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“How good is Queensland! I never thought I’d hear that in this room in NSW this close to Origin.”

After leading the Liberal Party to victory in last Saturday’s Federal election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referenced State of Origin during his acceptance speech at Sydney’s Sofitel hotel as supporters chanted “Queensland, Queensland, Queensland”.

Around the harbour at Balmain’s Unity Hall Hotel, Anthony Albanese spoke about his lifelong passions of South Sydney and the Labor Party as he announced plans to contest the leadership after Bill Shorten’s decision to stand down.

With Morrison returned as Prime Minister and Albanese tipped to become Opposition leader, rugby league has never had such influence in Australian politics.

Morrison continued his victory celebrations by attending PointsBet Stadium – as he regularly does – for Cronulla’s match against Manly last Sunday and it is likely that he has already begun to think about the selection of the PM’s XIII to play Fiji at the end of the season.

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Australian coach Mal Meninga revealed after last year’s team was announced that Morrison had been the first Prime Minister to take a keen interest in selections and he has been known to express opinions on everything involving the Sharks, from refereeing decisions to salary cap scandals.

Albanese is also an outspoken Rabbitohs supporter and he played a key role in the club’s reinstatement to the NRL after serving as a director from 1999 to 2002 and helping to raise funds for Souths’ legal challenge, led by his close friend and current chairman Nicholas Pappas.

After the Rabbitohs won the 2014 premiership, Albanese told Federal Parliament how 43 years after his mother had taken him to watch Souths beat St George in the 1971 grand final he had been able to witness their next title win with his son and thousands who had fought against the club’s expulsion.

There are also leading politicians across all the mainland states who are known league supporters and have helped secure Origin matches in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, while the game has obtained $2.5 billion for infrastructure projects since 2013.

It’s a long way from where league was just five years ago, when clubs would complain that the NRL could not match the political clout of AFL and the code was being left behind.

Since the appointment of Jaymes Boland-Rudder - a former staffer to ex-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell – as NRL head of government and community relations, politicians are recognising the role the game can play in dealing with social issues, particularly among Indigenous and Pacific Island communities.

The NRL’s School to Work program has a 95 per cent success rate in transitioning indigenous students to employment, while the NRL has been engaged to deliver the In League In Harmony program in Victoria and State of Mind program in Western Australia. Both programs are aimed at young Pacific Islanders.

The Tonga-Samoa clash was a highlight of 2018.
The Tonga-Samoa clash was a highlight of 2018. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

The game is also helping to deliver programs targeted towards promoting social inclusion, participation, equality and health and welfare in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, with the Federal Government funding NRL teams to play pre-season trials in the Pacific from 2020.

Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne is a St George Illawarra supporter and the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Rugby League group.

Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Michael McCormack is also a league fan and he has the bruises to prove it after connecting with the shoulder of Liberal MP Scott Buchholz as he attempted to step Darren Lockyer during a touch game at Parliament House ahead of the 2017 World Cup.

Labor could also have a known league supporter as deputy leader, with former ARL Indigenous Council chair Linda Burney touted for the role by Chris Bowen before his decision not to challenge Albanese for the top job.

Queensland MP Jim Chalmers, a long-time Brisbane supporter who took Shorten jogging with Darius Boyd and Ali Brigginshaw during the election campaign, has also withdrawn from the Labor leadership contest.

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Influential Labor politicians Tony Burke, a passionate Canterbury supporter, Joel Fitzgibbon, who is the uncle of Newcastle second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon, and former Souths Cares chair Kristina Keneally have thrown their support behind Albanese.

WA Liberal MP Ken Wyatt is also a keen Rabbitohs fan, as is the state Labor government’s deputy premier Roger Cook.

Cook, who is also WA heath minister, was instrumental in driving the deal for Origin II to be played in Perth on June 23 and funding the State of Mind program aimed at reducing high suicide rates among Pacific Island community.

SA sports minister Corey Wingard developed an appreciation for league while working for Channel Nine and was behind Origin being played in Adelaide next year, while his chief of staff Larissa Mallinson is a Dragons supporter who ran for Throsby in Wollongong’s south at the 2013 election.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and ARLC chairman Peter Beattie.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and ARLC chairman Peter Beattie. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas is also known as the Minister for Melbourne Storm and lists on his official parliamentary profile that he is a member of the club.

Pallas’s government is funding a $12 million Victorian Rugby League State Centre, which could be used in the future for a Melbourne Storm NRLW team.

The NSW government is currently investing $2 billion in stadium redevelopments, with the new Bankwest Stadium opening at Easter and Allianz Stadium being rebuilt before work starts on ANZ Stadium.

In Townsville, the $250 million North Queensland Stadium is due to be completed in time to host the first game of the 2020 season, while a new $20 million Territory Rugby League Stadium was opened last weekend and a number of NRL clubs have received funding to build Centres of Excellence.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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