Discord: The gentle socialism that’s been nurturing English rugby league

By STEVE MASCORD

I AM betting what dominated my thinking as I watched Hull KR bravely battle Castleford before succumbing by 20 is not what any of you had on your minds on Thursday night

Because the lack of up to nine Robins top liners and the great form of Paul McShane, Danny Richardson and Mike McMeeken were things worthy of contemplation. That Mose Masoe was out and about in a wheelchair and Roger Millward’s contribution to the game was commemorated with the awarding of a trophy were both worthy subjects upon which one could ruminate.

But I found myself thinking how much the game in this country owes to former Sky Sports director Neville Smith.

To explain why, I’ll take us way back to 1982 when 13-year-old me attended the then-Winfield Cup grand final between Manly and Parramatta. That was the first year in the Sydney Premiership for the Illawarra Steelers and was proudly wearing my Steelers jersey.

People came up to me and asked “what team is that?”.

That’s right, they had played an entire season in the elite league and fans of teams in the same competition didn’t know their strip.

This is because Australian television companies would never do what Neville made sure Sky has done since the beginning: show a wide variety of teams on screen when only a couple of matches a week are broadcast (which was the case in Australia in 1982).

Thursday night’s game would never be broadcast in Australia. Hull KR are down the bottom and when Sky scheduled their games at the start of the year, they more or less knew Hull KR would be near the bottom

Back then Manly, Parramatta, Canterbury, St George … these teams were on TV every week. Illawarra didn’t get a TV game (outside of the midweek cup) until week two of their second season. No-one knew what Canberra Raiders’ strip looked like either.

Why? In the shorthand vernacular of today: “because money”.

Brisbane Broncos have an entire state following them so they are shown ever second Friday night so the telecasters can reach the biggest audience and charge the most for advertising. Why put the Raiders or the New Zealand Warriors in this time slot – you may as well throw cash in the dustbin.

TV keeps the NRL open so it calls the tune.

Sky keeps Super League’s doors open but it has never pushed the game around this way – thanks to Neville. His efforts to give every team more or less equal exposure have acted like a salary cap or a draft, allowing the struggling clubs to still attract sponsors because of the TV exposure they can still get.

One suspects if the “wrong” person in Sky Sports management took an interest in the game, we’d soon see Leeds and Warrington and Wigan and St Helens – and different combinations thereof – on TV every Thursday and Friday and the others only getting a look-in when they played one of this all-powerful foursome.

And we must also ponder, under the new TV deal, how long the current socialism will last.

If Sky puts no more money into production and less into rights, then would the margins be made up by showing only the matches which draw the biggest audiences?

None of these esoteric ponderables will be of any interest to Tony Smith, whose team improved significantly from the previous week when Rovers weren’t really at the races against Huddersfield.

But I like the look of Cas’ this year. They might actually do something.

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