By guest writer Rhys Bosley
In the late 80s and early 90s when I first came to Australia from New Zealand, I was as engaged as any other Queenslander by the titanic State of Origin matches of the time. How could I not be, with Mal Meninga, Alfie Langer and most of all the King, Wally Lewis, battling the dastardly Blues and pulling off a miracle series win right on full time? Despite being from a foreign land, supporting the Origin was one of the things that made me feel like a Queenslander.
I was also inspired by the great Wallabies sides of the time, with players like John Eales, David Campese, Michael Lynagh, Tim Horan, Phil Kearns, Stephen Larkham and George Gregan, making Australia the first nation to win two Rugby World Cups. Even as a teen before the 1991 win, the passion for rugby and culture of excellence that I saw around me, particularly among my friends from the private schools which provided most of the players for Australia, was enough to drag me away from first and foremost supporting the All Blacks. Cheering for those great Wallabies sides made me feel like an Australian.
I still enjoy the Origin but rugby became my game, which on reflection happened around the time of the Super League war in the mid 90s. I hated the headlines being filled with rugby league political bickering, when previously it’d been filled by feats by great teams. This caused me to gravitate away from the thirteen player code, towards rugby union.
After this year, I have felt the same way about Australian rugby as I did about league after the Super League war. Hamish McLennan’s “Captain’s Calls” ruined what should’ve been an enjoyable World Cup, compounded by other decisions that’ve put Rugby Australia into a troubled financial position. For the first time since I became an Australian, I just didn’t want to watch the Wallabies play.
That a majority of the state unions and the Rugby Australia board have decisively acted to replace McLennan with former Wallaby Dan Herbert, has given me the glimmer of hope for Australian rugby that I need to stay engaged. It’s been a close run thing though, last week the Australian rugby debacle of 2023 was looking like being the Super League moment for me when it came to Aussie rugby.
Despite from the start having been appalled by McLennan’s half-baked decision to sack then
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and replace him with Eddie Jones far too close to the Rugby World Cup, I’m not going to indulge myself with self-congratulatory assurances that I was on the right side of history. That’s because an event that I went to right at the time that the Rugby Australia board was considering McLennan’s fate, made me realise that despite being full of opinions about what other people are doing wrong in rugby, there are things that I’ve been wrong about as well.
The event was a wonderful comedy fundraiser for men’s mental health and suicide prevention, held at the Calamvale Hotel in South Brisbane for International Men’s Day, organised by Logan City Councillor Scott Bannan. Queensland rugby league greats Chris “Choppy” Close and Michael Hancock were guest speakers, with Andrew Barnett and Rob Brown providing the comedy.
The MC was none other than former Wallaby and Triple M speaker Greg Martin, who was every bit the big, amusing personality that we all know in public. There was a mix up with the dress code, with some of us like me turning up in tuxes and others like Marto wearing more casual attire. The first thing he said when he saw me was that I was magnificently dressed and then asked if I was the comedian.
I was able to have a good chat to Marto about rugby, but I was most highly impressed with the job that he did of interviewing Close and Hancock about men’s welfare issues in rugby league. The insights that Marto was able to sensitively elicit from those two gentlemen were great lessons for anybody trying to help young men and it was very kind of him to donate his time for the event. One of the things that Chris Close was particularly passionate about, was how crucial actively working to grow female participation in rugby league is to that game’s future, with a living wage for female players being critical. If you are thinking now “why was he talking about women at a men’s day event”, then hear me out.
On the lack of women’s participation in 15s rugby in Australia, I have to confess I’ve been unsympathetic. My view has been that if Australian women were interested in the 15 player game, they should be able to grow it themselves like men did.
Chris Close’s conviction has made me think hard on the issue and I realise now that I was wrong. Women who are trying to grow professional rugby in Australia face precisely the same fiercely competitive full contact football market that Australian men’s rugby struggles to compete in, unlike in any other tier one nation. If men’s professional rugby is struggling to keep its foothold after over a century, how can women’s rugby be expected to gain any traction without meaningful assistance? There’s no other logical reason than the especially tough Aussie sporting market, as to why Australian females have not taken up the game with the same gusto as girls and women from New Zealand, Canada, England, Ireland and many other nations. Moreover, with their successful year capped off with a win against Wales, the Wallaroos have proven that there’s the commitment from the female players. Therefore, I’m happy to say that I was wrong and regret not believing in them earlier.
The most important of many reasons about why more female participation is vital to the future of the game in Australia, and to the men who are currently the majority enjoying and benefiting from it, really only became clear to me after the conversation that I had with Marto. We bemoaned how rugby participation has precipitously waned in the Australian private schools, which previously developed so many great players for the game.
It was reflecting on this conversation that made me realise that the athletically talented kids who rugby is competing for are more likely to play rugby if Mum was also a rugby player. There are plenty of households where there’s only a Mum present for part or all of the time, engaging Mums now seems to me to be critical to the long-term future of Australian rugby. Aside from which is just fair that girls should be able to aspire to enjoy the full rugby experience, just as much as their brothers can.
This is why I’ll be supporting the Wallaroos and the Super W as much as I have the Wallabies from now on. I’ll also look forward to doubling the odds of Australia winning a Rugby World Cup.