Super Round should be a celebration of rugby – that’s why it should have never been held in Melbourne


I’ll start with a quick aside, before I get to the topic of Super Rugby Pacific’s alleged Super Round.
I was 18 or 19 and at Athletic Park with a mate, to watch Wellington play New South Wales.

These were the days before Super Rugby and the crowd of a few hundred was testament to that. Super Rugby might not be what it was in its early years, but it’s better than what we had prior.

Giant Wellington prop Bill Cavubati will be remembered by one or two older readers. To say he dawdled round the paddock would be an insult to dawdlers, but he was fleet of foot when he felt like it.

On this day, Cavubati collected a bouncing ball on Wellington’s side of halfway, burst through the New South Wales defence and then went round fullback Matt Burke to score under the posts.

If you hadn’t seen it, you wouldn’t have believed it.

I bumped into Cavubati once and proudly told him I’d been there to see it. Only, as he was quick to remind me, that wasn’t the most unbelievable thing that happened at Athletic Park that day.

Wing Peter Jorgensen scored a try for New South Wales at the northern end of the ground and, as he turned to walk back towards halfway, was clotheslined by Wellington flanker Des Tuiavi’i.

Jorgensen was out cold and Tuiavi’i walked straight towards the tunnel, without the referee having to send him there first.

I recall this incident to say rugby had to do more to protect the head of players, but I don’t believe smart mouthguards are the answer.

You will turn the game into a farce if some bloke in a lab coat is able to keep arbitrarily removing players from the paddock because of numbers on a spreadsheet.

If I look at the opening round of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season, it’s Anton Lienert-Brown and Quinten Strange having to have Head Injury Assessments, that I remember.

La réaction d’Anton Lienert-Brown, dans un moment clé du match #CHIvCRU, quand il est remplacé pour protocole commotion. Alerte transmise par les nouveaux protèges dents connectés. #SuperRugby

— Mathias (@chemacca) February 23, 2024

Otherwise, the teams that should’ve won their games, did win their games and, while there was a degree of entertainment in the way the matches were won, predictability of outcome is the enemy of any competition.

Which brings us to Melbourne and the Super Round.

This should never have been in Melbourne and it won’t be missed in that city when the Rebels are gone.

It would’ve done well in Wellington or Christchurch, and maybe Auckland as well. It would get lost in Sydney, Brisbane already has the NRL Magic Round, Perth’s too far away for travelling fans and no-one schedules a weekend of fun, frivolity and footy in Canberra.

So that’s not me being parochial. That’s just saying that Wellington and Christchurch, particularly, have stadiums of the right size to not look empty when the less fancied teams are playing and enough for fans to do when they’re not at the games.

The Super Round should be a celebration of the sport. It’s not a mechanism by which to broaden the fanbase, as the concept’s dismal showing in Melbourne has proved.

Super Round will take place in Melbourne for the third straight year. But should it? (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

I couldn’t care less about the NRL’s foray into the United States, but I would gladly go to Brisbane for Magic Round.

That’s because it’s a melting pot of fans from every club but, most importantly, it’s being held in a place where the game is revered.

Remember the NRL Nines at Eden Park? It didn’t work for the same reason the Super Round isn’t a winner in Melbourne.

Auckland’s not a rugby league town, despite the loyal following the Warriors enjoy, and nor will Melbourne ever be a rugby town.

If the Super Round is ever going to match what the NRL is doing in Brisbane and the AFL in Adelaide, with the Gather Round, it’s got to go somewhere where there’s a fervour for footy.

I get that state funding is critical to the hosting of sports events in Australia, but you make yourself truly appealing to sponsors and politicians when you’re able to prove the worth of your concept first.

The Reds will take on the Hurricanes in one of the matches of the second round in Melbourne. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

This isn’t a scene out of Wayne’s World 2. You can’t stick your fingers in your ears and say “if you book them, they will come’’ because our best and brightest rugby talent has been booked at AAMI Park for years now and, sadly, next to no-one’s come.

I’ll want to see how many the Crusaders can beat the Waratahs by this weekend or if the Highlanders can upset the Blues. I’m intrigued to see what the Reds can do against the Hurricanes too.

But I’ll probably be doing it all with the television on mute, because I don’t want to hear the commentators telling me how amazing it is to be in Melbourne and what a buzz there is around AAMI Park.

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