You knew this was coming.
I’m not sure what’s it’s like for a Sydneysider coming to Melbourne, but as a newly-arrived Melburnian in Sydney, this is the predominant part of my culture-shock. Just for the benefit of any international visitors, the states of New South Wales and Queensland follow rugby league (like the cities of Sydney and Brisbane), while the rest of the country follows Australian Rules Football (originating in Melbourne). Let me preface this post by stating that in AFL I barrack for the Melbourne Demons, which is a polite way of saying “I don’t give much of a shit about AFL”. Sure, it’s great to watch a game with some mates over a couple of beers, but I don’t live and breathe it. A lot of Melburnians do, including my girlfriend who is an unhealthily-addicted Carlton supporter. There are claims that footy shows “passion”, “spirit”, and other such nonsense. In all definitions, it is merely a game. I just think there’s more to life than screaming at grown men chasing a ball. Shouldn’t we be doing something about the world’s financial and environmental crises at the moment?
“Fuck the carbon tax, I wanna watch rich guys fight over nothing!”
However, I might be in the minority here. Each day, countless newspaper pages are glazed with poorly-worded articles from former athletes. And a lot of people really do enjoy their sports, and who am I to challenge them? It turns grown men into emotional teenagers, and emotional teenagers into this:
I think that explains that I’m reasonably impartial here. Let the judgement begin!
Firstly, to the actual sports. If you’re unfamiliar with Australian Football or Rugby League, I’ll try to explain them as best I can for a guy who’s never played a full game of either. AFL, or ‘footy’, is a full-contact game where 18 men per side attempt to kick a football through large goalposts. If you kick a ball and it is caught, or ‘marked’ by a team-mate, they get to kick the ball from that location without being tackled; a ‘free kick’. Passing the ball is done by kicking or handpassing (holding the ball with one hand and hitting it with the other). Also, you must bounce the ball if you’re running with it, like dribbling in basketball. You can only tackle an opponent while they have the ball, and if they can’t dispose of the ball whilst being tackled, you are awarded a free kick. There are other rules, but that’s all you need to know for now. Look, just watch this video:
Now for NRL, or rugby league. Or, somewhat bizarrely, “league”, from the name of its governing body; National Rugby League. By that logic, one could call AFL “league” too. Please leave your rational responses to this statement in the “comments” section.
I don’t know enough about this game to explain it, but that won’t stop me from trying. A team of 13 heavy men take turns holding a ball and barging their way through the other team, so they can place a ball on the ground behind a white line; a ‘try’, similar to an NFL touchdown. Except without padding, of course. You can only pass by throwing the ball backwards, and the teams line up against each other like NFL, as opposed to being spread all over the ground like AFL or soccer. If you score a try, you get a chance to kick a field goal, again, like NFL. In fact, rugby is pretty much like NFL, except that you have to stomp your way through unprotected man-flesh (no homo). I’m sure there are more rules to the game than that, but I’ll let Anna Mae Bullock elaborate:
So, what have we learned? For one thing, this might have to be a two-part entry. It’ll take time to get to the heart of these games, to forever determine which code of football is the best. And while we’re at it, we’ll compare Australia’s best to two other versions of football: NFL and Soccer.
Before we do that, let’s quickly explore an issue of semantics:
I propose we rename NRL to Tackleball™ and NFL to Padded Tackleball™ to avoid any claims of false advertising.
Ok, ok. Let’s start the in-depth analysis.
In NRL, a fumble can be extremely costly, so the backwards pass and catching it are essential. Also, holding on to the ball with one hand while shoving 110 kilograms of anger out of your way is impressive, but not skillful. NFL is similar to rugby, but with greater speed, distance, accuracy and cute gloves. In AFL, you need to be able to handpass a slippery (real) leather ball in every direction. Marking the ball, often while contested, is also a big part of the game, and can be done like this…
Hand skills scores:
This is where soccer shines. Obviously the best foot skills in the football world, by a large margin. In NRL, you need to be able to…run? Rarely, you need to kick the ball. The NFL is similar, but with black guys running, and even less kicking. In AFL, you need to be able to run while bouncing an oval-shaped ball and evading opponents. Also, you need to precisely kick the ball, often more than 50 metres, to your teammate or through a (large) goal. It can’t really compete with this, though:
Foot skills scores:
There is some absolutely insane tackling in NFL. I know they have their pads and their helmets, but it also seems like they have no rules about almost paralysing blokes. Despite this, it feels like I’m watching UFC with sumo-suits, or a Ferrari with training wheels (patents pending on both these ideas). AFL does have some good tackles, but they are nowhere near as ferocious, as the emphasis is on avoiding the penalty for being tackled. Soccer has the slide-tackle. Hardly worth mentioning. NRL, however, is where you need to be able to surrender your physical well-being and to the biggest, hardest dudes in sport. No question. This is what they’re all about. NRL win.
Well, that’s it for this post. I’ve got another 5 categories for you next time, so we can finally decide which game is crowned “King of Aussie Football”. Here are the standings so far:
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion!