(Note from Sean ... bumped to the front page. Good stuff, and it might be wise to read up on some other forms of football in case there is no NFL next season.)
Disclaimer: This post is sorta off-topic, in that it doesn't actually involve the Lions, or the NFL at all. It's a post about my other favourite sport, Rugby League. It's a long offseason and with the Draft still miles away, I thought I'd pass some time and create an article outlining the clubs which compete in the NRL (which stands for National Rugby League, Australia's leading Rugby League competion). I don't expect everyone to read it, but those of you who do might find yourselves more intrigued by a sport which is tough, physical and exciting...and something of a cousin of sorts to the NFL.
16 clubs compete within the NRL, which started in 1908 in Sydney. It's early years where mainly comprised of Sydney clubs, but as the competition grew, it allowed more teams to the mix, first in regional New South Wales, then in Queensland followed by the rest of Australia. Unfortunately, due to the large amounts of competitive sports all vying for sporting attention, the league couldn't manage to contain a completely national competition, so it scaled back to it's natural strongholds in the states of New South Wales and Queensland. The NRL maintains a fervent following in these states as well as in New Zealand where it continues to grow.
Stadium: Suncorp Stadium (52,500)
NFL Counterpart: Dallas Cowboys
The Brisbane Broncos (located in the State capital of Queensland) were established in 1988 as part of Rugby League's initiative to expand into states other than NSW. Since 1988, the Broncos have participated in 5 Grand Finals (NRL's Superbowl) and won all 5. A perennial playoff contender, they qualified for the finals 19 years straight (a streak which ended last season) and dominated parts of the 90's and 00's with a team seemingly always loaded with stars, not to mention possibly the greatest coach leading the helm in Wayne Bennett (something of a Belicheck type). The club boasts a massive fanbase and is the most profitable of all NRL teams. I compare them to the Cowboys for a number of reasons. They are massively popular within their location and seemingly have a allure about them, which can be attributed to their starpower, success and enormity. Unfortunately for the both the Broncos and the Cowboys, the stars of yesteryear have all but gone leaving both sides trying to build themselves up to their once lofty heights.
Star Player: Darren Lockyer
Stadium: ANZ Stadium (83500)
NFL Counterpart: Chicago Bears
Established in 1935, the Canterbury Bulldogs (based in south-west Sydney) have always portrayed themselves as the family club since quite a few brothers have played for them over the years. The team has had a solid, if inconsistent history, with it's dominance firmly set in the 1980's when it managed 4 premierships (8 overall). As a team, they often have a smash-mouth, physical style with no-nonsense representatives. I have them with the Bears since both teams represent a simplicity and a toughness in their style of play, plus, both teams are not very well liked at all outside their fanbase. Have struggled somewhat recently but have been known to manage a winning season out of nothing.
Star Player: Michael Ennis
Stadium: Canberra Stadium (25,000)
NFL Counterpart: Kansas City Chiefs
Entered into the league in 1982 as part of the NRL's 1st expansion outside of Sydney, the Raiders have been a solid club throughout it's nearly 30 year history. Located in the nation's capital, the Raiders steadily built up a force of star players in the early 1990's which saw them win 3 premierships within 6 years. They remained a force until the start of the new millenium when a lack of experience seemed to famine the club. Seemingly perpetually filled with youth, talent and potential, the Raiders are starting their build toward a better future, just like the Chiefs. Both teams featured strong starts to their history but then have had tougher periods during last decade. They also share a similar cultural feel with a rural yet urban fanbase.
Star Player - Josh Dugan
Stadium: Toyota Park (25,000)
Titles: 0 (Runners up 3 times)
NFL Counterpart: Buffalo Bills
Founded in 1963, the Sharks have quite a few similarities with the Bills. Firstly, by location. The Sharks are located just outside Syndey, occupying the southern beaches, so they both occupy a territory just outside a major city. Secondly, they both seem out of place. The Bills aren't in a major city like the other NFL Teams, while the Sharks are strangled between another club's territory. Lastly and possibly most importantly, the Sharks are always the bridesmaid and never the bride. The Sharks have competed in 3 Grand finals, and lost all 3. Because of this, Sharks fans seem to be in an eternal "Will this be our year?" mode. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't seem like it this year as they finished near the bottom of the league last year.
Star Player - Paul Gallen
Gold Coast Titans
Stadium: Skilled Park (27400)
NFL Counterpart: Houston Texans
As the newest franchise in both leagues, the Titans (est. 2007) and Texans have quite a few things in common, other than their youth. Both teams are located in cities which are often seen as the little sister to a bigger sister, with the Gold Coast the 2nd biggest city in Queensland after Brisbane. They also share similar performances, although the Titans have seen a sort of immediate success with a couple of playoff apperances already. Titans have already managed to establish themselves a strong fanbase and look to be one of the stronger teams in this year's competition.
Star Player: Scott Prince
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Stadium: Brookvale Oval (23000)
NFL Counterpart: New York Jets
Something of a glamour club, the Manly Sea Eagles occupy the rich, touristy Northern Beaches of Sydney, and they carry that culture with them as a club. Founded in 1947 and winning 7 premierships in that time, Manly have remained one of the more successful clubs in Syndey. Because of this success, and also the apparant snotty-ness that comes with it and their locale, the Sea Eagles are one of the more reviled clubs in the NRL. They do however cultivate a strong and loyal fanbase who revel in the dislike. Therefore, I get the feeling that the Eagles are very similar to the Jets. A certain snobbery and success plus a splash of hatred from every other fanbase.
Star Player: Brett Stewart
Stadium: AAMI Park (30050)
Titles: 1 (2 were stripped)
NFL Counterpart: New England Patriots
Located in the heart of Aussie Rules football territory, the Melbourne Storm have managed to bulldoze their way into the AFL dominated hearts of Victorians. Just over 10 years old, the Storm have managed to establish success quick and often with 3 premierships, although 2 of those have since been stricken from the record after the Storm were found to be cheating the salary cap. Despite this, the Storm still have a solid fanbase and should still challenge for this year's title. Similarities with the Pats then seem apparant. They are a very successful team (both teams appeared in and won multiple titles in the last decade), located in major cultural centres of their nation (Melbourne often claims themselves as better than Sydney, much like I suspect Boston does over New York) and they both were caught cheating (to a degree).
Star Player: Billy Slater
Stadium: EnergyAustralia Stadium (26126)
NFL Counterpart: Green Bay Packers
Also established in 1988, the Knights are similar to the Packers for one major reason, and somehow it always comes back to #4. Brett Favre was the Packers during his time there. He was the face of the franchise and considered one of the best to play his position. The Knights had such a player also, Andrew Johns. Johns is often considered to be the best Halfback (comparable to QB) to ever play. He also has the same character as Favre with them both being jokers and both having faced severe character problems during the end of their careers (Johns struggled with drugs). However, their biggest similarity is their standing within their organisation. Johns was the Knights for a long period and he represented the city of Newcastle (located North of Sydney). Apart from this obvious connection, both teams have similar workman like and industrial cultures and also have powerful, regional fanbases. The Knights also have been midly successful in the league managing 2 premierships under Johns' lead.
Star Player: Akuila Uate
New Zealand Warriors
Stadium: Mt Smart Stadium (25000)
Titles: 0 (Runners up once)
NFL Counterpart: Oakland Raiders
The Warriors (est. 1995) are the only team in the NRL who aren't Australian, and they like it that way. Which is the main reason I compare them to the Raiders. They occupy the outsider role in the league. They also often rely on big, physically gifted men to play for them, a tactic which doesn't always pay dividends. The Warriors haven't managed much success so far, reaching one Grand Final (which they lost) but they always look threatening before the season. Both teams also operate with very similar colours.
Star Player: Manu Vatuvei
North Queensland Cowboys
Stadium: Dairy Farmers Stadium (26000)
Titles: 0 (Runners up once)
NFL Counterpart: Seattle Seahawks
The Cowboys are a young side (1995), which has made it hard to find a counterpart. I finally settled on the Seahawks for a couple of reasons. They both are located in the north, although with slightly different lifestyles. I also went with their play, as both teams have struggled in the main, aside from a few strong patches, with the Cowboys making the Grand Final once and losing. Both teams also have surprisingly strong fanbases who make up large and loud crowds. Cowboys have hit a mini-wall of late but they do have some talent so they might find themselves on the rise again this season.
Star Player: Jonathan Thurston
Stadium: Parramatta Stadium (21487)
NFL Counterpart: Philadelphia Eagles
Parramatta lies in the west of Syndey and were established in 1947. They managed quite a bit of success in their time in the league with 4 premierships, all of those coming in their dominant period during the 1980's. I had a little trouble finding a suitable counterpart for the Eels, but I finally went with the Eagles, and to be honest, I don't really know why. I suppse it's just a gut feeling, I get the same dislike feeling when I watch both of them. They both portray similar cultures and have had comparable success, but it's more a feeling then anything which makes these two clubs similar.
Star Player: Jarrad Hayne
Stadium: Penrith Stadium (21000)
NFL Counterpart: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Based on the western edge of Sydney, the Panthers were founded in 1967. They struggled for about 20 years before finally making a run at the finals during the late 80's-early 90's where they managed a premiership. They got their 2nd title in 2003 but have been struggling somewhat ever since. Comparison-wise, Tampa seemed to make the most sense to me. Both teams struggled for much of their history but have come up with a title (or 2 in the Panthers' case). They also inhabit small locations with smallish fanbases.
Star Player: Petero Civoniceiva
South Syndey Rabbitohs
Stadium: ANZ Stadium (83500)
NFL Counterpart: Detroit Lions
This really sucks. I've always hated the 'Bunnies', and it just so happens that they compare most favourably to the Lions. Anyway, South Sydney are located, well, in southern Sydney and are one of the oldest clubs, having been established right at foundation in 1908 (although they weren't in the competition for a couple of years early in the 2000s). They are Lions-like for a couple of reasons- 1. Both teams are quite old and full of rich tradition. 2. Both teams were highly successful early in their histories (in fact, the Rabbitohs have won 20 titles, most of any NRL club). 3. Both teams have had horrible down periods in recent times. Like the Lions, the Bunnies struggled for a long time and were seemingly always on the bottom of the league table. However, very much like the Lions, things appear to be on the up, with Russell Crowe funding the club, and things look fairly bright for their future...unfortunately.
Star Player: Sam Burgess
St. George Illawarra Dragons
Stadium(s): Jubilee Oval (21000), WIN Stadium (20000)
NFL Counterpart: Pittsburgh Steelers
The first of two merged clubs, the Dragons are an amalgam of the mighty St. George Dragons and the fledgling Illawarra Steelers (The St. George area is in south Sydney, while Illawarra is further south, outside of Sydney itself). Since their joint venture, the club has been one of the strongest and most consistent in the league, winning last year's title. The St.George Dragons were possibly the mightest club in Australia during the 50's in 60's, winning 11 premierships in a row....that's right, 11 (a record in sport for a long time). The Dragons continued to be a power in the league until the late 90's when the Dragons player base was becoming skinny (meaning rookies weren't as prevelant), to fix the problem, the Dragons merged with the Steelers who were a young club in a fantastic district full of growing potential. Therefore, the comparison with the equally mighty Steelers is apt, as both are known for their extreme success and allure. The Illawarra side, apart from also being called the Steelers, is also an industrial area, much like Pittsburgh.
Star Player: Brett Morris
Stadium: Sydney Football Stadium (45500)
NFL Counterpart: New York Giants
The Syndey Roosters, located in Eastern Syndey, are technically the oldest club in the NRL, by virtue of being the only one to play in every season since 1908. Because of this titanic history, the Roosters hold something of a elitist view about themselves (or at least the fans do). One of the more successful clubs, with 12 titles, the Roosters have had something of an inconsistent period of late. Their early history was always full of strength and consistency, but in modern times, the Roosters either field great teams (ala the early 2000s) or mediocre teams (1990s). They had a strong season last year, losing to the Dragons in the Grand Final. I had the most trouble finding a counterpart for the Roosters, I couldn't seem to think of any team that had the same amount of history and prestige, that wasn't already taken that is. The closest I could come to was the Giants, as both teams occupy a major city, have similar colours, have had success and are quite old. Close enough, me thinks.
Star Player: Todd Carney
Stadium(s): Campbelltown Stadium (21000), Leichardt Oval (23000), Sydney Football Stadium (45500)
NFL Counterpart: Atlanta Falcons
And last but definitely not least, my team. THE MIGHTY TIGERS! The Tigers are the 2nd of the merged teams, being a partnership between two very old clubs- the Western Suburbs Magpies (my original club) and the Balmain Tigers. Both of the original teams were Sydney foundation clubs and had rich heritages behind them (combining for 15 titles before 2000). A combination of league pressure and money troubles led the two teams to combine into a 50/50 partnership which gradually became a whole new identity. As the name suggests, the Wests Tigers are located in Western Sydney, although they play at 3 different home grounds. I compare them to the Falcons since both teams have similar histories, not particularly successful until somewhat recently and with a lot of potential in the future. I thought about comparing them to my beloved Lions, but logic prevailed (although there is some similarities, on the Wests side in particular, as the Magpies were down-trodden for many years before the merge). Last season, the Tigers lost by 1 point to eventual premiers, the Dragons, in the Grand Final qualifier. A tough one to take to be sure, but the Dragons are my 2nd team as my mum was a Dragon's diehard, so that made it a little easier to take. I have pretty high hopes for this season though, so will just have to see.
Star Player: Benji Marshall
Well that's all of them. I hope you've enjoyed this post and learned a little bit about my favourite sport (other than the NFL). If you feel like looking into it a little further, have a look around on Wikipedia or the team sites, or maybe even Youtube. And if you happen to flick past ESPN 22 and an NRL game is on, maybe just sit there a watch a bit. I know you'll probably be confused for a while, but you should be entertained. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section.
*Note - All pictures and images are owned by their respective owners and are in no way my property.