So on Wednesday the hubs and I were very, very lucky to get taken to the Rugby League State of Origin game. My relatives have club seats at ANZ Stadium, which I guess they originally bought so they could attend good Olympics events when it opened back in 2000. Can you imagine having seats to a stadium that hosts like every big game? Man, and they are awesome seats, too:
As we were walking in (and it’s such a beautiful facility, by the way) my cousin was pointing out various features of the stadium to me. A couple uniquely Australian things: the line for fancy Italian coffee was as long as the beer line (I’m constantly floored by how much they love their coffee here). Also, this mobile betting booth:
It’s a well-known fact (at least here) that Australians LOVE to gamble. According to Wikipedia (and the Bill Bryson book In a Sunburned Country, i.e. my Australia bible), Australia has 21% of the world’s slot machines (or “pokeys,” as they’re called here, mainly because most gambling machines are video poker). There are FIVE TIMES as many pokeys, per capita, as in the U.S. (not shocking since gambling is only legal in certain places, but still). They have them in like every bar, even the super-cool trendy ones. So anyway, naturally there was a mobile gambling van parked outside the game. There were also dudes roaming the stadium with little hand-held devices in case people wanted to place more bets on a whim. It’s pretty funny.
As we walked to our seats some dude who’s apparently a TV comedian (didn’t recognize him, and didn’t catch his name) was telling dirty jokes about Queenslanders. I’d say about 75% of the stuff went over my head (he was making fun of their apparent accents and local slang), but we also caught the terms “Banana Benders” and “cane toads.” The former is what Australians cheekily call Queenslanders I guess (cause it’s all tropical and whatnot), and cane toads are just their local vermin. When the players ran out onto the field, Queensland actually had a mascot in a giant cane toad costume. We couldn’t figure out what New South Wales’s was, but the guy sitting next to us informed us it was a cockroach. Fair enough, they do have those here, but can you imagine if, like, New York teams had big ugly rats as their mascots or something? It’s such a different sensibility.
Anyway, at this point I should backtrack a little to explain the stakes of the game. Rugby league (which is different from both Rugby Union and Aussie Rules Football) is most popular in New South Wales and Queensland, and therefore that’s where the majority of the league’s players come from. State of Origin is like a three-game all-star series, in which the best players who hail from these two states square off. It’s like if the NFL pro-bowl pitted all the players from California and Texas against those from Ohio and Florida, and they all cared a lot about it and the home states were rabidly devoted and made tasteless jokes about each other, all in the name of bragging rights. It’s actually pretty cool.
My general impression of rugby – that it’s just dudes running five feet and getting tackled, over and over and over again, and that the lack of a forward pass is a major drag – pretty much held true, but it’s also exciting to see and hear such brute force up close. I mean, dudes were clothes-lining each other, punching each other in the face and kneeing each other in the groin. You could hear the bones crunching! Like hockey, it was definitely more entertaining in person. It was also fun because the crowd was so into it. The entire stadium was packed, and no one left their seats until about the final two minutes, when it was clear that NSW didn’t stand a chance at victory. There were also no TV tine-outs, so the game went by really fast, and there was a lot less distracting, promotional bullshit than what you’ll see at Pro games in the U.S.
Other highlights: I continue to be entertained by the shortness of men’s rugby shorts. Not in a, “Wooo, show me some skin, baby! That’s hot!” kind of way, but just because it’s so opposite of men’s shorts in the US, where if they’re not baggy as can be and to the knee, guys freak out about looking un-manly. These dudes are clearly plenty manly, yet they basically wear hot pants. Hilarious.
By far the most exciting moments of the game came when someone intercepted the ball and ran it back for a…try? Of course, for me that might be because it was the aspect most similar to football. Queensland has some dude named Israel Folau (note, sports team websites here are so ghetto that I couldn’t find an official roster/bio anywhere) whom the gentleman next to us described as “a 19-year old freak of nature.” Sure enough he seemed to constantly be jumping two feet higher than everyone else and sprinting away from the pack with the ball. Watching him actually reminded me of the Ravens’ Ed Reed, who is certainly the greatest INT-returned-for-TD playmaker I’ve ever seen.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience. It was great to be out doing something so authentically Australian, and since I obviously love sports it was the perfect kind of event to attend (I’ll take a sports game over the Opera House every day of the week). What I really can’t wait for, though, is cricket. The Windies arrive in November for a three month tour of Australia, and I’m already getting excited…