From The Circles Of My Family History To The Ovals Of My Future
I splash cold tap water onto my face and watch as minute streams form down my cheeks, the clear liquid dropping into the bathroom sink below. An exhausted face looks back at me from the mirror, complete with reddened cheeks and sweaty hair. What is it that has caught me so short of breath? I haven�t just been playing rugby league, which may well be to the disappointment of many people reading this. No, I have in fact been partaking in a social yet fiercely competitive game of soccer.
Why on earth am I mentioning the sport of my forefathers in Britain, as opposed to the game which I have followed for the last twelve years of my life? Comparisons, of course! Why else?
I grew up playing soccer. My father, originally from England, knew that it is the one sport where anyone can play, regardless of size or ability, and, seeing as I was a skinny, slight young lad who lacked both, soccer and I seemed like a perfect match. But, as it is often wont to do, my curiosity sought out other sports, and one day I stumbled across rugby league.
Ever since then, I have been intrigued by one aspect in particular of the thirteen man game. It is the singular most unpredictable and unreliable part of the sport. It can be a best friend one moment, and the worst of enemies the next. It can make or break an attacking play, a match, or even a season. Players are subject to its will, attempting to pre-empt its next whimsical manoeuvre. It is the 'X' factor of the game, and it can be a coach killer in every sense of the word.
It is, of course, the bounce of the ball.
Coming from a bloodline that finds its origins in the British working class, where soccer, (or football, for those still in the mother country), is king, my curiosity is hardly surprising - indeed, it is almost to be expected. A spherical ball, whilst still able to curve and spin in order to produce confusion amongst opposition defenders, is a far cry from the bobble and hop that can be found in rugby league which shreds defensive lines to pieces on an almost routinely basis.
This unusual shape presents itself as some kind of wild animal, potentially willing to be tamed, but only by the right player. And that's the key, I think: potentially. Even the greatest of playmakers - suitably otherwise known as 'ball tamers' for the purpose of this musing - can misjudge the next move of the ball, making for interesting and sometimes spectacular results. And like all wild animals, even the most cooperative of rugby league balls can turn on its master at any given moment.
But it is the few, (those happy few), maestros - nay, magicians - that can be relied on to have near flawless ball control in the most literal sense possible. They and they alone have the power and panache to define the bounce of the ball; to decide its momentum and direction, only to sit back and wait as the ball takes care of the opposition defensive line on his behalf.
Such players are very few, and even further between.
And it is here that the comparisons between rugby league and 'the beautiful game' stall. Despite the best efforts of Pele, Ronaldo, and the late George Best, their sport provided unpredictability only when forced to by the brilliance of an individual player. Rugby league, however, can provide that very notion of uncertainty simply due to the comparatively unusual shape of its ball alone, making a mockery of any team that isn't - excuse the pun - 'on the ball'.
With a towel drying my face, and my ponderings subsiding for only a few brief moments, I reflect on the situation: a first generation New Zealander, still playing the most popular game of my ancestral origins, but choosing to vigorously support the underdog of my geographical home. It�s an act of pioneering, and one that I intend to make last.
From circles to ovals � it hasn�t really been that much of a leap, has it? After all, were it not for the elliptical shape of a pig�s bladder, I might have forever remained none the wiser.