Turf War Sunday, May 25, 2008 http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/a...aspx?id=567872 Reporter: Peter Overton Producer: Damien Comerford and Nick Greenaway It's war! The Titans of Australian sport are at it hammer and tongs - fighting for new territory, new fans. The first shots were fired by the AFL when the Swans invaded Sydney. Then rugby league retaliated, sending the Storm troopers into Melbourne. Mere skirmishes. Now it's getting serious. Aussie Rules has its sights on the rugby league heartland, launching new teams in western Sydney and on the Gold Coast. And the stakes are astronomical with millions and millions of dollars in revenue up for grabs. So, stand by for the mother of all battles for the hearts, minds and pockets of Australian footy fans. Full transcript INTRODUCTION PETER OVERTON: It's war! The Titans of Australian sport are at it hammer and tongs fighting for new territory, new fans. The first shots were fired by the AFL when the Swans invaded Sydney. Then rugby league retaliated, sending the Storm troopers into Melbourne. Mere skirmishes. Now it's getting serious. Aussie Rules has its sights on the rugby league heartland, launching new teams in western Sydney and on the Gold Coast. And the stakes are astronomical with millions and millions of dollars in revenue up for grabs. So, stand by for the mother of all battles for the hearts, minds and pockets of Australian footy fans. STORY PETER OVERTON: It's Saturday in the heart of rugby league country, but these kids are playing a very different game. This is the birthplace of teams like Sydney's famous Rabbitohs, but AFL is taking over. The Maroubra Saints is now one of the fastest-growing junior sporting clubs in the entire country. MUM 1: Good boy, Johnny, go Johnny! PETER OVERTON: You guys really get into this, don't you? MUM 1: Yeah, we love it. Look forward to it for the whole week. PETER OVERTON: Aussie Rules is what mums like Tanya Oziel and Christine Foote want their kids to play. MUM 1: We followed the Swans, we used to go to the games and he woke up one day and he said "Mum, I want to play AFL." MUM 2: All kids have to make a choice. He's 12, just started high school. AFL or Rugby League? And he said "AFL all the way." PETER OVERTON: Out in Western Sydney, rugby league stalwart Mark Geyer is seeing the AFL invasion first hand. Aussie Rules is stealing kids away from his game at such a rate he fears for the future. MARK GEYER: They're coming to get us and if we don't show some sort of resistance before you and I know it they'll take over. PETER OVERTON: You use words like 'missile', 'infiltrate', you speak like its a war ? MARK GEYER: Well that's the mentality we've got to have. I regard AFL as a very slow-moving Tsunami coming to engulf rugby league. PETER OVERTON: It may start with the kids but this is where the real war is being fought. Hundreds of millions of dollars is at stake in sponsorship and television rights. And in this bitter fight for the hearts and minds of Australia's sporting public, traditional loyalties are being tested and old allegiances broken. COMMENTATOR: We are under way now, and Sydney will take it away... PETER OVERTON: I would never imagine seeing you at an AFL game on a Sunday afternoon? GARRY JACK: No Mate. If you'd told me 20 years ago, I would've thought you were joking. But ah, yeah, I'm here most weeks when they play at the SCG. PETER OVERTON: If you needed proof of the new football landscape, just take a look at the Jack family. COMMENTATOR: Jack to the line! Jack will score.... Jack giving chase, and Jack's got him. PETER OVERTON: Garry Jack is a rugby league legend. So, the hill used to be over there, didn't it? GARRY JACK: That's it. Right over there. PETER OVERTON: But today, he's at the SCG to watch his son Kieren - a rising star for the Sydney Swans. COMMENTATOR: Jack can play on, Sydney's first for the quarter and the crowd come alive. Kieren JACK: I came across this game of AFL, that was so free flowing and I just enjoyed so much, for me, the decision was pretty easy in the end because I was just loving it. PETER OVERTON: What was it like for you when Kieren said - "I want to play Australian rules"? GARRY JACK: He didn't actually say that... He sort of said "How would you feel, dad, if I didn't play league next year I just played Aussie rules? How would you feel? And I said... Kieren JACK: Tell the truth. GARRY JACK: I said... "OK", I said "OK, if you want to" I didn't blow up, did I? Did I blow up? Kieren JACK: Oh, I can't remember. PETER OVERTON: I think that was a "Yes" GARRY JACK: No, no, no. I said, "If you want to you can." But I thought he'd just play it for a year and come back to league. Bad judge, aren't I? COMMENTATOR: He lines it up from 45... he needs it to hold its line, it does! PETER OVERTON: The name of the game is to get bums on seats and the Sydney Swans are pretty good at it now. It's taken them 25 years but today's crowd is just under 30,000. About average for a home game at the SCG and enough to make a rugby league administrator very envious. It's little wonder, then, that the AFL is pushing so hard for a second Sydney team as well as a new one on the Gold Coast. ANDREW DEMETRIOU: I think what we want for our code is to make sure that, in the two fastest-growing markets in this country, the Gold Coast and western Sydney, that AFL football has a presence there. PETER OVERTON: So it's a fight against the NRL? ANDREW DEMETRIOU: They're your words Peter, they're not mine. We've been talking about this for the best part of 4 or 5 years. PETER OVERTON: If this is war, Andrew Demetriou is the AFL's Commander-in-Chief. Andrew, is this about greed, empire building? The AFL will do whatever it takes no matter the cost? ANDREW DEMETRIOU: I don't think it's anything to do with greed. It is about growing our code and we will do what we have to do to support our investment. PETER OVERTON: But the reality is you want to be number one. ANDREW DEMETRIOU: I think we already are, Peter, last time I checked. COMMENTATOR: Thurston chips over the top and ... what a moment! PETER OVERTON: Facing off against Demetriou is league boss David Gallop. In its centenary year, rugby league's taking some big hits - clubs in financial crisis, stagnant crowds - but Gallop is standing his ground. Are you saying to the AFL - "Come and try and get our turf but do so your peril?" DAVID GALLOP: You're coming into our territory there's no doubt about that. The numbers reflect that we dominate. We'll continue to put our foot on the pedal and good luck to you coming into our territory. PETER OVERTON: The NRL is fighting back. Shoring up its turf in Queensland with the new Gold Coast Titans. But in traditional AFL territory the going is a lot tougher. Melbourne Storm came to Victoria 11 years ago and has won two premierships. So what is your basic interpretation of rugby league rules? BILLY BROWNLESS: Ah, 12 gorillas this side 12 gorillas that side they run at each other. And whoever is the biggest gorilla gets the bananas. PETER OVERTON: But, according to AFL legend Billy Brownless, league will never be more than a novelty here. BILLY BROWNLESS: There's no science, not a lot of Pythagoras's theorem or anything to it, not a lot of science. You just get it and run and crash. PETER OVERTON: Are you saying that AFL is full of science? BILLY BROWNLESS: Yes! A lot more intelligent. A lot more exciting to watch. PETER OVERTON: We've only been here five minutes. BILLY BROWNLESS: We've been here 20 minutes and the score is 0-0. It's a bit like soccer. MATT GEYER: My name is Matt Geyer, I've been here for 11 years. I'm one of the old guys as you can see. PETER OVERTON: It is this entrenched prejudice that has convinced the NRL the best way to win converts is at the grass roots. MATT GEYER: (To group of kids) Do you want to learn how to do that? KIDS REPLY: Yes!! PETER OVERTON: What do you know about rugby league. BOY 1: I know it can be a rough game. BOY 2: I know Matt Geyer debuted 1997, played for 11 years, retiring this year. PETER OVERTON: How do you know all that? BOY 2: Just do. PETER OVERTON: Would you like to play rugby league? BOY 2: Yeah. PETER OVERTON: So what team will you guys be following in rugby league? ALL KIDS IN UNISON: The Melbourne Storm. PETER OVERTON: It's what the AFL has been doing for years. Ever since the Swans came to Sydney 25 years ago, they've been doing the hard sell to kids. It's how they won over converts like Kieren Jack. PETER OVERTON: This is a rugby league house, if I've ever seen one. GARRY JACK: Yes, Peter, certainly plenty of photos and history here from obviously my career and the boys as as they're getting older. PETER OVERTON: As one of the greats of the game, Kieren's dad Garry fully expected his boy to follow in his rugby-league footsteps. Was Kieren a good league player? GARRY JACK: Oh yeah, he was a very good league player. He was a good half back, or five eighth. I coached him when he was 14. I was the last one to coach him before he swapped over to Aussie rules. But, besides that, he would have been a very good league player if he had stuck with it. PETER OVERTON: Your voice sort of softened when you spoke about that. GARRY JACK: Oh, it's close to my heart isn't it. It was a sad day when we lost him. LEWIS ROBERTS THOMSON: You've got to get your middle finger on both sides of the ball running through the grooves. PETER OVERTON: You go first, I don't want to embarrass you. Kieren's not the only promising youngster being won over by Aussie rules. So fingers down there? LEWIS ROBERTS THOMSON: Try and get the ball, probably, pointing up and down a bit... PETER OVERTON: The Swans have also snared rugby union blue-blood Lewis Roberts Thomson and Paul Bevan, who like Kieren, came from a legendary league family. LEWIS ROBERTS THOMSON: Hey, sign him up! PETER OVERTON: I'm just wondering if you're playing AFL so you don't get a face like your Dads? LEWIS ROBERTS THOMSON: Well yeah, that's one of the reasons, yeah. Yeah, he's busted his nose a few times and his face is looking a bit bad now. But you know, that's just part of the game. You know he won't be happy that I said that, actually. MARK GEYER: When I grew up round here they called it 'the Bronx'. It was such a hard area, and rugby league was it. I never thought I'd see the day where I'd see an AFL poster out this way it's happening on a very constant basis. Every time you look around, there's more posters going up. PETER OVERTON: If anyone knows how successful the AFL has been in poaching kids, it's legendary hard man, Mark Geyer. He now coaches a junior league team in Sydney's west and he is constantly losing youngsters to the other code. They even tried to sign up his own son. MARK GEYER: Go mate! Yes, good try. The AFL at the moment are like a large octopus with their tentacles everywhere. The NRL are like a little goldfish trying to swim against the tide. I think we've got to turn into a shark and start devouring this octopus. PETER OVERTON: But the AFL octopus will take some stopping. Its Gold Coast team kicks off in 2011 and the Western Sydney team the following year. And that's only the beginning. Is a third Sydney team a possibility? ANDREW DEMETRIOU: Who knows? It's the largest population in the country. In 50 years why would you rule that out? Who knows if we'll have a team based out of Australia? PETER OVERTON: So is that a little bit of a 'yes'? ANDREW DEMETRIOU: I don't know. I just don't know. All I'll say is you can never say never. PETER OVERTON: Do you admit you've got a fight on your hands? DAVID GALLOP: Yes, but it's not a fight that's particularly new. PETER OVERTON: Who's got the best troops? DAVID GALLOP: I certainly believe we do. We are going well in our 100th year, and we'll be going well in 100 years from now. PETER OVERTON: But try telling that to the mums from the Maroubra Saints. From where they stand there's no question about what game is the winner. MUM 1: It's a very family orientated game. It's geared to the kids. Everything's about the children. PETER OVERTON: So you see it as the national sport? MUM 1: Oh God, yeah. It's as Australian as Vegemite and I think our kids should be growing up on it. It's brilliant.