Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court will today be well pleased with the first match performance of the rugby league team they now own, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
And the Monday night crowd – 25,000 on a wet Sydney night – will add to their satisfaction. Kickoff had to be delayed for 15 minutes because of the long queues still waiting to get into the ground at the scheduled kick off time.
The Rabbitohs, long the cellar dwellers in the NRL, have all the appearance of a professional, committed team. Last night’s 18-6 win over traditional rivals, the once much more upmarket Sydney Roosters, would have exceeded their best expectations.
The Rabbitohs have also set the pace when it comes to sponsorship and corporate support – with the 2007 sponsorship agreements up there with the best in the NRL. Not a bad effort for a club that came a distant last in 2006.
While Crowe and Holmes a Court have yet to snare “big name” players (they only formally acquired the club after the start of the 2006 season) they have recruited workmanlike players such as Roy Asotasi and Dean Widders.
But it’s in their coaching and management ranks that the difference is already having an impact. New coach, Jason Taylor, turned around the fortunes of the Parramatta Eels in 2006 when he took the team over mid-season.
And the club have recruited arguably the best known physiotherapist in the land, Errol Alcott. For 20 years Alcott was the physio for the Australian cricket team during its most successful period.
Last night the Rabbitohs’ new owners also paraded just some of the club’s “friends”, including Richard John Laws, and the players arrived dressed in brand new Armani suits. What would the old time working class South Sydney supporters be thinking?
But they won’t mind if the Rabbitohs keep winning in 2007. On the basis of last night’s performance, and the new professionalism in every aspect of the club, one “award” the club won’t be a contender for this season is the wooden spoon.
The extra game in the enlarged premiership helped give the NRL its largest ever opening round crowd total. Despite a wet weekend in Sydney, crowd total was 185,000 – eclipsing the previous record of 171,000 way back in 1995 before the Super League War split the game.
And, as Glenn Dyer reported yesterday, the television ratings for the first live telecast, as well as the Sunday afternoon replay, gave Channel Nine a much needed lift. The argument that a live telecast ruins attendances (the one used by the NRL and Nine for years) was shot down in flames – the Broncos v Cowboys game was shown live in Brisbane… and attracted a record 51,000 spectators to Lang Park!