Celebrating Anzac Day - a rugby league tradition

I remember quite well being taught at school about the term 'Anzac' and the history that accompanied it. I've watched and remember the movies and television miniseries that represented the story of the history of the term 'Anzac'.

I respect the importance of Anzac Day and understand the relevance to our national history and identity. I have never faced the adversity some of our country's representatives like the Anzacs have faced in conflicts of war.

I enjoy the traditions that have been passed through the generations which are observed on the Anzac Day public holiday like two-up at the local pub.

The celebration of this very special day in the Australian calendar is well represented in its association with sport.

Sport is synonymous with our country's representatives in times of war. I'm not a prolific reader of autobiographies but Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop's was a beauty. The descriptions of rugby union matches being played in the most difficult of times and conditions in countries that had never seen this sport were confronting but humorous.

Even I know of the Anzac Day AFL clash between Essendon and Collingwood. That it draws upwards of 90,000 people shows how much it is recognised.

Rugby league has always tried to show its appreciation for all of the Anzac representatives (and other representatives in conflicts). I defer to rugby league historian Sean Fagan when he explains that the first Anzac Day rugby league match was played in 1927 between Glebe and Western Suburbs. The Roosters and Dragons have played on Anzac Day in 1959, 1961, 1978, 1979 and every year since 2002.

I attended and watched the game on Wednesday afternoon like any other spectator. There were over 40,000 fans of every age, yet you sensed that all in attendance understood the importance of Anzac Day. The ceremony prior to kick off was observed with respect by everyone and the most relevant way of sport to celebrate its history was to play the best match of the 2012 NRL season. That the St George Illawarra Dragons defeated the Sydney Roosters with two spectacular tries in the final five minutes only added to the drama.

More recently, Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors have also been scheduled for an Anzac Day rugby league clash. Once again, Wednesday night's affair was a gripping game that had momentum changes in scores, possession and dominance. While this is a new Anzac Day fixture, it is becoming very relevant as the competition leaders Melbourne Storm will testify. While the Storm won comfortably on the scoreboard, it was in the balance at the 70-minute mark. No one in the 20,000 strong crowd left disappointed by the efforts of either team.

The NRL has recognised that as time goes by, rugby league will always acknowledge the relevance and importance of Anzac Day with games being played. The Roosters-Dragons and Storm-Warriors fixtures have been embraced as Anzac Day clashes and people will link these games with the reason they are being played - recognition of the people who defended our country.

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