence. It’s the kind of sport where two rivals can battle it out, and embrace each other at the end – and that’s what I think earns it the title of the greatest game of all.

Images sources: ABC, ABC, National Portrait Gallery


– JN


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