Written by Zack Wilson
One feature of this writer’s lockdown experience has been the explosion of old rugby league videos across social media.
The resulting wave of nostalgia has been enjoyable, and it has recalled a time when professional sport still thought the entertainment was the most important thing.
One enjoyable rabbit hole to drop down has been the cross-code games of the 1990s and early 2000s.
When Wigan faced Bath at rugby league and then rugby union, they certainly gave a good account of themselves.
They hammered the union side under league rules,
Under union rules, Bath played a forward-dominated game that saw them win.
But Wigan scored two superb length of the field tries to much acclaim from the crowd.
But more entertaining than those two fixtures, which largely went as people predicted, was the foray of Wigan and Bradford Bulls to the Middlesex Sevens.
Wigan went and won the tournament in 1996, and Bradford did it in 2002.
They have a slower tempo and increased tension of international matches like the teams are trying to work each other out.
The league sides end up as convincing winners, which is good fun, especially when the union personalities in the commentary box, such as Stuart Barnes and Jeremy Guscott, are reduced to speechlessness at times by the skills of the league men.
Watching those games recalled an era where sport had the flexibility to think outside the box a little when it came to entertainment.
Another video was an old clip from Superstars where Clive Sullivan competed against a field of athletes from other sports in a 100m race.
The field included Northern Ireland football legend George Best, who was seen as Clive’s main rival in this particular event.
Clive won the race. Indeed, rugby league players tended to do well on Superstars. Keith Fielding and Des Drummond also did well on the TV show.
You can find plenty of old Superstars shows on YouTube – and watching them will surely prompt speculation about how today’s Super League and NRL stars might perform in a similar multi-sport environment.
The other feature of much lockdown nostalgia has been the number of old tour matches between the likes of Great Britain or the Kangaroos against club sides and rep selections.
It would be interesting to see more games like that these days.
An era where the grind of intense professionalism has replaced the desire to bring the fans flocking with something a bit different and special events are grand finals rather than one-off special or something out of the ordinary.
The drive to get games back on in the NRL is a sign of this contemporary mentality.
The urge to return to action isn’t driven by a desire to entertain the public after a stressful period, it’s to ensure that broadcasting revenues don’t dry up because otherwise, the sport will go bankrupt.
It would be nice to see the sport in general, and rugby league in particular, return to more old-school thinking when things revert to some kind of normality.
Who knows? Doing things like inviting the All Blacks to the Auckland Nines, sending a rugby league select to a rugby union sevens comp, or even having top league stars compete in a modern revamp of Superstars might just have some PR and commercial effects down the line.
Or maybe it’s just the lockdown confinement getting to me.
But a return to the days when the sport took itself less seriously and athletes and spectators had the space for a little fun wouldn’t be so unpleasant.