If there’s one song that best crystallises Rugby League in the UK, it would be ‘Over and Over’ by Hot Chip.
Repetition is the crux of the song, and although it sometimes seems the RFL is hell-bent on repeating past mistakes over and over again, much like the monkey with a miniature symbol mentioned in the song, this clumsy metaphor is not meant as a criticism.
With the 2017 Super League season kicking off this week, it is appropriate to look at why this repetition, often confused with stagnation, is a positive for the game and its followers, especially in a World Cup year (which will hopefully provide numerous binge-drinking and sun-burning opportunities for fans in the Australian heat).
The world is an ever-changing place right now (the shape of Toblerones), things are uncertain (the shape of Toblerones), and people are scared and confused (Trump, and the aforementioned Toblerones). Sport is an escape from all this, and yet sports such as Football, Cricket and Rugby Union are constantly tinkering with rules and formats, adding bells and taking away whistles, re-adding the whistles and then forgetting to add bells, much to the chagrin of fans.
Despite the travails of Bradford (already sufficiently covered), Rugby League is always there for you, much like the loyal family dog, your best mates who consistently make you drink too much or the comforting kebab after a failed night on the pull.
The rules of League have not changed much in the past 10-15 years, interchange numbers and the holy grail of rules changes, the 40/20, excepted (side note – the 40/20 rule is the greatest rule ever introduced in sport. There should be dissertations written on how perfect it is. I am even willing to give whoever invented it my still as-new copy of ARL 96 on PC).
People like continuity – familiar teams, stadiums, players, opposition fans and class-A bell end owners (pipe down at the back Salford). This isn’t to say that the small number of teams to have participated in the Grand Final is good enough, but different cycles of rivalries and dominant and weak teams results in a more organic viewing experience from season to season, unlike the football fans who rock up to a new season with 47 new players in the squad, a new stadium and a faceless despot-esque owner, or Rugby Union fans who unwittingly show up to a new season requiring a PHD to deal with a yellow-pages sized new rulebook.
As long as there are working-class people in the UK, there will be Rugby League, from the top of Super League down to community clubs (until the London Broncos finally fulfil their 30+ year financial potential and become the Canary Wharf Broncos). Growing up in Australia, names such as Wigan, Warrington, St Helens and Leeds seemed exotic (until I went to Leeds and got in to a fight with a 20-stone geezer over the last pasty at the train station bakery), such was the power of their brand in the sporting world.
I like to think that hasn’t changed for many, myself included, and that the new season full of familiar friends and foes is full of surprises and if not pierces, at least permeates more of the public consciousness. If all else fails, comfort yourself with the fact that potential road trips to Toronto in a few years’ time could result in some of the funniest tour stories known to man.