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In Touch: League fans love to hate

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - 12:07 PM

Rabbitohs players celebrate and exciting win in golden point over their bitter rivals. Copyright: NRL Photos

God bless the little children who love rugby league, but Lord let them learn to despise their rivals with a passion that lifts the game to another level, for where would we be without our epic rivalries?

As we walked into Suncorp Stadium to watch this year’s thrilling Origin series decider my friend commented to me that it was wonderful to see so many children there. Pre game wasn’t the time to be warm and fuzzy so I replied yes, it’s important to teach the very young to hate for their state early in life.

Of course the first lesson is the love of the game and respect for all players, but sometimes you have to push all those good intentions aside and embrace the politically incorrect rivalry and contempt for other that gives some games that extra zest.

Take the Roosters v Rabbitohs rivalry round clash, a game fired up by a century of grudges, clashes, triumphs and bitter losses. The Chooks reminded their members to “Love to Hate” the Bunnies, while chief rabbit Russell Crowe tweeted the faithful that “Eastern Suburbs r usurpers”.

Players are probably the least likely to embrace the hate, they all know each other too well, and many have played for the other side. The sometimes hot-headed Mick Crocker even found some humour in it saying, “Rabbitohs fans probably liked me when I was playing for the Roosters because I probably won them a few games giving away penalties, that's why they probably welcomed me so well."

But with fans spitting determination and passion from the stands, what a match it was. Unfortunately the Roosters may have remembered a long history of hate, but they appeared to have forgotten round one and what a team is capable of in minutes 78 to 80. Having trampled the Bunnies in the dying seconds of the opening round they should have known to play to the very end. Like Luke Nolen on Black Caviar they forgot to ride across the finish line, unlike him they paid the price.

History is just one important factor in developing a passionate feud, the other is proximity, as you’ve probably seen on A Current Affair no one hates as effectively as neighbours do.

The Dragons and the Sharks are also close enough to rub each other the wrong way on a regular basis. It hurt the poor old Sharkies when they took the minor premiership in 1999 only to get kicked out of the finals by their perennial older brothers. Let’s just say no one in Cronulla parties like it’s 1999. And there’s been plenty of cross-Shire poaching in the years since. No luck again this rivalry round for the boys in blue who ended up in the Dragons’ red room of pain. Thankfully their shame was quickly forgotten in the white heat of embarrassment generated by the woeful depiction of their beloved home in the reality show The Shire.

One reason why we need to start early when teaching kids that all rivals are not to be detested equally is that there are just so many rivalries in our game. We are talented haters in that we can hold a grudge for 100 years or start a new one in a heartbeat.

There are 22 separate rivalries listed on Wikipedia broken down into three different categories. Most teams have five on the go at once. The Rabbitohs once made it a little simpler for their most literate fans by actually publishing a Book of Feuds.

The Bulldogs also have gone into manufacturing to help their supporters express their age-old rivalry with the Eels, printing t-shirts that wrote large across their hearts, “Friends don’t let friends be Eels fans”. Players showed the same warring spirit on the field with the Eels scoring what was probably their best try of the season, and Dogzilla Sam Kasiano taking down Fuifui Moimoi in a bruising encounter.

Despite the odd tour from an increasingly wrinkly Duran Duran, and a bloated Tony Hadley-led Spandau Ballet, the 1980s have been forgotten everywhere else, but by showing flashes of their old pluck Parramatta demonstrated they remember what it was to win against their close-matched foes back in the day.

Even though I hate the Rabbitohs and I’m still feeling the pain of this recent loss I love Rivalry Round, and I’m already looking forward to smashing those furry little Bunnies when next we meet… I’m sure the Sharks, the Eels, the NSW Blues, and all the other losing haters feel the same way… and so the passion lives on.