Better the Evil You Know? The Great Melbourne Debate*

Apologies for the mentions of that other Rugby code (briefly) – but stick with it – it will be worth it.

Mrs Maul hasn't worn her Manly Rugby League jersey since Des Hasler was looking up Cliffy Lyons' nostril hairs. She gave up on them with the onset of puberty and Super League. Two years ago she promised to wear the jersey if Manly made the Grand Final. And on Sunday they play the Melbourne Storm in the Grand Final.

For those not familiar with these teams, everyone hates Manly except for those that love them, and those that love them come from a small section of coastal Sydney unaffectionatly known as the insular peninsula. The reasons for this hate are lost in the dim mists of time (around 1978 to be precise when dinosaurs like Roy Masters ruled the Rugby League paddock), but like all good family feuds the reasons for the hate aren’t important. That the rage is maintained is.

Melbourne come from Melbourne so they should be hated too. Unless they’re playing Brisbane.

Still with me? The Rugby angle is coming.

So the Rolling Maul’s dilemma is that both teams are deserving of hate. Now, sure it’s only the other Rugby code, but it is sport and like the State of Origin, Soccer World Cup or the Olympics, has enough event gravitas, prestige and pinnacle of the sport element to maintain interest for the event’s duration. Just.

So, if your enemy's enemy is your friend and you have two teams to choose from you hate what do you do if your wife is effectively the enemy?

Well the Rolling Maul has decided to support whatever's best for Rugby Union. This principle works quite easily in Aussie Rules too – support the Melbourne and Adelaide teams to defeat the Sydney, Brisbane and Perth teams as Swans, Lions, Eagles or Dockers failure translates to less interest in that code and more in any other. After all, there is no support for Rugby Union in Melbourne. Or is there? And what bearing does Manly Rugby League success have on the plight of Rugby Union on the peninsular?

Is it better or worse for Rugby if the Melbourne Storm are successful? Better because any rugby code getting publicity is better than none or worse because any kiddy that grows up wanting to play a Rugby code in Melbourne will want to be a Storm and not a Rebel or a Wallaby?

Manly of course has a rich history of Rugby Union and Rugby League. The peninsular has been the breeding ground of many great Wallabies such as Michael O'Connor and Rex Mossop who plied their trade and ensured a rich supply of players who were later stolen by Randwick and then Rugby League.

Furthermore where would Australian rugby be if it weren't for Rod Macqueen, a former Manly Rugby coach? He plied his trade for many years on the peninsular, doing his best with a bunch of locals against the well reimbursed Randwick squad. Without that chip on his shoulder Australian rugby would never have reached its full potential and a full trophy cabinet. Not to mention another former Manly Rugby coach Alan Jones. OK, so it’s not all good.

So what has Melbourne, or at least Victoria (of which Melbourne is the state capital), produced?

Well according to research (with thanks to Google) at least 23 Victorians have represented Australia in Rugby Union at senior level.

Two Victorians toured New Zealand as Wallabies in 1931. Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, famous as a surgeon in the Australian army during World War Two and for the care he took of soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese, is arguably Victoria’s best known Wallaby, having played for them in 1932. He is the inspiration behind the name Melbourne ‘Rebels’.

Three Victorians toured South Africa as Wallabies in 1933. Owen Bridle was a flanker on the 1933 tour and Dave Cowper a centre. Eric Davis went to Britain in 1947-48 and New Zealand in 1949, but the next Test player for Victoria wasn't until Robert Kat in 1958. During the 1960s, seven made the step up to International caps. These include - Paul Gibbs, David Shepherd and Dick Webb (admittedly all English born). In the 1970s, John Meadows with 22 caps in ten years and also Doug Osborne (born in New Zealand) became Wallabies.

In recent years, Ewen McKenzie (all time great test prop and now Waratahs coach), Andrew Heath (became a Wallaby in 1996) and David Fitter have played for the Wallabies. Current Victorian born Wallabies include Rocky Elsom and Digby Ioane. Tom McVerry has represented the Australian 7s side.

So no doubt the Victorians have had some representation in the Wallabies team in recent decades - but how much of that is/was part of the of the ARU's/Eddie Jones ‘give everyone playing first grade a turn’ policy, is not known

In Melbourne there is no senior level team not composed largely of ex pats (especially Islanders). There is no media coverage yet they still get test matches that actually draw interest away from the game in Sydney, further destroying junior ranks. Any player with potential would of course be most likely signed up to the Storm since there is no permanent top level rugby team for them to join.

Thus the ARU is its own worse enemy and playing into the hands of the AFL’s (Aussies Rules) plans for global (ie Australian) dominance.

Not only that but Aussie Rules has become less of a kicking and catching game and more a running with the ball (possession is king) game. Once caught with the ball, in order to not lose possession the players all go down into a heap with the ball trapped at the bottom. At the moment this just means a ball up and it is becoming more common. This will eventually lead to a rule allowing players to extract the ball from the middle just to keep the game going - in other words a ruck. The ball ups that remain will be adjusted to permit players to lift up other players to clear the massed scrum on the ground - thereby creating a line out, and on it goes. In other words they are slowly evolving their game into rugby - which will further distract from the pure form of the game.

Perhaps the ARU could meet the challenge of Aussies Rules head on and speed up Rugby with a few subtle rule changes like a ball up to restart play. Imagine that the ball is bounced into the air surrounded by forwards who instantly lose slight of it due to the fact that they don’t have enough flexibility in their necks to actually look up. They all just hold their hands out hoping the ball will land in them - when it does all the other players from both teams jump on the catcher in scenes reminiscent of the Monty Python -old boys match.

Is all of this enough reason to support the Melbourne Storm against Manly?

Well Mrs Maul is trying to convince Baby Maul that he's a Manly fan. I'm working on ‘Wallaby’ as his first word. Go the Storm.

*with thanks to Still Last and Maulburnian

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