The Log O� Wood
Ahh, Rugby Union. A guaranteed cure for insomnia, neatly wrapped up in a confusing package of scrums, mauls and whistles.
Frankly it bores me to tears. I�d much rather (and often have!) switch over to NRL Super Saturday instead of watching an �absorbing� All Blacks encounter. And this isn�t a pro-League anti-Union stance � Union has never excited me, even before I knew that League existed.
But a couple of months ago, something strange happened �
Thanks to a shock defeat of Canterbury at Jade Stadium, the North Harbour Rugby Union (my home province!) managed to astound everyone by picking up the Ranfurly Shield. And it was enough to make this anti-Union campaigner sit up and take notice.
The Ranfurly Shield has been around in New Zealand rugby circles since 1901, when the Earl of Ranfurly presented it to the NZRFU with no stipulation as to what competition it would be played for. It was decided the shield would be contested between provincial unions on a challenge basis, and it still happens to this day � the holder of the shield puts it on the line at every one of their regular season home games, excluding finals.
And even though it�s strictly a Rugby Union thing, there�s still something deeply magical about the Log o� Wood. Provincial Rugby Unions can be literally reborn after winning the Shield, and start enjoying prolific outbursts of parochialism and rapid surges in crowd numbers. The North Harbour Union have openly admitted that the shield win provided a huge injection of enthusiasm into what had been a very lackluster season.
So here�s my obvious suggestion � can the NRL pinch this idea? Let�s take a look at how it might work:
The obvious choice would have to be the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) Shield, the original award for supremacy in the 1908 NSWRL competition. While it has space for 24 recorded winners, it only lasted six seasons before being claimed by the Eastern Suburbs Roosters as reward for winning three consecutive Premierships. The bitterness and court battles over ownership of the Shield in recent years have been resolved, and the Shield now has a home in the National Museum at Canberra.
Having such a majestic piece of history �on the line� again would surely fire the imagination of the Rugby League public.
Simple � let�s pinch the NZRFU�s idea. The holders of the Shield could only lose it at their regular season home games.
A common problem is that dominant Unions can hold the Shield for long periods, leading to a general loss of interest until the Shield changes hands. I doubt this would be a problem in the NRL � undefeated home seasons are normally pretty rare.
With proper marketing and promotion, the RAS Shield could be a huge boost for clubs at different stages of the season � especially in terms of home crowds and financial support.
This is where I think we can have some fun. The RAS Shield is certainly historically significant by itself, but let�s add a little bit of spice to it �
The holders of the Shield could have the honour of re-naming it until their reign ends. Sticking with a historical theme, clubs would name it after a club legend of their choice.
Should the Sharks grab the prize, they might hold the Steve Rogers RAS Shield � then maybe they�d lose it to the Raiders, who could name it the Mal Meninga RAS Shield.
This would provide the historical link for a prize that wouldn�t be instantly recognizable to many of us. And of course, you also get the added suspense of whose name will be attached to the Shield next!
Who would get first crack at holding (and defending) the Shield? Obviously, it would have to be the current holders � the Eastern Suburbs Roosters.
And what better way to celebrate their 100th season than by regaining possession of their own prize originally claimed almost 90 years ago?
Now to me, the Roosters rank almost right down there with Rugby Union. But to be honest, the idea of having the Roosters defend the Dally Messenger RAS Shield in their first home game of the season really sends a chill up my spine.
So let�s do it! Give the Shield a dust-off and a polish � because it�s got one hell of a birthday party to attend.