Adrian Barich on why AFL will keep trying to plant its flag in NRL heartland and who can win the 2024 flag

Adrian Barich
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The new guidelines have ramifications all the way down to junior footy.

The AFL kicks off early this year with opening round starting tonight in a full-frontal assault on the NRL in their own backyard.

The four round zero matches are being played exclusively in NSW and Queensland after rugby league left town last weekend for the bright lights of Las Vegas.

I’m tipping the AFL will soon decide to hold opening round in rugby league’s heartland every year as they look to drive the growth in footy’s most significant battleground.

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Rugby league still owns the hearts and minds in NSW and Queensland and the AFL wants much a bigger slice of that tasty - and lucrative - pie.

Undoubtedly the NRL’s trip to sin city was a great success (excluding that racial vilification allegation) but they opened the door for their arch enemy to storm the barricades.

The Americans’ reaction to rugby league has been a bit of an eye-opener too. We all knew they would be astounded by the fact that no-one wears a helmet or even substantial padding, but it was interesting to see their reaction to the level of violence.

New York writer David Lengel was stunned at just what was acceptable behaviour. “One of the Bunnies chokes a Manly player, but this seems to be fine. Nobody seemed to get too upset about it,” they wrote.

Lengel, who looks a lot like David Schwimmer from Friends but with a moustache, then went on to describe rugby league as “human cockfighting” pointing out “another player is bleeding! Is this normal?”

Broncos Reece Walsh is airborne as he scores a try during the NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Brisbane Broncos at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Saturday, March 2, 2024. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Broncos Reece Walsh is airborne as he scores a try during the NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Brisbane Broncos at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Saturday. (AP Photo/David Becker) Credit: David Becker/AP

Another factor in the AFL’s favour as they attempt to be universally known as “Australia’s game” is the flag aspirations of two of their non-Victorian teams. Brisbane were just four points away from becoming world champions (as the Yanks would say) last year and I’m tipping Greater Western Sydney will be hard to beat in 2024.

Realistically probably only five teams can win the title, with Collingwood, Melbourne and Carlton the other three with strong claims to the premiership.

After that four teams will flirt with their fans but more than likely fall short. Sydney, St Kilda, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs.

For the fans of the other nine teams I’d say lower your expectations. Take the pressure off and prepare for a roller coaster season, besides it’s much better to be pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed.

As for supporters of my old team, West Coast, I’d take up running or buy a punching bag. These are good way to relieve stress when your team disappoints. I read somewhere that yelling at the television is also very cathartic.

Best to do that when you’re watching at home though – and when alone.

For the lovers of the blue and gold, you might also consider reminiscing. Nostalgia is a great for counteracting anxiety and is a certainly an emotion that increases feelings of vitality.

Savouring the good times of the four flags in 37 years including being the first club to take the premiership cup out of Victoria will never get old.

Nostalgia will help you smooth over the bumps in your footy life and allow you to deal with what is clearly a transitional period.

And just a final tip from a much-wounded correspondent, never turn to social media to release your anger, you’ll regret it in the morning.

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