Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gold Coast Titans 18 at Brisbane Broncos 32 - May 15, 2009

It's time for Friday Night Football, with the Broncos hosting the Titans. No, it's not Denver vs Tennessee in a bizarre off-season NFL matchup, but an NRL battle with the Brisbane Broncos hosting their local rivals, the Gold Coast Titans. The Titans are an expansion team, playing in their third NRL season, while the Broncos are the league's most successful franchise, winning 6 titles in their 20 years of existence. With the two cities only an hour apart, this match was dubbed the Queensland Derby, and plenty of Gold Coast fans had made the trip to cheer on their side.

The League

The NRL has 16 teams, mostly based in the Sydney area, but with 3 teams in Queensland, and one each in Melbourne, Canberra, and even New Zealand. Each team plays each other team once or twice for a total of 24 games, played over 26 weeks as each team gets 2 bye weeks. The top 8 teams make the playoffs, with the first round setting up normally with the 1-seed hosting the 8-seed and so on. However, even if the first seed loses, they advance to the next round - essentially the four winners advance plus the two highest-seeded losers. The two-highest seeded winners advance directly to the semi-finals, while the remaining 4 teams play an elimination round. The winners advance to the semis, and those winners play in the Grand Final. Got it? If so, please explain it to me!

The Rules

Rugby league is a bit different than union, and actually resembles American football in that the offense must kick the ball away if they don't score in 6 possessions - in other words the team loses the ball on their 6th tackle, so they kick it away before they are tackled. However, there are no stoppages in play after a tackle (the defense must move 10 yards off the ball), and the clock continues to move, even when the ball is out of bounds. It's a quick game, with 2 40-minute halves, and takes less than two hours to complete. The action is pretty much non-stop and keeps you in your seat for the duration of the match.

There are two main types of scoring: tries (like a touchdown) worth 4 points and are followed by a conversion attempt worth 2 points, and penalty goals, also worth two points. There are also drop goals which are kicked through the uprights on the fly, but these are quite rare in Rugby League.

The Stadium

Suncorp Stadium is located in the suburb of Milton, a short walk from Roma St station. It is one of the larger rugby grounds in the country, with a capacity of 52,500. There are three seating levels, the 300, 500 (seems to be a club level), and 700 levels. The stadium is perfectly rectangular and seats are right next to the field. The seats are painted gold and maroon, which are the colours of the Brisbane Broncos, with a wavy pattern throughout the stadium.

Food options are limited, with burgers, pies, and sandwiches being the most common. There was a Red Rooster stand as well for chicken enthusiasts. Nothing special to report there.

Transport is excellent, particularly after the game when dozens of buses wait to take passengers to one of 4 areas of town. As well, if you are holding tickets, you ride for free. And there are two train stations nearby.

The Game

The Titans were suffering several key injuries and were not expected to do well, but after Brisbane's Israel Felou scored a try (pictured above), the Titans responded with one of their own. Brisbane again took the lead, only to have the Gold Coast reply shortly thereafter. With the Titans converting both tries and Brisbane missing both, the score was 12-8 Gold Coast at half-time.

Brisbane used the interval to adjust their strategy and it showed, with two quick tries, both by Folau and both converted. Gold Coast replied with a converted try of their own to make the score 20-18 Broncos. With 8 minutes to go though, Brisbane broke through the line again, and Folau added a 4th try to close out the scoring. The final was 32-18 Broncos, but the game was much closer than the score indicates.

It was my second NRL game, and I'm beginning to appreciate the game. I still prefer rugby union, which seems a bit tougher and more physical, but league offers more scoring and more continuous action, and is easier to understand. I'll keep the NRL Road Trip idea in mind for a few years hence.


Each team was sponsored by a major corporation which became part of the name. The Broncos were referred to as the Wow Brisbane Broncos. I originally thought it was because the team was so amazing, but later realized that Wow is an online electronics store. The Titans are similarly referred to as the Jetstar Gold Coast Titans. I know that sponsorship is part of the game, soccer uniforms change regularly when the sponsor changes, but I wonder how long until North American sports see the revenue potential. Will we see the Rogers Toronto Blue Jays anytime soon?

Annoying Fans

Despite each half being only 40 minutes long (with almost no clock stoppages), many fans felt that they couldn't wait until half time to buy a beer or use the facilities and went up and down the stairs. With a game that has non-stop action, this is quite frustrating, as you can miss a key play at any time. When people see a movie that is 2 hours long, do they get up 3 times? No! So why in sports do so many consider the game (and other fans) secondary to their own personal wants? Please sit down during the action!

Noticeable Differences

There were some interesting differences in this game that are worth noting. First is the clock. It doesn't stop unless there is an injury or a video replay. Even after a try, the clock continues to tick while the conversion is lined up. The process takes a minute, so scoring with 2 minutes left effectively ends the game.

After scoring, the offense gets the ball again on the kickoff. The logic is that they are unlikely to score again from so deep in their territory, and when teams are evenly matched, this generally works out as tries are usually exchanged 1-1 and most games seem close. But when one team is dominant, they can string together a 3 or 4 try run to make the game a laugher. Still, I find the logic that the defense is punished for giving up a try by being forced to stay on the field until they can stop their opponents. Seems fair to me.

They also have a video replay to confirm tries. What's interesting about it is that unlike the NFL, where the referee announces whether the ruling on the field stands, the video referees decision is shown on the scoreboard as Try or No Try. Everybody's attention is focused on the big screen as the replays are shown, and fans can decide for themselves. Then the replays are stopped and it's decision time. The NRL logo spins around, finally revealing the critical words - even the players are watching for the result. It really makes the video replay process more interesting and the NFL should think about modifying their horribly boring replay procedures.

A final difference is in the schedule. Although the full draw is published at the beginning of the season, the actual game dates are not released for the later rounds. So I know the Broncos play the Titans again in the Gold Coast in round 20, which is July 24-27, but I don't know which day. This makes planning a road trips a bit difficult if you are looking at a longer trip, but it seems like the dates are released several weeks in advance, so short-term plans shouldn't be affected.

All in all, it was a great experience and I am looking forward to my next trip there, where I'll try to catch a few more NRL games.



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