- This article details the year of rugby league run by Super League (Australia). For information regarding its controversial background see Super League war
Super League was an Australian rugby league football administrative body that conducted professional competition in Australasia for one season in 1997. Along with Super League (Europe), it was created by News Corporation during the Super League war which arose following an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the pay television rights to rugby league in Australia. After two years of legal battles the competition was played for a single season in 1997 alongside the rival Australian Rugby League (ARL) competition before the two merged in 1998 to form the National Rugby League (NRL).
Super League competitions
The Telstra Cup was a ten team competition held over eighteen rounds. The season was dominated by the minor premiers, the Brisbane Broncos, who won 14 of their 18 matches, losing only to the Penrith Panthers, the Hunter Mariners and eventual runners-up, the Cronulla Sharks. The Grand Final was played at Brisbane's ANZ Stadium in front of 58,912 people, the ground record for that venue. The Broncos defeated the Sharks 26-8 to win their third premiership. The Auckland Warriors had teams in both the Reserve grade and two age-group Grand Finals but lost all three.
The winners in all grades were:
- First Grade: Brisbane Broncos
- Reserve Grade: Canterbury Bulldogs
- Under-19s: Penrith Panthers
- Under-17s: Brisbane Broncos
The Super League Tri-series was contested by New South Wales, New Zealand and Queensland. Each team played the others once, with the best two teams playing a final. New South Wales defeated Queensland 23-22 in the final at ANZ Stadium
In 1997 the Super League Australia select team played two games against New Zealand, winning the inaugural ANZAC Test and losing the return match. Australia also won a three game series against Great Britain by two games to one. Although these matches are considered to be Tests by the New Zealand Rugby League and the European Rugby Football League, they are not recognised by the Australian Rugby League.
As News had signed up most rugby league organisations outside of Australia, the ARL was starved of international competition. They had intended playing a team of players with New Zealand heritage but the New Zealand Rugby League took out an injunction in the Federal Court preventing the ARL from using the terms "Test", "Representative Team", "New Zealand" or "All Golds". The ARL instead played Tests against rebel teams from Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as defeating a Rest of the World team in July 1997.
The Oceania Cup was run by Super League in place of the Pacific Cup. It was contested by Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand Māori, New Zealand XIII and Papua New Guinea. New Zealand XIII defeated New Zealand Maori 20-15 in the final.
World Club Challenge
The World Club Challenge, which had been contested occasionally since 1975
, was expanded in 1997 to include all ten Australian Super League clubs competing against all twelve European clubs. The European teams were outclassed, winning only 8 of 83 matches, and suffering many heavy defeats. The competition was unpopular in Australia, and it lost $6,000,000 due to small crowds and heavy travel expenses. The Brisbane Broncos
won the final defeating the Hunter Mariners
36-12 at Ericsson Stadium
Super League Challenge Cup
The Super League Challenge Cup competition was played between the Australian Capital Territory
, Northern Territory
, South Australia
and Western Australia
. The Australian Capital Territory won the competition, defeating the Northern Territory 40-14 at ANZ Stadium Brisbane
on 19 May
In 1996 and 1997 the Gatorade Super League World Nines Comepetition was held. Nines rugby league
is a faster form of the game with only nine players on the field at a time playing in shorter halves. The World Nines competition were held as an alternative to the ARL's World Sevens.
The 1996 World Nines were held in Suva, Fiji from February 22 to February 24. The winner of this competition was New Zealand. The 1996 World Nines marked the first time that a video referee was used for a game of rugby league. The 1997 World Nines were held in Townsville, Queensland from January 31 to February 2. New Zealand won this competition for the second year in a row.
Super League (Europe)
As the Rugby Football League had signed with News Corporation, a twelve team club competition was held from 1996 in Europe.
Although Super League damaged the public perceptions and financial standing of rugby league in Australia, a number of concepts that it introduced lived on into the new millennium.
An addition to the regular Tests played between Australia and New Zealand, the ANZAC Test was introduced by Super League. There was some controversy at the time for the use of the word ANZAC, as many considered it inappropriate to compare sportspeople to soldiers. Although it was dropped from the annual schedule in the early years of the new millennium, it was revived in 2004, and is now contested each year.
Night Grand Finals
The Super League Telstra Cup Grand Final
was played on a Saturday night in Brisbane, whereas all NSWRL and ARL Grand Finals were traditionally played on a Saturday afternoon (until 1980), or Sunday afternoon (from 1981). From 2001
the NRL has played its Grand Finals on the Sunday night in October, to coincide with a Public Holiday in New South Wales
the following day.
Although a ratings success for the Nine Network, this scheduling continues to upset traditionalists, who believe that having the Grand Final on a Sunday afternoon allows people to better celebrate the day, particularly with a Grand Final BBQ. Some in Sydney also believe that holding the Grand Final at night disuades parents with young children attending. It is also very unpopular outside of New South Wales, as there is no Public Holiday in Queensland the following day, and the Grand Final begins late in the evening in New Zealand.
At the Super League World Nines in 1996
the video referee was used for the first time. The Video referee allows an official to check the veracity of tries scored using footage from the television broadcasters. The NRL used Video Referees from its first season in 1998
A number of rule changes were introduced in both the Super League and the ARL during the war that have been adopted by the NRL. Super League innovations include:
- Zero tackle rule (in a modified form).
- Scrums packed 20 metres in from touch.
An ARL rule change for the 1997 season that was adopted by the NRL and is still in force is the popular 40/20 rule. Under this rule, attacking teams kicking the ball into touch 'on the bounce' from inside the 40 metres closest to their goal line, with the ball crossing the sideline inside the opposing team's 20 metre area, receives a scrum feed. Previously the defending team received the scrum feed.
- Colman, Mike (1996). Super League: The Inside Story. Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-330-35863-4.
- Gallaway, Jack (2001). The Brisbane Broncos: The Team To Beat. University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0-7022-3275-0.
- Jon, A. Asbjorn (1997). 'Professional Sport and Popular Culture', in Australian Folklore 12. University of New England. ISBN 1-86389-461-6.
- "How The War Unfolded", Sydney Morning Herald, March 26, 2005
- "Channel Nine and Fox extend NRL rights", Sydney Morning Herald, July 1, 2005
- "News plotter used NRL spot to outbid C7", Sydney Morning Herald, September 14, 2005
- "PBL Buys 25% of Foxtel", Australian Cybermalls News, October 30, 2005
- Leeming, Mark (1996) "The Super League Case", Australian Parliamentary Library Research Paper No. 23, 1996