For rugby union’s sibling, one league stands above all others. The Southern Hemisphere's National Rugby League, or NRL, is widely seen as the greatest in the world. The 2015 tournament, just like every other year, did not disappoint. The epic and nail-biting final epitomised everything that is great about the NRL and in particular rugby league in Australia, showing yet again while playing the game there is an opportunity young rugby league players do not want to miss.
The final showpiece, held in front of 82,758 gripped spectators, had a very Sport Lived feel to it, with North Queensland playing Brisbane, the city where Sport Lived’s full and mini season rugby league gap year programmes are held. The North Queensland Cowboys won their first NRL Premiership title in incredibly dramatic circumstances - Johnathan Thurston going from zero to hero by kicking a golden point in injury time. The Brisbane Broncos led 16-12 when the hooter sounded for normal time. Yet Queensland’s Kyle Feldt crashed over to give Thurston the chance to become a hero – he missed the conversion by hitting the post only to kick the winning field-goal seconds later. It was drama and tension personified. The superb ANZ stadium in Sydney was on the verge of self-combusting such were the wild scenes of exhilaration that had engulfed it.
If you wanted 80 or so minutes of action to understand exactly what NFL rugby league is all about, this first Grand Final meeting between these two Queensland clubs was it. It involved all of the elements that make Australian rugby league so spectacular. It had huge commitment from the first minute to the last, played at a frenetic pace that is exhausting to watch let alone take part in. The game’s openness was not down to repetitive errors from players, simply their ability to maintain an impressive standard of attacking and expansive rugby. This was summed up by a scintillating 80-metre try by Brisbane’s Corey Oates. The pace did not relent but neither did the quality. The quick handling, excellent running lines, sharp passing and well executed kicking from hand and off the tee that characterise the Australian game were all on show. As was the impressive fitness, athleticism and decision-making. The desperate defence shown from Brisbane in front of their own posts as they tried ultimately in vain to deny their opponents a last-gasp win also displayed the commendable level of tackling and defensive organisation in the NRL.
The fact that one of the tries in the game was scored by Brisbane’s English centre Jack Reed is also noteworthy. More and more professional players from the United Kingdom have headed to the Southern Hemisphere to play their rugby, lured by the prospect of playing in the NRL. Competing and training there offers them a wonderful chance to enhance their respective games and challenge themselves in a completely new environment. They have realised the significance of playing out of their comfort zones and broadening their rugby league experiences. The likes of James Graham at Canterbury, Sam Tomkins of the Warriors and of course recent Union convert Sam Burgess at South Sydney have all thrived Down Under. The 2016 season will see Joe Burgess, currently of Wigan, becoming the third Burgess Brother to have played in Australia when he turns out for Sydney Roosters.
The year 2016 could also be the year that you find yourself running onto the field wearing the colours of an Australian rugby league team. Through a programme with Sport Lived you could spend from 4 to 25 weeks living and playing rugby league for a club in Brisbane. You could be training week in, week out with top players and putting all you have learnt into practice through matches at weekends. You would get to really experience the skills and commitment you’d previously only been able to see on the television.
The NRL final was another classic Super League showcase that again placed the fine qualities of Australian rugby league in the shop window for all to see and appreciate. Now would be an ideal time for young players to head there and do more than just admire it. Burgess and co have done it. Now how about you?