"The Show Must Go On." That would seem to be the mantra for Rugby League these days, with the ringmaster being Peter V'Landys, "The Saviour of Our Game," the man who achieved the impossible and negotiated the resumption of the competition and getting it back on television.
There must have been some extraordinarily deft manoeuvrings going on, along with V'Landys' more customary bull-headedness, in order to accomplish this, and hats off to him, I suppose. But I do wonder whether the rugby league powers-that-be might be missing something: do we, the punters, care as much as they keep telling us we do?
The people I speak to certainly don't seem to. I mean, is anybody going to take this cobbled together 2020 competition seriously? Will winning it mean anything? You'd think the unavoidably uneven nature of it on so many fronts will lead to any future pub discussions on it ending in something like, "2020? Surely you can't count that".
Okay, they've managed to get a reasonably entertaining thing somewhat resembling a football competition onto the screens in the pubs that we're now sort of allowed back into... but is anybody really invested in it?
The recent escalation of the virus in Victoria has led to speculation that the Melbourne Storm may well finish the season exiled in Queensland. This is likely not that big a deal for the Storm side, given there are no actual Victorians in it - the Storm Queenslanders will get to spend a bit of time at home ...
The relocated Warriors, on the other hand, consist of New Zealanders who are getting homesick, want to see their families and are threatening to quit. V'Landys is attempting to patch this particular problem by establishing (so far unsuccessfully) a "trans-Tasman bubble," to enable some form of commute.
At the same time, while there will be a return of spectators (limited numbers) at this week's games, V'Landys said that there will be "no Victorians allowed." How he plans to police this is anybody's guess. The whole operation seems a continuous exercise in on-the-fly extinguishing of spot fires.
Brad Fittler is now backing the call (whose call?) to play an Origin match in New Zealand. The match was tentatively scheduled for Adelaide but, given the nature of South Australia's border restrictions, there are doubts as to whether they can get a sufficient crowd.
Call me old-fashioned but I far prefer the model of sports being played in front of sell-out crowds with television being the option for the people who couldn't get a ticket
Fittler reckons that, assuming they can get the numbers, Auckland might be able to generate the type of atmosphere required for the annual stoush. I suppose the players might get there using V'Landys's trans-Tasman bubble?
Where might it end? Is this "keep the show on the road no matter what" mentality a good thing?
I'm not sure, but others certainly think so. Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham this week seemed very impressed with how V'Landys had "got the jump on the AFL" by returning two weeks earlier; how he is doing a great job capitalising on the failings of rugby union and commending him on the television "content".
Pridham liked that V'Landys was not making the Victorian mistake of measuring "the interest in a sport by the number of people who go to the games".
I'm unconvinced. I don't like the number of shots television is currently calling. Call me old-fashioned but I far prefer the model of sports being played in front of sell-out crowds with television being the option for the people who couldn't get a ticket.
And, also, it seems to me that in getting things done V'Landys always needs to attack something else: In promoting the NRL he denigrates the AFL in much the same way that mounting The Everest means challenging the Victorian Spring Carnival. These clashes seem, to me, unnecessary provocations to tradition. The real competition should be on the actual sporting fields, not in the administrations.
The A-League is starting up this month with a crammed draw meaning that there'll be pretty much daily viewing opportunities for fans. Competition chief, Greg O'Rourke, has been meeting with the coaches and instructing them that the onus is on them to provide entertaining football to re-engage the television audience.
"I've spoken to the coaches," O'Rourke is quoted as saying, "about trying to ensure they make the product as exciting as possible." (product?) He continues, "an exciting 0-0 draw is not going to do it for me."
These are strange days ...