Approximately 10573 miles separate Manchester – the venue of the Super League Grand Final – and Sydney – the venue of the NRL Grand Final.
After two minutes at Old Trafford on Saturday night the distance between the two competitions was apparent, as just under a week before we had seen one of the greatest games of the year in Australia.
Both finals gave us an opening we will never forget but for very different reasons. Sam Burgess copped the head of fellow Englishman James Graham in the very first tackle of the NRL Grand Final, a collision which fractured his cheekbone and eye socket. After two minutes of the Super League Grand Final Ben Flower retaliated to Lance Hohaia’s forearm to the face by knocking him out with his first punch and then landed a second whilst he lay defenceless on the floor.
Of course by now we all know the story of how Sam continued despite his injury for the full 80 minutes to help his side end a wait of over 40 years to become Premiers, and also won the Clive Churchill Medal for best on field. Ben’s night won’t live in folk law though. He ended his night there and then, as well as the night of Hohaia who wasn’t able to return to the field.
Our competition isn’t on the same level of the NRL however it is what we strive towards and what happened on Saturday put us even further behind the Australian competition.
The game in itself was a good contest with both sides battling hard for the victory but not many people will be focused on the quality of the game in it’s aftermath.
As admirers of a sport we all like to call ‘the greatest game’, we have battled long and hard against the stigma attached to our game claiming that it is for ‘thugs’. After Ben Flower’s moment of utter madness we will have to work even harder to convince those on the outside looking in that we are not all brainless idiots intent on causing pain at any cost.
The sport was being talked about all night last night, which was the aim considering there was no Premier League football this weekend, however it was for the wrong reasons. Footballers who normally wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the game of rugby league were all over twitter tearing into the sport, comparing it to football and how it would never happen in their game.
To say the sport is full of incidents like Saturday’s is a gross exaggeration and 90% of the time we have players who conduct themselves impeccably on and off the field. That isn’t apparent to those outside the sport though, so when we get a grand stage being marred by an inexcusable and sickening act like the one we witnessed, then it is no wonder others call our sport rotten.
Ben may be a nice person off the field but the second punch he landed on the Saints halfback cannot be defended, it has no place in our sport or in any walk of life.
We have to gather what is left of our reputation and hope it holds out until the Four Nations where hopefully someone will restore the faith in the game.
Finally, congratulations to St Helens on finally getting their hands back on a trophy they have let slip for the past eight years. They have been the competitions best side throughout the year and thoroughly deserve to be champions. To beat a side like Wigan without a single halfback on the field is an unbelievable achievement and one they deserve a lot of credit for.