Round six is hurtling towards us with as much pace and excitement as Darius Boyd streaking towards the try-line.
This year kicked off with a record round one attendance of 201,212 mad fans, followed by four relatively scandal-free weeks. David Gallop must say a little prayer of thanks every night that the St Kilda schoolgirl and player-agent Ricky Nixon love their AFL, and have never felt the urge to be involved with anyone in the NRL.
Yes, it’s been a great start to the season, but for five weeks I’ve been nursing a guilty secret.
Despite vociferously arguing the joy of following the NRL in my last five columns, and being a representative of the female fans of the Roosters, I haven’t … ahem, yet, um … been to a game.
I was overseas for the past two rounds, and sick for round one, but there was one occasion when I just didn’t feel like sitting in traffic on Parramatta Road on a Sunday afternoon to join in the feeble-sounding cheering at a mostly empty Homebush Stadium. I mean I’d been sitting in the Harbour Tunnel for a couple of hours a day all week, and daylight saving was eeking out one of the last bright afternoons of summer.
There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of enjoying a game live, and I’ve been to some epic battles at Wollongong, Manly, Parramatta, the Central Coast … even a pre-trial game at Toowoomba. Beer in plastic cups, luke-warm chips, red-faced fans shouting creative abuse at the refs, fireworks, little kids looking so cute in their jerseys … I love it all.
But we NRL die-hards have to admit we lag far behind those crazy AFL followers in game attendance. Last year the NRL averaged crowds of 18,533 (including State of Origin and Internationals). AFL crowds averaged 38,417. The Broncos were the top NRL team with an average attendance of 35,032; the highest Sydney team was the Bulldogs with 20,670. Collingwood averaged 63,256. Cronulla averaged 10,551. Why do you think that is?
There’s the obvious issue of traffic and transport. Hell, even getting into the Boxing Day Test at the MCG is easier than getting to Homebush for a regular season game. Do AFL fans ever face a journey like travelling from Manly to Shark Park for a game? Sydney Harbour couldn’t be prettier, but it’s also pretty damn good at discouraging travel from side to side. Not since the US civil war have north and south been so effectively divided.
NRL is better on TV. On television AFL players do look like seagulls fighting over a chip (as described by an SMH reader this week). The only time I went to an AFL game a light went on and I realised how the game was being played. All the blokes paired up in position like netballers, with the defender niggling the attacker. You just don’t see that on the box, no matter how big the flat-screen hanging on your wall.
Sydney also has a large number of rugby union fans, whereas Melbourne is a one-footy town. I’ll let others work out whether Sydney is more expensive, has better weather or better beaches.
There are plenty of theories, and no clear answer. What is clear is that there’s nothing quite like yelling from the stands. That’s why you’ll find me at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night. Sure, driving 80km to Gosford is not as easy as getting a tram to the MCG or Etihad, but after five rounds the lure and excitement of a live game is too hard to resist.