But let’s get real: it doesn’t matter which network rugby is on, who’s calling it, or which colour jumper the Wallabies play in, whether it’s gold, canary yellow or Mild English mustard.
If the game remains as interesting as watching a box of bananas brown, with its endless stoppages and conservative play, none of it will matter.
Rugby, this is your time to shine. But can you?
A score of rules changes have been ushered in, promising the new dawn of absorbing, attacking, must-watch-so-I-won’t-turn-over-and-watch-the-mungos rugby.
“Why should rugby fans be optimistic about the game in 2021 in Australia?” host Gerard Middleton asked Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa on Sky Radio on Thursday morning.
“Well, mate, we’ve tweaked a lot of rules that we hope will bring an entertaining game to our viewers,” Alaalatoa earnestly replied. “If we’re playing an entertaining brand of footy, that will attract a lot of people and hopefully bring a lot of love back to our game.”
That’s the theory, anyway.
The risk in this reboot doesn’t necessarily rest with Nine, which is paying $32m a year over the next three years, with an option for another two, to broadcast Wallabies matches, Super Rugby and club rugby in NSW and Queensland.
Saturday matches will be shown on free-to-air channel 9Gem while the rest will be broadcast on the newly created Stan Sport.
Nine wants Stan Sport to take on Foxtel’s Kayo in the streaming sport market and more than one media executive will tell you it’s a wise strategy because rusted-on rugby fans will be more than willing — and can afford —to shell out a paltry $10 a month to watch it.
As I understand it, if Stan Sport can have 250,000 subscribers by the end of the five-year deal, the investment in rugby will be worth every cent. Nine is confident it can reach that mark. Stan already has more than two million active subscribers.
No, the real risk of this deal rests with Rugby Australia. This is its last-last-last chance to get it right.
People will say the code lost them forever because of the Folau debacle. Go woke, go broke, something-something.
But the true health of any sport always starts and ends with the on-field product, and to that end it’s becoming almost unbearable for casual followers.
I vowed to never watch another game of rugby after the torturous, tryless draw between the Wallabies and Argentina in Newcastle last November.
Sure, I was talking through my kick after placing a hard-earned $50 bonus bet on winger Marika Koroibete to be an anytime tryscorer.
The closest the former Storm winger and namesake of a Gai Waterhouse-trained six-year-old gelding went to scoring came late in the match when the Wallabies finally spun it wide, only to throw the ball about five metres forward to him. Even by rugby’s interpretation, that isn’t allowed.
New rules have been introduced for this year’s Super Rugby competition to enliven the play, many of them lifted from those heathens in rugby league.
The most notable is golden try, although we wonder just how effective this will be.
Goal-line dropouts and the 50-22 and 22-50 rules, which in theory prompts wingers to stand back thereby opening up space on the edges, were introduced last year to promote attacking play.
It all points to exciting times ahead but we’ll believe it when we see it.
This captivating new style we’ve been promised will come down to the way the game is coached and officiated.
Teams have gone so far down the path of using the mind-numbing box kick, and in more recent times the caterpillar ruck, that it will take time to shake old habits.
Coaches will do whatever they need to win. Seldom do they care about the bigger picture as much as keeping their jobs.
The Wallabies looked to be turning the corner, finally, at the 2015 World Cup when Michael Cheika promised – and delivered – attacking rugby.
Then the All Blacks rolled them in the final, followed by a home series loss to Eddie Jones′ England, and it’s been heartbreak ever since as the Wallabies work out who they are and how they want to play.
Getting clean ball to Koroibete when there’s fresh air between him and the tryline would be a fabulous start.
As for the game-day officials, they seem to suffer from Relevancy Deprivation Syndrome more than Clive Palmer.
The Television Match Official is such a bore, not just in name but the manner in which it slows a game already shackled with stoppages with even more stoppages.
The arse-covering examination of dangerous tackles, with microphones open, essentially holding mini-judiciary hearings mid-match, brings the game to a standstill.
It often feels like yellow and red cards are distributed just for the sake of justifying the process. Meanwhile, how many have changed the channel waiting for the verdict?
We could go on, but we won’t. We’re starting to bore ourselves.
In summary, this is your time, rugby. Your time to shine. I’ll be watching tonight. I’ve even forked out the $10 for Stan Sport.
Don’t make me hurt you by turning over to the tennis.
Just when rugby league thought it had seen off the last off-field scandal of the pre-season came news this week of a “love triangle” involving Bulldogs player Adam Elliott, his former teammate Michael Lichaa and Lichaa’s fiancee, Kara Childerhouse.
Melrose Place had nothing on rugby league.
Of course, people started clutching at their pearls, claiming this alleged grubby behaviour was representative of rugby league and, indeed, the Canterbury club.
No, it’s representative of life. People do silly things when drunk. Out there, in the suburbs, people are having love triangles, love squares, even love trapeziums — you just don’t hear about them.
Rugby league needs to tread carefully along the fine line between its players “bringing the game into disrepute” and “mind your own [expletive] business”.
Players, though, have to realise that being a professional athlete attracts enormous attention.
Like the Mitchell Pearce episode that led to the cancellation of his wedding, the Lichaa love triangle story is a private matter — but when you’re a high-profile footballer it has very public consequences.
It stuns me how many people still don’t grasp that basic premise.
The NRL is powerless to take action against Elliott, nor should it.
But how the Bulldogs, especially new coach Trent Barrett and incoming chief executive Aaron Warburton, handle all of this could define their season.
This is where the club – and the player – needs to control the narrative. Or “own it”, as they’ve been saying internally this week. Elliott’s public and likely teary mea culpa is expected any day now.
Lichaa hasn’t played for the club since 2019 and wasn’t the most popular player when he left. Elliott hasn’t lost the support of his teammates, although they are unhappy about the unwanted distraction this close to the start of the season.
So are Bulldogs officials.
When Elliott was negotiating a new deal late last year, he was angry about the Dogs’ low-ball offer after receiving a huge one from the Warriors.
He was also weary of the endless stream of stories about the club’s dysfunctional board.
The politics in the boardroom were becoming a distraction for the football team in the dressing-room, apparently.
Not even the Bulldogs board could conjure the headlines nor mental images of the past few days.
“It’s within the rules, she’s within her rights to take that time.” — Ash Barty, doing a very Ash Barty thing by not bitching and moaning about why she lost her quarter-final against Karolina Muchova, who called a controversial medical timeout.
Finally, a silver lining to this COVID business with NSW to host not one but two World Surf League events. First came the news that the famous Bell’s contest was relocating to Newcastle. Then the Herald revealed the tour opener was moving from Snapper Rocks to Narrabeen. Yeeeew! #shakaemoji
Nick Kyrgios’ jabs at Novak Djokovic are expected but it says everything about the modern athlete when Thanasi Kokkinakis starts throwing shade at the world No.1. Djokovic is gunning for his ninth Australian Open title. Kokkinakis can’t get past the second round.
It’s a big weekend for …
Latrell Mitchell, who will return from a hamstring injury for the Indigenous All Stars, winding up at the back and causing trademark devastation against the Maori All Stars in Townsville on Saturday night.
It’s an even bigger weekend for …
The Sydney Kings, who play the Adelaide 36ers on Sunday afternoon in Melbourne John Cain Arena, which just days ago was hosting tennis matches. What an amazing time to be alive.
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Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.