The Wrap round 26
By STEVE MASCORD
POPULAR culture isn’t just entertainment – it helps us mark the passing of time, it’s a simplified facsimile of life itself.
The music you listened to in your teens, the movie you went to with your partner, the book that changed the way you look at the world – they all act as emotional triggers which, neurologists tell us, are discernable chemical reactions in the brain.
Love, they say, is the memory of a chemical reaction.
Of all the areas of popular culture, sport has an added resonance because it’s seasonal. Our memories of past deeds and disappointments are inextricably linked with sensations of climate and weather.
While movies and music may not evoke the same visceral reactions they did in our teenage years, the ability of sport to imprint itself on our psyche is more resilient – perhaps because it is results-driven, goes away for third of the year and doesn’t just mark the passing of years but of the months and seasons.
When I recall country trial matches, it’s the smell of sizzling sausages, shorts, sunscreen, notepads and motels. As a long-serving reporter, Origin evokes memories of tense media opportunities, the mid-winter chill, mind racing at deadline, competitiveness … and Brisbane nightspots.
And what of the finals, which are upon us this weekend?
For me, it’s Rex Mossop, posing with the then-brand new Winfield Cup before the 1982 grand final. Flags held by promotional girls behind him flapped violently. The gusting wind was so strong it almost blew the trophy off its stand.
That’s what Sydney is like in September. It’s windy and sunny. The finals, for me, are all about wind and sun and the murmur from fans as the gates open and they flood into the wide open spaces of giant stadia.
In September, I was always fascinated by the lower grades, how games which had been played in obscurity for most of the year were suddenly afforded attention and publicity – because they were FINALS. That is a practice which has sadly faded.
One thing which this Saturday’s double-header will give us is something so often under-rated in this country – the chance for fans of more than two clubs to mingle. When only two sides play at a venue, it’s just us and them, winning and losing.
But at a Nines or Sevens tournament, a double header or a Challenge Cup final, ‘us’ is rugby league fans and ‘them’ is everyone else. In that realisation that we have more in common with each other than we have that separates us, lies Australian rugby league’s potential to be every bit as culturally important and powerful as Australian Football.
Unlike Australian football, it’s a reality we contemplate often enough. We don’t have time for such esoteric concerns in our brash, busy harbour city, do we?
The finals are driven by anticipation, both conscious and hardwired. The conscious anticipation is of the contest, of glory, of sudden death.
There’s also the anticipation of it all being over soon, of the break in routine that everyone in rugby league looks forward to in October after a long hard slog that is longer, harder and more unremittingly serious than it was for the first 100 years the game was played in this country.
And then there’s a less obvious, almost genetic anticipation that the season brings, especially among those of the age and sex of most rugby league players. How do we put this? “Spring is when a young man’s heart turns to love,” says the old expression.
Testosterone and adrenalin feed each other.
Another saying: without death, life has no meaning.
And in order to track the passing of life towards its inevitable conclusion, we need cultural touchstones to make sense of it all.
By grand final day, you’ll be a month closer to death. And you’ll be glad of it.
BEST OF ROUND 26: The atmosphere at South Sydney v Sydney Roosters on Friday night. The biggest ever crowd for a stand-alone regular season game and an unforgettable evening for all who were there. More please.
WORST OF ROUND 26: Canberra’s collapse in the final match of the regular season against a severely weakened Cronulla. Something has gone very awry in the capital in response to the dramas of this season.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 26: Did Gold Coast make a decision that Melbourne were deliberately conceding penalties and they would take the two points every time they were offered?
WHAT I SAW: Greg Bird and Billy Slater shake hands warmly and share a few words after the latter conceded a penalty – and try – in possession when heavily tackled by the former late in the overtime thriller.
QUOTE OF ROUND 26: “You’re not thinking of joining the bikies down the coast, are you?” Sam Thaiday to retiring team-mate Scott Prince.