Football down under? Union reporter investigates Australian rugby

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By Andrew Cahill

After exploring Australia for over a month now, I have begun to reflect on how much I miss the changing of the seasons into the fall. One of the main things I associate with fall is football; American football, that is.

My entire life I have only known the version I saw on Sundays, which offers great action and suspense, because you never know what will happen next. Unless, of course, you are a Buffalo Bills fan like I am and you expect the worst. Usually, the fears are validated. Nonetheless, I never observed the differences in the definition of “football” between Australia and America, until I ventured out this past Friday night to Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium for the National Rugby League (NRL) preliminary final between the Sydney Roosters and the Gold Coast Titans.

When I walked into the stadium, I was pretty impressed by the atmosphere: a crowd of over 44,000, dominated by Titans fans who made the easy ninety-minute trek up the Queensland coast. Even more impressive were the thirty-dollar tickets that put me in a seat about twenty rows from the end zone, which was a great vantage point for the game. Tickets for a seat of that caliber at any American professional sporting event, let alone the NFL, would probably cost three times that price!

The one major omission from the pre-game was tailgating. That is an integral part of going to American sporting events, and I had perhaps been naïve in figuring that the Aussies would be grilling on their ‘barbies!’ Unfortunately, that was not the case as Australians leave the grills at home to take public transit to and from the game. Nonetheless, the stadium was loaded with energy as people absorbed their beers (which you can buy four at a time) and waited for the game to begin.

Unluckily for the spectators, the fireworks display to which both teams entered was about the most explosive play on the field all night. I am not saying that I did not enjoy myself or that I dislike Australian rugby, but Australians and Americans have different definitions of “action.” Certainly, there is no discounting the toughness of any of these players as they go after each other for two 40-minute halves without any pads. To imagine the beating that the players’ bodies take makes you want to wince. Thus, there are plenty of big hits that make you stand up out of your seat and leave you wondering how these guys are getting up.

Ultimately, seven other fellow American sports snobs and I concluded that it was just the speed and repetitiveness that wears on you a bit. Unlike the NFL, there were no big plays that happened out of nowhere, although there were a couple of moments where you thought someone was going to break some tackles and take off for a “try.” A “try” in Australian football means a score. I went to the game and saw people holding up signs that said, “TRY!” Originally, I thought it was strange to be holding that word up at a sporting event, but now I am bringing one home to take to a Bills game.

The Sydney Roosters, a perennial power in the league, dominated the game. The Titans were less sharp, playing for the first time in two weeks. According to fans I talked to after the game, a week off in Rugby League is never a good thing. The team that played last always has the momentum and that was quite evident in this game.

The Roosters were the first to score a try and went up 6-0. A try is worth six points and the following kick, which is similar to a field goal, is worth two. Although the Titans would eventually tie the game at 6-6 in the first half, the Roosters answered with a try five minutes later to pull ahead for good, 12-6. Although it was only a one score game at halftime, the Roosters put the Titans away, scoring three unanswered tries. The Titans, who had pulled off many late comebacks during the season, could not muster any offense, seemingly stuck in neutral after the off-week. The Roosters piled on at the end to win 32-6 and will move on to the NRL Grand Final in Sydney next weekend, which is one of the premiere sporting events in Australia.

I went to this game as a sports fan without much knowledge of the game of rugby. I bought the ticket hoping to expand my horizons in sporting experience. I am still learning the difference between Rugby Union, Rugby League (which is the NRL), and my personal favorite, Australian Rules Football, or “footie.” Unfortunately, the Aussie Rules season has ended so I will not make it there. Perhaps I can broaden my horizons in sport with something like cricket, since that is like baseball to the Aussies. Stay tuned for more sports coverage from “Down Under.”

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