Anguish! Torn between two faiths 

Roger Rabbits
with Jim Bunny

I love rugby league. There! – I have said it. Bald, bold and brassy. I feel liberated – like I have just ‘come out’. 

But then my lovely gay brother always said I should find myself a nice truck driver and settle down. For the record, he watches union. 

Then there will be many not surprised by the self-disclosure of my true orientation, my sport-uality. There were signs. “He was always a closet leaguey” they will say. 

Supping Lion Red, reserve seats in the South Stand at Mt Smart, buying Mad Butcher sausages, and having on loop that clip of Kevin Tamati belting the crap out of Greg Dowling in the legendary transtasman brawl of ‘85. Who remembers the score? Doesn’t matter because 40 years later, we’re still jabbing and hooking with Tamati. 

It was football, but it was also deliciously primal. Not like the unseen, bottom of the ruck eye-gouging and ear-biting of the other code. 

Code ‘swing’

I met Tamati a couple of times later on – he was delightful, engaging and gentil – but with a hidden and vicious right cross which he reserved for Australians who crossed him on the field. 

Anyhow why did I code ‘swing’? I wonder too, because rugby league gave me some good reasons not to. 

Like the rugby league boss who told me to: “F*** off and find something you know something about if you want to write a story”. Ouch! Leaguies can be a sensitive and defensive bunch. 

But I haven’t forsaken rugby, because I was born into it – and it’s delivered me moments. I had a Junior All Black cousin, played first XV, watched Don Clark beat the Lions at Carisbrook in ‘59, thought I was going to die in the crazy flour bombing of Eden Park during the disgraceful ‘81 tour that never should have been. I’ve had a haggis, neeps and single malt entre to a Murrayfield test, boot-partied at Twickenham. And I was tempted to change passports when the crowd around me at Stade de France thrust its best chauvinist breast and burst into La Marseillaise. A sound to make a foreigner cry. 

But nowadays give me the fireworks, the smoke, the waiata (song), the light show, the baying loyal, as The Wahs prepare to wow. Where did that exhortation come from? No one knows, but “Up the Wahs” has become a national call to arms, a national declaration of one-ness. 

It must make rugby’s marketing people squirm – because “Up the Wahs” out-emotes the sheer ordinariness of “Go the Blues” or “Black, Black, Black”, or even sad cow bells as the fog descends on FMG Stadium. 

Thursday to Sunday 

And nothing compares to waking up in March knowing every weekend for the next six months there will be a smorgasbord of supreme athleticism and ball skills – NRL Thursday through Sunday – fast, clean, technically pure, easily understood, and unsullied by god-awful rolling mauls, pushover scrums, re-setting scrums, and lineouts. They may set rugby apart, but perhaps I’ve just had my fill of them. 

The NRL is 204 games across 27 rounds, all building to the play-offs in September in an intravenous feed of frenzy, passion, pride, rage, thrill, triumph and heartbreak. 

Mind you, in between times I will pop along to the Domain, where Tauranga deserves to have a showcase, built-for-purpose stadium, to watch the Steamers. And perhaps our local league teams; the Pāpāmoa Bulldogs, and the Whalers. Why not? But as rugby scrambles to discover what it is, who it belongs to and where it’s headed, and the Super Rugby sputters to an underwhelming close, Rugby League surges ahead. 


I once asked a bloke why he loved the Wahs. “Family,” he said. I was impressed. Did he have a brother or cousin who’s a Warrior? He just smirked. “Nuh – they’re all my family mate.” 

South Stand 

And that’s the way it is. The Mt Smart crowd love their game and then they love the Warriors. They’d probably turn up even if there was no game because to sit in the South Stand is a sense of belonging. You are here so are one of us. Then its two hours of hooting, yelling, cheering and booing for the whole ‘fam-damily’. The South Stand is a show in itself. It’s a football match but it’s a bash. A family bash. 

Rugby league administrators must gaze out on match day and chuckle with delight. Another 20,000 bums on seats – give ‘em what they want and they will turn up. 

I know a ‘Kati’ woman who 15 years ago stopped for a cup of tea and a pie in Townsville and has been a hot-blooded Cowboys supporter ever since.

She’s just won a $20 million jackpot – of sorts – scoring four tickets to the Wahs game against the Storm. She’ll pick up hubby from Auckland airport when he arrives home from the second Origin game and whisk him off to Mt Smart with two daughters for the game.

That’s love. Not for each other – for rugby league, for the Wahs. 

Want to know how to niggle a union fan – in the middle of a serious rugby discussion just drop in “Up the Wahs”, then settle back and feel the loathing.