The biff

It will be interesting to see what the NRL review committee has to say tonight about last Friday's all-in brawl between rugby league teams Manly and Melbourne.

I'm sure there will be stern punishments handed out to many of the combatants, dreary press releases from the league and clubs involved, condemning the actions of the participants and general head-shaking from many sports commentators.

If fans knew they were going to see a qaulity stink at their club's game each week, the NRL would double its crowds.

What seems indisputable to me, though, is the fight was the most talked-about incident from a weekend of great football and it made for bloody entertaining television viewing (no pun intended).

I know I wasn't the only one who knelt beside his TV waiting for the replays, wincing to myself and chuckling as the big men traded punches.

It was great to watch and, what's more, I reckon even NRL chief executive David Gallop's inner circle might agree.

Take a look at this photo of the people sharing a box with Gallop at the game and you'll see the woman on the far left of the picture appears to be applauding the brawl, while the two men seated beside Gallop look caught between outrage and excitement.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

That said, I haven't talked to one rugby league fan in the past week - and I know plenty of them - who didn't enjoy the scuffle immensely and get misty-eyed for the days of old when big blokes would regularly bash the unmentionable out of each other.

Even the commentary team from Channel Nine seemed torn between fist-pumps of enthusiasm and tut-tutting about the fight, offering giggles and calls of "watch this" and "oooh, Adam Blair, the big uppercut there".


If you listen very closely, you can even hear a woman cackling with joy as the two main offenders, Adam Blair and Glenn Stewart, go at it again near the sideline.

And I don't blame them: watching men fight has always fascinated us - well lots of us. I guess it's wrapped up in the denial of death - we're all terrified of it, but drawn to anything that can get you killed - particularly if it's not us who can get killed.

And yeah, fighting does kill people (very, very rarely) but more often than not, it just raises bruises, pulses and ratings. I fail to see how it brings the game into disrepute.

In fact, I'd wager if fans knew they were going to see a quality stink at their club's game each week, the NRL would double its crowds.

Who wouldn't pay money to see Michael Ennis finally decked or Paul Gallen eye gouge an opponent into monocular vision?

Think I'm joking?

Every time there's video footage of a fight in a schoolboy or country league game it gets promoted on the nightly news - the coverage masquerading as outrage, when every news director knows their viewers love watching a good barney just as much as they do.

That's why they run it.

The players even enjoy it, if we're to believe one of the chief knucklers, Manly's Darcy Lussick, who has now called the occasion "the best day of my life."

No doubt he'll be reprimanded and forced to issue an apology to fans, the majority of whom, I'd bet, love hearing tough blokes say it like it is, not mouthing homogenised spin.

Sure, there are fans who find the fighting distasteful, as about half these letters to The Sydney Morning Herald suggest, I just don't hear those opinions echoed amongst the dozens of dyed-in-the-wool league fans I know and talk to.

It seems to me that the official disapproval of fighting in football is done to placate a very small number of people, who mainly seem to be the parents of kids who'll be turned off sending their boys to play junior rugby league.

Let 'em play soccer, I say.


Jeez, don't I have some fans in Melbourne? Every single-speed bike-riding university lit student with a tumblr blog down there seems to think I'm an arsewipe, so it'll come as wonderful news to them all I'll be speaking at the iconic Sun bookshop in Yarraville on September 14. It's a free event, but bookings are essential so call 03 9689 0661 or email


If that's not enough fat, 42-year-old writer for you, here's a very generously edited video interview I did a few weeks back with Mumbrella's Tim Burrowes.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.