OPINION: Brian Burke writes on the demise of rugby league in the bush

DIFFERENT TIMES: Brian Burke with a Country jumper he wore against Queensland at Newcastle before 25,000 fans. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.
DIFFERENT TIMES: Brian Burke with a Country jumper he wore against Queensland at Newcastle before 25,000 fans. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Former NSW league champion Brian Burke contacted the Fairfax Media to talk about his fears for the health of rugby league. He says it is dying, and is so worried he will write to NRL chief Todd Greenberg to express his concerns. Here are his thoughts.

Dear Todd,

Let me come straight to the point: Rugby League is dying in the bush and it's on your watch.

I'm not saying it's your fault in particular - this has been going on for a while and it's painful to see - but nonetheless you are the man in the hot seat right now.

And for that reason I am going to sit down later this week and write to you explaining the situation we have up here. More than that, I'm going to be begging you for help. And make no mistake, we need it.

Where to start?

I'm alarmed at the slow but undeniable demise of our game. It's dying in the bush and it's dead in schools. That’s your breeding ground for the future – and it’s had its last rites. And boy, doesn’t it show at the senior level.

On talkback radio this week it was said that rugby league would be dead in 20 years. On current evidence it’s hard to argue.

So I want to know what you plan to do?

Your direct opponents, soccer and AFL, have not only taken hold but are thriving.

It reminds me of the famous old quote from rugby league great Arthur Summons on a country tour in Queensland: ‘the trouble with rugby league is the governing body don’t realise the game is played south of Cronulla and north of the Hawkesbury River”.

We have the situation of falling crowds because just about every game can be seen on television, the cost of going a game is too high, Channel Nine footy ratings are on the slide … how much evidence do we need?

We have lost everything that made the game great. All tradition has gone.

We’ve gone from unlimited to four tackles then six tackles, five metres to 10 metres, three point to four point tries, one point field goals, no replacement to two replacements that had to have played an earlier game, to 12 replacements to eight replacements, one referee, two referees, 3pm start to 7.30pm start – no wonder we’re confused.

Let’s look at the ridiculous situation of Cameron Smith. He will go down in history as the greatest hooker to ever have played the game – and he has never hooked for a ball. So, how about we rename his position – let’s call it dummy-half.

Yet while all this is going on, in the AFL we know that next September the grand final will be played at 2.30pm on a Saturday and that the MCG will be chockers. We don't know who will be there, but the  atmosphere will be incredible.

But what is going to happen with the league? A day game? A night game? Maybe a twilight game? Who knows, we've tried all three. And what uniforms will they wear? It seems every club has four jumpers.

Does St George really want to play in any jumper except white with a big red vee? 

AFL and football - soccer to many of us  - are making major inroads. Rugby Union too.

We need our kids to get back to basics, like playing in weight divisions. There’s nothing more demoralising for a kid than to come up against a monster who happens to be the same age.

We and the game need some serious help. So I ask again Todd, what are you going to do about it?

- BRIAN BURKE 

The Maitland Mercury