Thunder From Down Under

For those expecting a blog about AC/DC after reading the title, sorry to disappoint you. (I don’t mind AC/DC especially the early stuff with the late Bon Scott on vocals. The later stuff is overplayed. But I digress.)

The debate has been raging for many years. Which sport has the toughest athletes? Many people in my homeland will argue hockey has the real tough guys. Some will argue football. Others will go with combat sports like boxing or mixed martial arts. Let me add two other sports that aren’t that big in North America, but are huge in the land down under. Rugby and Australian Rules Football. Now these two sports are not for the faint of heart. These sports are vicious and quite violent. They are also quite entertaining and have strategy and finesse as well.

The two biggest professional sports leagues in Australia recently kicked off their seasons. The National Rugby League (NRL) began play earlier this month, while The Australian Football League (AFL) will commence their season on March 22. These sport garner huge television ratings in both Australia and New Zealand.

NRL

The NRL is the most viewed and attended rugby league in the world. It consists of 16 teams, with 15 located in Australia and one in New Zealand. Sydney is the home of the NRL with 9 teams located in the surrounding area of Australia’s largest city. The South Sydney Rabbitohs are the most successful side in the NRL as they have won 20 Premiership titles. Yet it is a team from Melbourne that holds the current title. The Melbourne Storm won the Premiership in 2012, after having their title stripped in 2007 for breaching the league’s salary cap. (Yes salary caps do exist outside of North America.) The Storm opened their campaign with a convincing 30-10 victory over the St. George-Illawara Dragons.

It is expected that the Storm and Rabbitohs will be leading contenders to win the NRL championship in 2013. Both teams are a mixture of physicality and pace which is essential in rugby. The NRL is trying to cut down on head shots just like the NFL and NHL, but with no helmets or extra padding, the hitter is taking just as much of a risk as the recipient.

AFL

Then there is Australian Rules Football. The sport enjoys a cult following in North America, thanks to frequent airings of its fixtures on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. Aussie Rules is played on a oval shaped field that at times looks like total chaos, when the action is hot. Yet it does require a high skill level of passing and kicking. The kickers in Aussie Rules aren’t like kickers in gridiron football, as these guys are willing to get their noses broken and bloodied. The AFL is the top-level of competition for the sport. Melbourne is the home of the AFL as 9 clubs are headquartered in the capital of Victoria. Ironically though, the current champions of the AFL are the Sydney Swans, who won their fifth premiership title in 2012. The most successful sides in AFL history are the Carlton Blues and Essendon Bombers, both based in Melbourne. They each have won 16 AFL titles and both are looking to win their 17th in 2013. The season will begin on March 22, as the Adelaide Crows will host Essendon from Adelaide Football Park.

To those in Australia who happen to stumble upon this blog, I hope that both the NRL and AFL continue their successes in your country. These are wonderful sports that deserve more attention in North America. For North American sports fans, if you want to discover something different during the football offseason, or perhaps if you want to discover a new sport, I suggest to check out either rugby or Aussie Rules. Once you pick up some of the rules of each sport, you could find yourself very much enjoying the fixtures in both leagues.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

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About Jsportsfan

Covers the Winnipeg Jets for jetsnation.ca. Likes many but not all sports. I'm loveably annoying. You can also follow me on Twitter @jstar1973
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