v A.R.L. War
Super League Administrators including Lachlan Murdock, John Ribot and Mal Meninga
Super League Captains
Super League Teams
1997 Super League Table
|Rank||Super League Team||Points||P||W||L||D||For||Agst||Diff.|
v A.R.L. War
by Nick Leonard
Two years after the story first broke, 1997 saw Super League and the ARL go head to head in Australia for the first time. After one season, who came out on top? To answer this, each competition has to be broken up into four separate categories.
The ARL won this section rather convincingly. Club football was always going to be a problem for Super League. They had to introduce two new teams, who were obviously going to struggle, just to raise the numbers to ten, which is still not enough for a national competition. The Adelaide Rams, North Queensland Cowboys and Western Reds played so poorly that none of the teams were shown once on Monday Night Football throughout the season. The Hunter Mariners were shown only twice, one of which was because it was the only game that weekend due to a split round. These four teams were clearly not providing the State of Origin standard which was promised by John Ribot two years ago.
The race for the finals was practically over in Super League before it began. The four above mentioned teams were never going to make it, and Brisbane, Canberra, Cronulla and Canterbury were always going to be in the top five, leaving just Auckland and Penrith to fight out the final spot. Penrith won their first few games of the season, which basically cemented their spot as the fifth team.
Brisbane dominated proceedings all year, losing only three games. The new rules which made the game faster detracted from the value of a try, because matches often finished with 60 points scored, which is exciting for the fans every now and then but if it happens week in, week out, it begins to lose its appeal.
By contrast, the ARL had a reasonably successful club season. South Queensland (the only club not to make an appearance on Friday Night Football) and South Sydney were not competitive, but they were the only two teams who could not make the top 7 with two weeks to go. St. George bowed out on the second last weekend, leaving four teams battling for two spots. Illawarra and the Gold Coast were the two teams which survived. Top three spots were also up for grabs in the final weekend, with Newcastle securing third place after North Sydney lost to Sydney City on the final Sunday.
Manly were not as dominant during the regular season as they had been in the previous two years, which was great for the competition. Parramatta surprised all by winning eleven straight games, while St. George, last years Grand Finalists, didnt make the play-offs. The Gold Coast made the post-season for the first time in the clubs history, which was great for the ARL.
This was always going to be the most compared aspect of each competition. Super League kick-started State competition with the first Tri-Series game between NSW and Queensland, won easily by NSW 38-10 in a very anti-climatic match. New Zealand, newcomers to the three team series, played well before falling short 26-12 against QLD in their first appearance. The New Zealand v NSW game was marred with controversy. New Zealand appeared to score a fair try in the dying seconds but Sean Hoppe was ruled off-side. Replays indicated that he was indeed onside, but Bill Harrigan refused to use the video referee, which was a blunder for Super League.
The Tri-Series final between NSW and QLD, however, was a fantastic game. The scores were locked at 22-22 at full-time, and were still locked at the same scoreline after 20 minutes of extra time. Many field-goal attempts by both sides missed, and it wasnt until four minutes into sudden death, or 104 minutes after the game started, that NSW won 23-22 thanks to Noel Goldthorpe. It was certainly a great spectacle for Super League.
The ARL State of Origin series was somewhat of a letdown. Two years ago the series had been conducted under similar circumstances with no Super League aligned players participating, and a tremendous series resulted. This year, however, the games seemed to lack a State of Origin atmosphere, and the third game was a dead rubber after NSW took the first two matches 8-6 and 15-14. Admittedly, both games were close, but not as exciting as we have been used to in past years.
The final game was won 18-12 by Queensland.
In all, a victory for Super League in this section.
All Super League had to do was show up to win this section of the fight for League supremacy. In 1995, the British, French, New Zealand and Fijian Rugby League all signed with the breakaway competition, leaving virtually no opposition for the ARL. Indeed, the ARL staged only one test match this year, played between Australia and the Rest of the World. Australia won 28-8 in a match which was competitive for forty minutes but it seemed as though Australia was always going to win.
Super League have played two test matches this year, both between Australia and New Zealand. The first match was a blowout, with Australia leading 20-0 at one stage and eventually taking the game 34-22. The second game produced a far more surprising result. New Zealand took the game, played last Friday, 30-12. They were far too committed for the Australians on the night, and thoroughly deserved their victory.
The other international football that Super League staged in 1997 was the dismal World Club Challenge. Though the competition begins again this week, it has already been deemed a failure by most people in Rugby League. The Australian teams were far too dominant, and 95% of the results were predicted. The format also is questionable. So that the competition didnt wind up with all Australian teams playing against each other, Super League made a certain amount of European teams qualify regardless of the results. Bradford subsequently made the finals, having won 0 from 6, while Penrith, who went through undefeated, failed to qualify.
The World Club Challenge was not good for Super League, and the Test matches have been reasonably poor. However, the ARL has virtually no international competition, so Super League comes away a clear winner in this department. Also, a three test Super League series between Australia and England is set for the end of the year.
The climax of the season is always the finals. While many people look forward to State of Origin and Tri-Series matches, the finals is what its all about. The ARLs final series in 1997 was better than any other in recent memory. The first weekend involved the brilliant game between North Sydney and Sydney City that went into extra time, and the match between Newcastle and Parramatta, where the Eels led 18-0 and still lost. The Illawarra v Gold Coast game was poor and scrappy, however. In the second week, North Sydney eliminated Parramatta in an exciting game while Manly defeated Newcastle in a match which perhaps didnt live up to its pre-game hype. Sydney City ended the Gold Coasts fairytale run in a game which lacked excitement. The third week was absolutely outstanding. On Saturday, Matthew Johns booted a field-goal in the 79th minute to see the Knights sneak past North Sydney and Manlys Craig Field did the same in the 78th minute against Sydney City on Sunday, giving Manly a 17-16 victory.
The ARL Grand Final was a fabulous game. Manly led for all but six seconds of the match and still managed to lose. The game climaxed in the last five minutes after Robbie ODavis tied the game up at 16-16. Matthew Johns field goal attempt hit the post before missing, and Darren Alberts try was nothing short of sensational.
The Super League final series was a disappointment. The first weekend provided some good football, with Cronulla beating Canberra 22-18 and Penrith overcoming Canterbury 15-14. From then on, however, the games were not close and were lacking in intensity. Canberra beat Penrith 32-12 in sudden death, while Brisbane walloped Cronulla 34-2 in the match which decided the first Grand Finalist. The return Canberra v Cronulla game was close, but Cronulla had the upper hand the entire match, winning 10-4.
The Super League Grand Final, played in front of 58, 912 at ANZ Stadium was an anti-climax. Cronulla remained competitive for the majority of the match, but were outclassed 26-8 by an awesome Brisbane outfit. The Broncos were simply too good for the Sharks, playing in their first Grand Final since 1978.
The ARL and Super League have split the four categories 2-2 in this reporters opinion. However, looking at the two Super League victories, they somewhat fade into the background. Most people did not like the Tri-Series concept, and although it was a success, the myth and legend surrounding State of Origin remains. In terms of television ratings, the Tri-Series final peaked at 27 in Sydney while State of Origin I averaged 33 in Sydney. Super Leagues international program also left a bit to be desired. The World Club Challenge was a farce, and although the ARL has no international competition, international Super League will be remembered for the unsuccessful World Club Challenge.
The ARL clearly dominated the club scene. Throughout the year and the final series, ARL games were generally closer, more exciting and more interesting. Because of this, it can only be concluded that the ARL has won the first year of battle with Super League in Australia.