Storm signals ignored

10 October 2009

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Guess what, fellow Victorians?  The Melbourne Storm won!  You are the NRL Premiers for 2009!

Sorry, what is the NRL? Well it’s the National Rugby League competition and you’ve won two premierships in four straight grand final appearances!

What do you mean is that the one where they lift each other up? That’s Rugby UNION; this is Rugby League! Surely you must have read about them in the newspapers!  Oh, but that’s right.  The front page of the sport section on grand final day in The Age had horse racing on it.

Well, I suppose that is understandable.  People in Melbourne don’t really care about the rugby league.

Don’t get me wrong though, the Storm do have a pretty good and passionate fan base but most of them aren’t originally from Melbourne and come from a place where Rugby League is a popular sport, such as New South Wales, Queensland or the Pacific Islands.

Rugby is  a minority spot in Victoria – but then again, so is anything other than the AFL.  But Melburnians should care about this team. The Storm are sporting excellence personified and are professional, skillful, well-behaved for a sport embedded in controversy, and are the team of the decade.

Credit must be paid to the NRL here too, for its tremendous effort in helping the Storm establish itself in the first place.  Like most new team ventures it was originally done for money; for a brand new TV audience in a sport-crazy state to create more revenue for the then struggling league.  They were given extra money from the administrators and provided with concessions in helping draw key players.  Now, Melbourne is considered one of the best teams of all time.

They have a massive budget.  They are advertising themselves with billboards, have ads across television networks and have number-one ticket holder Molly Meldrum’s face plastered in Storm colours on bus shelters all over the city.  Next year, they’ll have a new state-of-the-art stadium that they will share with the Melbourne Victory (the city’s main soccer club, for those who don’t know!).  The statidum is currently called the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium – due to a lack of sponsorship.

When the Melbourne Storm come back to Melbourne with a trophy (just like they did last week), we’ll all congratulate them and parade around them, but then they will be ignored.

Similar ventures have however worked for the AFL in places like Brisbane and Sydney.  But that’s probably due more to the national interest of Aussie Rules and that the teams which migrated to other cities were established Victorian sides that continue to have a fan base in Melbourne.

Unfortunately for Rugby League, it’s not part of this city’s fabric.  AFL, on the other hand, has a huge history and has gone beyond being just a sport; it’s part of the makeup of Melbourne and its people.  If you go to suburbs like Collingwood and Richmond, you can easily see it in the streets.

But Rugby League can be a very exciting, hard hitting and aggressive game.  And so Melbourne, with its “sporting capital of the world” tag, should get behind the sport more.

But Melburnians won’t.  Not in a million years with a million premiership rings.

I suspect the major reason why Melbourne showed a little interest this year – when the Storm won the NRL Premiership – is because it’s a Sydney sport.  And the Storm beat a Sydney side.

And boy, does Melbourne hate Sydney!

Sam Gray‘s blog is called And Now in Sport.  This is his first piece for upstart.