Jumping on board the Waratahs’ bandwagon in 2015 turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.
It gave me the taste of victory, a sweet tease of the nectar of success that the Waratahs would not be able to emulate for the next five years.
The curse comes from being a long-suffering Waratahs fan, combined with the implosion that Australian rugby has managed to navigate itself towards in recent years. It has not been particularly fun being a rugby fan, but for some reason I’ve stuck with it.
Much of that negativity, somewhat oddly, has come from those that are meant to have a strong stake in supporting and growing the game, Fox Sports. Without delving deep into the drama of broadcast negotiations, NewsCorp campaigns against Raelene Castle, and that social media post, it’s fair to say Fox’s coverage of rugby has dwindled to a shadow of what it used to be.
Axing popular presenters such as Sean Maloney, Drew Mitchell and in particular the highly respected Nick McArdle has reduced the commentary team to centre around the talents of Phil Kearns. While he seems to have responded to the uproar around his negative commentary, his coverage still outwardly lacks basic enthusiasm for the game, despite his pedigree.
The failures of Fox Sports are many, but that’s not what I want to focus on.
Instead, there are actually many blessings that are coming from the rise of (somewhat) independent media.
In the vacuum of analysis, commentary and engagement has come a large number of contenders to fill that void.
The Roar continues to provide astute commentary and analysis in the form of regular contributors such as Nick Bishop (tactical analysis), Brett McKay (Australian commentary and analysis), and Geoff Parkes (governance and whole-game insight). Perhaps we simply need a return of the Cheap Seats to round out The Roar’s offering? Over to you, Brett…
Beyond this, RugbyAU has picked up their game and is now offering regular podcasts such as Rugby Nation with Nick McArdle and Christy Doran (formerly of Fox Sports), and Captain’s Corner with George Gregan. Doran has also taken over the reins from Beth Newman and is providing an engaging level of provocative headlines combined with informative journalism that is great to read.
Morgan Turinui and Ben Kimber teamed up with RugbyPass to offer The Tight Five live show on a Sunday night, with a combination of insightful commentary, quality interviews and Morgan’s analysis of key moments in the weekend’s games.
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In addition, there are smaller independent podcasts. Caleb Timu’s Timu Time covers a wide range of topics including rugby, marriage, faith and addictions, with guests ranging from Taniela Tupou to reggae artists. Berrick Barnes’ The Ball and All had an absolutely fascinating interview with Raelene Castle after her axing, while Green and Gold Rugby love to tease us with their inconsistent yet highly enjoyable offerings. I’ve also teamed up with my close mate Mitch Foster to launch The Pick and Drive Rugby Podcast.
Perhaps the failure of Fox Sports to provide engaging media for the game they’ve paid for, and may well be paying for beyond 2020, has provided a blessing in disguise.
Yes, Australian rugby is not in a healthy place and may well struggle for the next few years. But what we’ve seen over the last six months has been the initiative of people who love the game to commit to supporting it in whatever way they can, be they professional or independent.
The diatribe coming from mainstream media has been disheartening, but when you look beneath the surface there are fresh shoots pushing through to the surface. That’s why I remain positive about rugby in Australia, both now and into the future.