Was it right to postpone the ANZAC Test?

In the wake of Friday’s ANZAC test between Australia and New Zealand being postponed a lot of criticism of the decision has been aired. Fans at home settling into their armchairs with beer in-hand were angry. Fans and media personnel commuting to the stadium were angry for having wasted their time. I too was hoping for a scrappy, wet weather contest harking back to the days of old in which the SCG was reduced to a muddy mess.

We demanded the game continue, citing the many years of wet weather football the game has endured. I’ve since lost count of the anecdotes I’ve seen on social media about how “back in my day we played in water up to our waists and still won the ’75 Cup!”. From the fans, past and present players, and various media personalities we’ve been hearing cries of the game as a whole going soft, the players themselves becoming precious, and the NRL executives being too conservative.  Amid this apparently horrible inconvenience of a postponed match that the NRL bosses have forced on us, I think it’s worth putting the temporary disruption due to the weather event into context, in terms of both rugby league and human impact.

In terms of rugby league, frequent comparisons have been made to the recent Souths and Cronulla match played in the Shire, in which a torrential downpour blanketed Remondis Stadium producing conditions we haven’t seen in the NRL for many a year.  The quality of the game was arguably not impacted, instead the deluge resulted in a different brand of football and dramatic scenery that the home team, like their mascot name-sake, excelled in.

Despite both games being marred by the presence of heavy rain, the situations of this game and the postponed ANZAC test are quite different and should be considered carefully.  Sure, the Remondis downpour was expected, just as the Suncorp deluge was. However, the Shire’s wet weather was expected to be short-lived, unlike Brisbane’s record-breaking May event that was predicted to deposit up to 400 mm in parts of South-East Queensland. When you consider the ankle to knee deep puddles of water throughout the stadium, I ask: What reasonable rugby league fan would want to risk their NRL team’s star play-maker in these conditions?

Consider if the test match did go ahead, and then imagine one of your team’s stars suffered a terrible injury due to the wet conditions? Picture the uproar from Redfern if Inglis had re-injured his troublesome ankle by slipping in an effort to produce an agile step around a Kiwi defender. What about the outrage from North Queensland if Thurston had lost his grip and slipped trying to clear a down-field kick and was ruled out for the season, or if Tuivasa-Sheck, New Zealand’s new big money man, suffered a season ending injury? The duty of care and risky management decisions of the NRL would be questioned and we’d be up in arms over having lost a key component to our team’s premiership chances. It simply would not have been worth it; hindsight is a wonderful thing.

What about the other aspect of the decision I mentioned? The NRL head of football Todd Greenburg mentioned the player safety was a part of their decision, but it was also the fan safety that factored into it as well. This key part of the puzzle is a not so obvious thing. Earlier that day the Queensland premier and the state’s police service had issued warnings and asked residents to stay home. We were told not to commute unless it was absolutely necessary. It would be just plain irresponsible for the NRL, a league that every day is trying to refresh its image as a family conscious sport with an increasing focus on safety, to blatantly ignore the government’s requests and urge fans to come out en mass to attend the game.

Public transport was already at a stand-still, people were preparing to sleep in their cars while stuck on the Bruce Highway, and as we woke on Saturday morning we’d learnt at least five commuters had lost their lives overnight fighting fate by trying to cross flooded waterways throughout Brisbane and South-East Queensland. It’s for this reason I am glad that the NRL took the smart option and postponed this test match.

How many more people would we have lost overnight if the game had gone ahead? Most probably, and I’d hope, none. However, if we had lost any fans, found swept off the road travelling home from Suncorp in the midnight hours, the NRL would have questions to answer. Families would need answers; the executive decisions of the game’s leaders would be under scrutiny, and someone would most likely have to take the fall for the decision.

Despite the inconvenience it caused the television viewers and the wasted commute for the fans that travelled to Brisbane, given the horrible events that occurred as a result of the weather the right decision was made. No matter how tantalising JT’s kicking game has been this season, no matter how entertaining Vatuvei’s length-of-the-field theatrics could have been, no matter how gold Johnson’s boot may be, none of it is worth the very real possibility of the game contributing to further loss of life to the disaster that South-East Queensland endured overnight.

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