Rugby League Week #4

If there is one thing guaranteed to get my goat it is ‘positive thinking’. I hate it. But then I hate ‘negative thinking’ too. What I do approve of is ‘thinking’.

There was lots of positive and negative thinking about in the aftermath of the World Club Series, which concluded last week with a 3-0 ‘win’ to the NRL that with a bit more luck and composure might have been 2-1 to Super League.

As I wrote here last week, I was otherwise engaged for most of it, but did manage to find a screen on which to watch Wigan v Brisbane in Riley’s sports café on Haymarket, just off Piccadilly Circus. I say ‘a screen’, several screens actually. Great promotion for the sport in one of the busiest parts of London.

Evidence too, if the winces and fascination of two Spanish senoritas on the table next to ours were anything to go by, that the concept is worth not only sticking with but developing into a grander event. And that’s not being positive. It’s just (arguably) common sense.

But anyway, the World Club Series has already been thoroughly debriefed with the vigour of a non-scoring prop on Mad Monday elsewhere, Saints’ drubbing by the Rabbitohs gaining most attention. Of more immediate interest now is how it will all impact on a ‘New Era’ that, until last weekend, was full of beans.

I can see where the ‘positive thinkers’ are coming from, given that in rugby league there is no shortage of the other kind. Such reliably amusing Twitter accounts as @RLMeltdown will never be short of material in a sport whose favourite book is Misery and whose followers by and large, but mainly large, seem to take a perverse delight in watching everything fall apart.

In the face of such doom and gloom, it is understandable that a contrary determination to look on the bright side might emerge, even if rugby league’s primary narrative has long been one of dashed hope, periodic retreats to parochialism and wasted opportunity.

 But the problem with ‘positivity’ and ‘negativity’ is that they are just two sides of the same useless coin. The only practical way to engage with the world – both as a whole and our own little part of it – is by (yikes!) utilising reason and basing actions on a thought process grounded in reality. A recent self-help book with a difference, ‘Rethinking Positive Thinking’ by Gabriele Oettingen, a social psychology professor at New York University, sums the scenario up succinctly.

In essence and counter-intuitively, perhaps, relentlessly upbeat and chipper people are less likely to get ahead in life, she writes, than those with a more dour disposition, a point surely proven by how Yorkshire currently has nine Super League titles to Lancashire’s eight. Okay, since the start of the summer era, the Red Rose county has won the Challenge Cup twelve times to Yorkshire’s six, but that can be easily put down to the M6 making folk driving to Wembley grumpier than those (double yikes!) utilising the M1.

More seriously, ‘positive thinking’, or not being a ‘downbeat’, can blind us to the truth of situations that, when not addressed, may result in undesirable outcomes. In an uncharacteristic burst of smart-arsery on Twitter yesterday, I couldn’t resist commending some bod for his mathematical aptitude in having taken ‘The Times’ to task for tweeting that “a quarter of UK Muslims are in sympathy” with the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attackers in Paris. “So three quarters don’t!” he told them, pithily, before turning his attention to me.

“Well, Mr Sarcastic, I was trying to emphasise they were focussing on the negative rather than the positive,” he taunted in reply, though I have tidied up his grammar a bit. To which anyone with any sense could only conclude that we have arrived at a fine old state when ‘only’ a quarter of any religion or race being in sympathy with a set of medieval murderous bastards is seen as ‘a positive’.

Similarly, a BBC website report regarding the horror show that is football’s 2022 World Cup showed how by refusing to get to grips with reality we can abdicate any sense of moral responsibility. “The death toll is not decreasing,” secretary of International TUC Sharan Burrow told Dan Roan. “We know from just two sources – the Indian and the Nepali figures – that more than 4,000 [migrant] workers will die before a ball is kicked in Qatar.”

A crime against humanity, surely, in anyone’s reckoning. Yet an outrage that, thanks to the power of ‘positive thinking’, can be safely ignored, pundits like Phil Neville opting to focus instead on England’s improved on-field chances now the tournament will take place in the middle of the domestic calendar, in November and December, rather than at its end in the height of summer. And of course the BBC will show it and we will watch it. Yay for such sunny optimism!

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that as rugby league’s own domestic top-flight campaign gets back underway at Headingley tonight – with the new League One Cup kicking off this weekend also – let’s hope it is with a renewed appetite rather than one damaged by recent WCS events.

Because realistically, given the wide disparity in resources of talent, profile and money between our leading competitions, any clash between northern hemisphere clubs and those in the south will, for the foreseeable future, swing in the Australians’ or Kiwis’ favour. All else will be a surprise and ought to be treated as such.

And do you know what? Saints did go into their game riding a bit of a wave, didn’t they? Praised in all quarters, including this one, you might almost say they had a positive outlook which, to quote Gabriele Oettingen again in ‘Men’s Journal’, might just explain something.

“When we think only positively, our minds, and even physiologically our bodies, relax and react as if we’ve already gotten the thing we want,” she says. “We’re less motivated and amped up to start working through the inevitable obstacles that arise…” Obstacles like Adam Reynolds, Isaac Luke and Greg Inglis perhaps.

Yup, if you ask me, it’s time we gave all this positive thinking the old heave-ho. And in its place, let’s have a bit more positive action.

 

As a society, we seem to be adrift in a plague of well-intentioned irrationality just now. It was there too in the online kerfuffle caused by Eddie Hemmings mixing up Russell Crowe’s guest Djimon Hounsou with the rather more famous black actor Samuel L. Jackson, during Saints versus Souths.

On a train at the time, I was able only to follow the match on Twitter and so didn’t hear the actual words used and have better things to do than seek them out in the hope of being offended. But having since seen the photos of Crowe and Co in the crowd at Langtree Park, I do have to wonder what, on this occasion, all the fuss was about.

Because the fact is that, in these images anyway, Hounsou does look a bit like Samuel L. Jackson in the way that, say, Lawrence Fishburne III looks a bit like Charlie Brooker, or Stevo looks like Sontaran nut-job Strax in Doctor Who.

In fact, Fishburne was innocently embroiled in a comparable scenario about twelve months ago when US television entertainment anchor (that’s ‘anchor’) Sam Rubin mistook the very same Samuel L. Jackson for his fellow film star, leading to accusations of racism during an admittedly excruciating interview. “We may all be black and famous,” Jackson told the shamefaced host, bringing Morgan Freeman into it too, “but we don’t all look alike.”

Which is of course true. But in February 2014 the actors being confused by Rubin were about as dissimilar as Eorl Crabtree (who looks a bit like Robbie Savage) and Leon Pryce (Wallace) and James Roby (Gromit). That wasn’t the case in St Helens, right down to the victim’s snappy dress sense.

Eddie’s immediate reaction may have been too dismissive of the viewing public. As I say, I didn’t hear it, so can’t judge. But surely he ought to be cut some slack for simply getting a pair of actors muddled up. Or are we saying that two black actors – not all black actors, note – aren’t allowed to look like one another? And if we are saying that, then aren’t we being just a bit, well, racist?

Tone’s tips: Wins for Leeds, Saints, Warrington, Hull, Wigan and Widnes. Sky Sports’ Eddie Hemmings to spot Al Jolson in crowd.

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