Are you planning a sporting holiday to Australia? Firstly, you’ll want to make sure that you are fully versed in the ways of Australian sport, otherwise you might look like a bit of a drongo. The two main team sports Down Under are Australian rules football and rugby league, and Aussies take them super seriously – so you should, too. The NRL (National Rugby League) and AFL (Australian Football League) seasons run pretty much parallel to one another, so if you visit between March and October you can check out games from both leagues. Here is a quick and simple guide to the two sports.
Although Australia is famous on the world stage for rugby union, within the country league pulls in much larger audiences: the Grand Final last year was watched by over four million people. The NRL features 15 teams from Australia and one from New Zealand. It follows a normal league structure for the most part, with the highest-ranked team on the ladder being named Minor Premiers at the end of the campaign. After the league table has been decided, the top eight teams then battle it out in a knockout tournament which culminates in the Grand Final.
Last season, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks overcame favourites Melbourne Storm to win their first ever Premier title in a thrilling 14-12 Grand Final. Although the Storm finished top of the league, they didn’t win the most coveted prize. The fact that many teams have the opportunity to win makes this league all the more exciting.
To really get into the matches it would make it more interesting to put some bets on, especially if you don’t already support a team. NRL tips sites will give advice on everything from which teams are better placed to win to which players are most likely to whinge and throw a strop. Anthony Milford is one “sook” to watch out for at the moment, and if opposition fans are to be believed, the Brisbane Broncos man will often try and milk a penalty.
One of the biggest rugby league events of the year is the State of Origin series. This is regarded by many as the highest level of rugby league competition in the world, and features all-star teams from New South Wales and Queensland. The best-of-three series will start at the end of May this year and finish in early July. Queensland are the current holders, and have dominated since 2006. Since then, New South Wales have only won once, in 2014. Players play for the state in which they played their first ever professional rugby game.
Australian Rules Football
There’s only one sport that Aussies love more than rugby league, and that’s Aussie rules. The game is played on a massive oval field, which is usually a modified cricket ground. The Grand Final each year, for example, takes place at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground and last season almost 100,000 people went to watch the Western Bulldogs beat Sydney Swans in an exhilarating end-to-end tie. There are 18 players on each side, and they must move the oval-shaped ball around by kicking, handling, or running with it. If the latter, though, they must intermittently touch or bounce the ball on the ground. The primary objective is to score more goals than the other team, by kicking the ball between the tall goal posts.
There are 18 teams competing in the AFL this season, and it starts on the 23rd of March with the Grand Final taking place on 30th September. The league follows a similar structure to NRL, and every team plays each other over 23 rounds of normal fixtures before the top eight teams in the ladder take part in a finals series which culminates in the Grand Final. Identically to NRL, the winners of the Grand Final are crowned the Premiers, and the top team on the league ladder is awarded the title of Minor Premiers.
Cricket and Soccer
Apart from the two absolutely epic sports listed above, Australia is well-known for being one of the best nations when it comes to cricket. This year, the Aussies will host the Ashes series against England in one of the oldest and most famous grudge matches in the sport. England are the current holders of the iconic urn but Australia will be looking to reassert their dominance over the Poms. England have only won once on Australian soil since 1987 so Australia will be confident of retrieving the urn.
Soccer is also becoming hugely popular Down Under, and the top teams compete in the A-League. It has only been going since 2004, but teams like Brisbane Roar and Manchester City’s sister club Melbourne City are helping to bring the competition to global audiences.
You are now almost prepared to watch some Australian sports. All you need to do is find some Aussie mates to head down to the game with. Just spark up a barbie and crack open a few Victoria Bitters and they’ll surely come to you.