At the end of September, Rugby League fans across Australia will be glued to their screens as they watch the battle for the Provan-Summons Trophy, the NRL’s official premiership trophy. It will be a spectacle, with more than 80,000 fans likely to be in the stands as the trophy is delivered to the field by an Australian Army helicopter shortly before kick-off.
As a Victorian, it’s not surprising that my knowledge of both Rugby League and Rugby Union is fairly limited. Despite both Rugby League and Aussie Rules having ambitions to being truly national sports, for a long time it has been one of the great divisions in Australian society. Depending on where you grew up you would follow one code, and take little interest in the other.
While the success (often heavily subsidised in an almost evangelical desire to open new markets) of various interstate teams in winning premierships—see the Sydney Swans and Melbourne Storm for examples—and the way in which television makes geography less of a factor mean that each code has made inroads into the other’s traditional territory, there is no doubt that they still reign supreme in their own heartlands.
For me, it meant that I never even took an interest in Rugby League, writing it off as AFL’s poor cousin, and shaking my head in bewilderment at what I saw as incomprehensible and illogical rules. All that changed, though, when I sat down with an interstate friend to watch my first full game of NRL.
It wasn’t just having someone next to me to explain the rules, though that certainly helped, it was seeing their passion for the game. I found myself getting excited despite myself, and it saw me putting aside my preconceptions and actually giving the sport a chance.
I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it once I was able to see the strengths of the game and at least slightly understand the rules. It made me realise why so many people enjoy watching Rugby League so much, and meant that it was no longer an automatic change of the channel for me. Since then I’ve experienced the same change of heart with other sports, including gridiron and baseball—seeing a game of baseball live was an eye-opener.
My belief that these sports were boring, or not worth my time, wasn’t based on any actual experience or knowledge, but was simply a bias that I’d formed and never taken the time to actually test. This life lesson has shown me how easy it is to absorb the uninformed opinion of people around us and accept it as truth when, in fact, it isn’t, and how this often means missing out on many of the best things in life.
Whether it’s sports or politics or religion, it’s worth taking the time to find things out for ourselves. Instead of taking the word of those inclined to be negatively biased, perhaps we should spend some time listening to people who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their interests. I say let’s listen and see what we can learn, just like I did with my Rugby League-loving friend. Who knows what we might discover?