The following supposition is based on how teenagers are wont to emulate whatever exciting, and importantly, current activity captures their emotions ; it’s also tapped out on a pretty strong hunch.
Even if the NZ Warriors foist yet another season of abjectness upon their long-suffering supporters in 2018, such is the fervour being generated by the Rugby League World Cup and match-ups like the Tonga-Samoa game (am not alluding to the related street violence, either- those gangs of kids who fought each other did so out of misplaced pride and spitefulness, with it probably all wrapped up in an unsurprising frustration about life; we all know it wasn’t a brawl about Rugby League itself), and last weekend’s grudge encounter- don’t let anyone tell you different- between Tonga, Taumalolo and the Kiwis, look out for a fairly seismic shift in the number of Pasifika secondary school-age students opting to exchange Rugby Union dreams for League ones, particularly across Auckland and Manukau.
Expect the momentum of this tournament to survive the summer months and if the Auckland Rugby League School’s Association isn’t ready for a demand for existing schoolboy and schoolgirl competitions to be increased in size and profile and with a related much larger register of players, then they had better find some foresight and prepare for an influx.
This tournament could be the spark to the touch paper for a type of significant League revolution, with the potential to make some inroads, however small or much bigger, into the dominant hegemony of Rugby Union- especially the business (and make no mistake, it is literally that) of First XV Rugby. There are of course light years between the prestige of Union and League at the top level in high schools. But things are starting to evolve- the emergence of the huge Southern Cross School in Mangere as a genuine school powerhouse and emerging League nursery being an example.
One dynamic that may narrow that gap in the coming years might just be a greater number of NRL scouts coming over here to recruit more talent directly from youth Rugby League. Taking the example of Auckland nowadays, more young players are probably recruited by NRL teams directly from Union than League. It seems logical though; that if there were more elite teenagers playing League than now, then the scouts would see that as more attractive and a more authentic way of assessing the talent.
On the other side too, with more youngsters being recruited, there would surely also be more wanting to take up the sport for a possible shot at a professional contract. And this is all aside from the influence of the NZ Warriors right in the neighbourhood.
The more directly confrontational nature of Rugby League is a seamless fit for P.I. players as well. Rugby Union engenders a more multi-skilled play set because of its far greater number of set-pieces. League is more gladiatorial and therefore closer to a kind of legitimate warfare. Those aspects are something that helps make State of Origin so tough and exciting. As a hypothetical comparison, if New South Wales and Queensland met in a Union version of State of O and it was hyped up just the same and with a capacity crowd along to see it, the intensity would pale in comparison. It’s just the nature of the League beast- it gets the pulse racing more when two of the best teams are taking lumps out of each other. Less stoppages also help keep the intensity flowing. You can see how such factors could easily draw in athletic and impressionable teens.
The advantage Rugby Union has is that it is of course so entrenched in school society and greater life. Trying to gain a reasonable foothold over Union for League in respect of attracting potential talent, is a bit like pushing the proverbial uphill with a teaspoon. Could that all be about to change ever so slightly though (at least in one area of the country)?
Paul M (sportsfreak’s ‘The Spotter) at: email@example.com