Month: October 2016

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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Four vampires – Viago, Deacon, Vladislav, and Petyr – share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand, where they struggle to adapt to the 21st century. All four of them are hundreds of years old, but they mostly resemble normal humans (with the exception of Petyr, who appears much older). As vampires, they avoid the deadly sunlight and instead roam the streets of Wellington at night in order to search for prey. But they can’t get into the fancy clubs in town, they bicker over the household chores, they feud with local werewolf gangs, and they’re socially awkward around most humans.

In an effort to acclimate to everyday life, the vampires also have a human friend, Jackie, who helps them by running errands during the day. Jackie wants to become a vampire herself, and is secretly annoyed that Viago & Co. don’t change her into one. One day, Jackie lures her ex-boyfriend Nick to the vampires’ flat so they can feed on him. Nick escapes at first, but is bitten by Petyr, the much-older vampire who lives in the basement and exhibits aggressive tendencies.

A couple of months later, the vampires have accepted Nick into their group, but he struggles with the transition from human to supernatural being, even randomly confessing his true identity to club-goers. Nick’s human friend, Stu, is a computer programmer who introduces the vampires to modern technology, but he seems oblivious to the fact that his new friends are vampires.

Hilarity ensues as the vampires run into deadly werewolves, police, and vengeful ex-girlfriends, discover the power of email, go clubbing, and remain blissfully unaware about the world in which they’ve fallen into.

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This film is straight-up hilarious. What We Do in the Shadows was the brainchild of filmmakers Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi  – who served as actors, writers and directors – and was based off a similarly-themed short film that the two had made in 2006. Waititi is one of New Zealand’s most prominent filmmakers, while Clement is best known for being the co-creator and co-star of HBO’s cult classic comedy show Flight of the Conchords.

In an unusual move, Clement and Waititi spurned studio involvement, raising a minuscule budget of $1.7 million entirely on Kickstarter and recruiting numerous colleagues to participate in the film.

What We Do in the Shadows was shot entirely in Wellington in September 2012; despite the small budget and mockumentary setup, Clement and Waititi got their money’s worth when filming started. They shot over 120 hours of footage, which included numerous improvised takes. The duo eventually assembled three cuts – one focused more on story and plot, one focusing on comedy, and one final cut which was an amalgamation of the two. The original script was 150 pages long, but much of it was left unused, in a deliberate effort to keep dialogue spontaneous, humorous, and improv-friendly.

Shadows had a limited release, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014 and earning critical acclaim, before landing in its home country of New Zealand (as well as Australia) in June of that year. It didn’t premiere in US theatres until early 2015, but managed to strike a chord with American critics as well. The film ended up with a stellar 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Many critics favorably compared the film to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, the 2004 British zombie-comedy that also had a limited budget and release, but managed to become a smash hit and a cult classic. Clement and Waititi deserve all the credit in the world for being funny, creative, and original. Make no mistake, What We Do in the Shadows is a charming, hilarious take on modern-day vampires. I highly recommend it.

“A bracing reminder of how the right burst of energy and style breathes fresh ideas into a genre threatened with creative exhaustion.”

The Chicago Sun-Times

Shadows takes what could have been a one-joke sketch and turns it into a very funny, and occasionally even touching, take on brotherhood and friendship.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“If we see two or three more comedies this year that know what they’re doing the way this one does, it’ll be a very good year indeed.”

The Chicago Tribune

“Desperately funny.”

–The Telegraph

“The best comedy of the year.”

The Guardian

Released 2014

Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi 

Produced by Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley and Emanuel Michael

Directors of Photography – Richard Bluck and D.J. Stipsen

Editors – Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, and Jonathan Woodford-Robinson

Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Blugh, Ben Fransham, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Jackie van Beek, Stu Rutherford, Elena Stejko, Rhys Darby

Rated R for bloody violent content, some sexual material and language.

2016 AFL season in review

The AFL season concluded a couple weekends ago, with the underdog Western Bulldogs winning their first premiership in 50-plus years over the Sydney Swans. Playing in front of a crowd of 99,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Dogs took home the flag, capping off a crazy season all around the league.

Here’s the recap for all the teams in the AFL, how they finished in 2016, and what to expect from them heading forward:

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Sydney Swans (17-5)

The Swans seemed to fall apart in the Grand Final, despite looking so sharp at other moments of the season. Do they have another comeback in them heading into 2017?

Callum Mills and Aliir Aliir emerged as some quality playmakers for the Swans, adding to the embarrassment of riches in the Swans’ forward line and midfield. Kieren Jack also brushed off some off-field distractions and had a solid season as well.

Veterans Josh Kennedy and Buddy Franklin continue to lead this high-achieving club into the future, but eyebrows were raised when the Swans crumbled so quickly at the tail end of the year. There needs to be a much more concerted effort at every point of the season in order for the Swans to return to the Grand Final in 2017.

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Geelong Cats (17-5)

The Cats looked very sharp most of the regular season, playing consistent footy and getting the desired results from their big offseason addition, Patrick Dangerfield. But in the preliminary final against the Sydney Swans, Geelong fell flat. There are lots of issues to address heading forward, including the well-founded rumors that veterans Jimmy Bartel and Steven Motlop could be on their way out of the club.

Geelong definitely made strides in 2016, but they’ve got to finish the job. Still, it’s a reasonable bet that the Cats will be preliminary final contenders again in 2017. 

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Hawthorn Hawks (17-5)

The Hawks’ chase for a fourth consecutive premiership fell short, as they couldn’t keep the momentum going into the postseason. A shocking loss in Round 20 to Melbourne started the disappointing finish, and by the season finale—a narrow win over Collingwood—the writing was on the wall.

Cyril Rioli and Luke Hodge remain some of the biggest names in the game, and fans are excited about breakout years from James Sicily and Ben Stratton. Can the Hawks reclaim a top four spot in 2017? Or is their time in the spotlight all but finished?

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Greater Western Sydney Giants (16-6)

This scrapping young team could be the premiership favorites in 2017 after falling just short in this season’s preliminary finals. With an extremely athletic mix of veterans and youngsters, Leon Cameron’s team showed a lot of guts while playing without veteran Cam McCarthy.

Co-captains Callan Ward and Phil Davis stepped up in McCarthy’s absence, as did ruckman Shane Mumford and new free agent addition Steve Johnson. In addition to the aforementioned GWS stars having outstanding seasons, both defender Heath Shaw and midfielder Toby Greene received All-Australian honors.

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Adelaide Crows (16-6)

In the first season without superstar Patrick Dangerfield (who was traded to Geelong in the offseason), the Crows didn’t have the free-fall that critics were predicting. In the first full season under coach Don Pyke, the Crows were sharp for most of the year, despite losing to Sydney in the elimination final.

Star forwards Eddie Betts, Tex Walker, and Josh Jenkins had tremendous years for the most part, but Adelaide needs to find more depth in its midfield in order to take the next step as a footy club. The Crows will likely be a postseason contender in 2017, but they need to be able to hold their own down the stretch more consistently.

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West Coast Eagles (16-6)

After coming oh-so-close to an AFL premiership in 2015, the Eagles were a postseason disappointment in 2016. West Coast was one-and-done in the elimination final, losing to the eventual premier, the Western Bulldogs. It was a rough finish for a team that looked very sharp early in the year before injuries and inconsistency hit.

Stars Jeremy McGovern and Josh Kennedy were both named All-Australian, and Tom Barress is an up-and-coming defender, but the Eagles remain worried about the health of ruckman Nic Naitanui (who could miss the majority of 2017) and midfielder Lewis Jetta.

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Western Bulldogs (15-7)

The Bulldogs were written off by many, but managed to surprise them all in the postseason and winning their first premiership in decades—and in storybook fashion. Following an injury-riddled latter half of the 2016 season, the Dogs limped into the Finals at the #7 seed, but then they came alive. Stars Tom Boyd and Marcus Bontempelli were red-hot all throughout the finals, and Jason Johannison took home the Norm Smith Medal at the Grand Final.

There’s no doubt that it was a sensational end to a very up-and-down season. It’ll be interesting seeing how the Dogs adjust in 2017—being the hunted rather than the hunter—but there’s no doubt that the 2016 team will go down in history.

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North Melbourne Kangaroos (12-10)

The Kangaroos’ 9-0 start had their fans thinking big, but they only won three out of 13 matches the rest of the season and barely sneaked into Finals contention. After being trounced by Adelaide in the opening round of the postseason and making some questionable roster moves, the Roos need to regroup quickly.

However, some notable veterans remain at the club, including captain Andrew Swallow and star defender Robbie Tarrant. Ruckman Majak Daw is an elite athlete who could be one of the best young footballers at North Melbourne heading forward. Still, there are more questions than answers at the club after a disappointing season.

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St Kilda Saints (12-10)

Alan Richardson’s team didn’t make the Finals in 2016, but they doubled their win total from 2015 and had some outstanding individual accomplishments. A huge Round 13 win over Geelong was a big momentum-booster heading forward, and it helped kickstart a team that won six out of nine the rest of the season.

With a nice nucleus of developing talent, the Saints have reason to be positive heading forward. Anything less than a Finals berth in 2017 will be considered a disappointment.

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Port Adelaide Power (10-12)

The Power suffered through another inconsistent season (10-12) and could never find the right rhythm most of the year. Some ugly losses early included a Round 2 whipping from their crosstown rivals, the Adelaide Crows, and a two-point loss to Carlton in Round 8.

Skipper Robbie Gray has shown admirable leadership, and a late July win over North Melbourne was nice, but Port Adelaide needs a breakthrough in 2017 to cement themselves as a relevant footy club.

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Melbourne Demons (10-12)

Finally, there seems to be genuine optimism at the historic footy club. A young team, the Demons missed the postseason yet again with a 10-12 record, but by all accounts, they took a big step forward in 2016 and will look to do the same in 2017 under new coach Simon Goodwin. There were several notable victories in a 10-win season for the Dees, but no one win was bigger than a huge Round 20 win over Hawthorn, a team they hadn’t beaten in nearly a decade. However, this team is still maturing, as evidenced by rough losses to Carlton in Round 22 and lowly Essendon back in Round 2.

There’s still plenty of young talent on the list, including emerging ruckman Max Gawn, and speedy young guns Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, and Jayden Hunt. Melbourne has reason to believe that they can break through in 2017 and return to the Finals for the first time since 2006.

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Collingwood Magpies (9-13)

For the third season in a row under coach Nathan Buckley, the Magpies missed out on the Finals with a disappointing 9-13 record. Despite the presence of stars like Adam Treloar and Scott Pendlebury, the Pies were unable to stay healthy or play much consistent footy throughout the season. Case in point: Collingwood upset quality AFL teams like Greater Western Sydney, West Coast, and Geelong, but also suffered upset losses to Carlton, Melbourne (twice), and St Kilda. Perhaps most gallingly, the Pies lost one-point matches in Round 2 (Richmond) and Round 23 (Hawthorn).

It wasn’t all bad news, though. Ruckman Mason Cox made a memorable debut in the ANZAC Day clash against rival Essendon. If he stays healthy and continues hitting the weights, Cox has the raw talent to become a quality big man for the Pies. Jesse White, a 6’4” Queensland product, is also a name to watch—he’s still young and coaches believe that his best playing days are ahead of him. If Collingwood can develop more young talent via the AFL Draft and reload on depth, they’ve got a chance to be eligible for the Finals in 2017.

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Richmond Tigers (8-14)

Another underachieving year is in the books at the Richmond Football Club, prompting many to speculate about coach Damien Hardwick’s future. A terrible 1-6 start got the Tigers’ attention, and they rattled off a couple notable wins in May and June, including a last-second upset victory over the Sydney Swans in Round 8.

However, that didn’t seem to affect a turnaround, as the Tigers couldn’t recapture that magic the rest of the year. They notched only a handful of more wins over inferior clubs the rest of the way (Collingwood, Essendon, and Brisbane, to name a few).

Like Collingwood, Richmond just hasn’t been able to play consistent, high-level footy. They could be poised to make some big splashes in the Draft and in free agency, though, so don’t count them out next year.

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Carlton Blues (7-15)

It’s been a long process, but there are positive steps being taken at the historic Carlton Football Club. New coach Brendan Bolton has drawn praise for changing the culture, and his team rebounded nicely following an ugly 0-4 start. A huge Round 10 upset over Geelong brought a taste of things to come.

Youngster Jack Silvagni had a rough start in the first few matches of his rookie season, but he improved steadily and has great leaders around him like Patrick Cripps and Bryce Gibbs. Sam Docherty was another quality player who enjoyed rapid improvement in 2016. Blues fans aren’t satisfied yet (are they ever?), but a seven-win debut under Bolton will do as a solid foundation for now.

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Gold Coast Suns (6-16)

It was another rough year for the Suns entering their sixth season of existence. Like Fremantle, they were ravaged by injuries all season, including to team captain Gary Ablett Jr., and ended up stumbling to a 6-16 record following a promising 3-0 start. Immediately following the season, stars Jaeger O’Meara and Dion Prestia demanded trades, and were soon joined by other disgruntled veterans who complained about the losing culture and lack of chemistry at the club.

Tough-as-nails Steven May has talent, and fellow forward Tom Lynch was named to the All-Australian team, but this squad still has not been able to put it all together yet. Entering 2017, there are no more excuses. If fiery coach Rodney Eade can’t lead the Suns to a Finals berth next year, he might be looking for work elsewhere.

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Fremantle Dockers (4-18)

After three straight seasons of Finals berths under coach Ross Lyon, the Dockers completely fell apart in 2016. Star midfielder Nat Fyfe went down early in the year, as did ruckman Aaron Sandilands, and the Dockers never recovered, finishing a dreadful 4-18 and missing the postseason for the first time in the Lyon era.

Veteran forward Hayden Ballentyne was also banged up throughout the year and could be traded when free agency starts. Lachie Neale was a bright spot, however, finishing with a high disposal count. Fellow youngster Darcy Tucker also drew praise for his play in 2016.

Fremantle will have time to regroup and lick their wounds in the offseason, but their fans will expect nothing less than a return to Finals contention in 2017.

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Brisbane Lions (3-18)

What an ugly season. The Lions were listless from start to finish, and a rash of injuries didn’t help the cause. Coach Justin Leppitsch was sacked following a three-win campaign, and the Lions need to improve in nearly every area heading forward.

A four-point home victory over Carlton in Round 21 was one of the few highlights this past season. Heading forward, the Lions must find a quality replacement for the retiring Daniel Merrett. Youngsters Eric Hipwood and Josh Schache were some bright spots on the roster, however, and they’ll be able to form a nice nucleus for the footy club in 2017 and beyond.

Make no mistake, though—new coach Chris Fagan has his work cut out for him to make the Lions into a respectable squad.

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Essendon Bombers (3-18)

In January, the Bombers were devastated after a dozen of their current players were banned for the season by the AFL for doping. So, coach John Worsfold had to scramble to put together a quality list of players, but in the end, Essendon was always going to struggle. In 2016, the Dons got their first last-place finish (the wooden spoon) since 1933.

Amid all the doom and gloom surrounding the club, they were still able to get some solid performances from players like Michael Hartley, Orazio Fantasia, and Darcy Parish. The Bombers also discovered a big, athletic ruckman in Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. He’s still raw, but he showed some excellent ball skills and a knack for making key tackles.

So was 2016 an aberration for the Dons? It’s easy to think so, and while it’s unlikely that they’ll threaten for the Finals as soon as next year, they’re bound to improve.

HISTORY OF FOOTY: The Gaelic connection

As I’ve shown in previous footy-related blogs, the sport of Aussie rules is unique, featuring numerous influences, exciting features of gameplay, and being historically significant as the first code of football to have official rules. However, there remains a debate about what sport was the primary influence for developing Aussie rules.

Some Australian historians have emphasized the influence from rugby, as well as other British public school games. After all, when footy was founded in the 1850s, Australia was still a British colony, and several of the game’s originators were educated in the UK. However, there’s also reason to believe that an Aboriginal Australian ball game called Marn Grook was an influence on footy pioneer Tom Wills (1835-1880).

Wills had studied in the UK as a schoolboy and had played rugby there, but he had also grown up surrounded by Aborigines in Victoria, who played Marn Grook. However, the exact gameplay connection is unclear, as few details of games have survived.

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One of the clearer influences was Gaelic football, an amateur sport played in Ireland. This game has several similarities with Aussie rules, and there’s a chance that some of the founding footy authorities took a few cues from the Irish as to how their new sport would be played.

In modern times, the highest level of footy is organized by the Australian Football League (AFL), which has national exposure and features 18 teams from across five Australian states. In addition to the AFL, every Australian state or territory has a state-level competition.

In Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) organizes the sports of Gaelic football (both men’s and women’s), camogie, hurling, rounders, and handball. These are collectively known as the Gaelic games, and are among the most popular spectator sports in Ireland. Every county of Ireland and Northern Ireland has a local GAA, and the Gaelic games are played on an inter-county basis. The GAA also works to promote the Irish culture and language, and remains popular among Irish ex-patriates worldwide.

Let’s take a look at some of the more obvious similarities between Gaelic football and Aussie rules:

  • Both sports feature elite athletes attacking a ball with no pads or helmets, in a free-flowing game featuring lots of ball movement and turnovers.
  • Both games start with a ball-up contest in the middle of the ground (contested between two players in Aussie rules, but four players in Gaelic football).
  • Both games feature a similar style of kicking, as well as two different ways to score points.
  • Both games require the player in possession of the ball to occasionally bounce the ball while running (every four steps in Gaelic football, and every 15 meters in Aussie rules). This is called a running bounce in Aussie rules, and “soloing” in Gaelic football.
  • Both games have a very similar style of ball disposal. In Aussie rules, the player must punch the ball to his teammate with a clenched fist; in Gaelic football, the player can either punch the ball with his fist or slap it forward with an open palm. Throwing the ball is not tolerated in either sport.
  • You can intercept passes and block opposing players in both games.
  • Neither Gaelic football nor Aussie rules have offsides rules, like rugby or American football.
  • Both sports were deliberately developed in an effort to have different national sporting pastimes than the UK. Footy has long been considered uniquely Australian, while Gaelic football was originally organized by Irish nationalists who wanted something different from the English sports of soccer and rugby.
  • Both sports are developing steady growth outside their respective homelands, especially within the past few decades.

Now, here are some of the obvious differences between the two sports:

  • Gaelic football is a strictly amateur sport, as players are prohibited from receiving any form of payment. Most Aussie rules players are on salary, either in semi-pro leagues or in the AFL (although numerous amateur footy associations do exist).
  • The ball used in footy is pill-shaped (more similar to a rugby ball) and in Gaelic football, the ball is round and resembles a volleyball. Gaelic football has a goalkeeper, while Aussie rules does not.
  • Just like in rugby and soccer, Gaelic football features yellow and red cards, and players can be ejected for unnecessary roughness. In Aussie rules, player discipline is reported at the time of the infraction, but officially handled in a post-match tribunal, where players can be suspended or fined.
  • In Gaelic football, if the game results in a draw, it must be replayed. In Aussie rules, draws are rare, but the game is not replayed.
  • Aussie rules features 18 players on the ground; Gaelic football has only 15.
  • Aussie rules is played on a massive cricket oval, while Gaelic football is played on a rectangular field which is bigger than a rugby pitch or a soccer field. The same field dimensions are also used in hurling, one of the other Gaelic games.
  • In Gaelic football, you can bump shoulders with opposing players if they have the ball, or knock the ball out of their hands. Aussie rules is a full-contact sport, but you cannot tackle above the shoulders or below the knees.
  • In Gaelic football, you cannot touch the ball with your hands if it’s on the ground; you must kick it along the ground, and you cannot lift it with your knees. In Aussie rules, all players can pick the ball up and either handball it to a teammate, kick it themselves, or run with it in the open field, provided they bounce it occasionally.
  • One of the main features of Aussie rules is the awarding of a mark, when a player jumps up and grabs the ball cleanly on the receiving end of a kick. From here, he can play on, or stop on the spot and take a free kick. In Gaelic football, you can also take free kicks, but the mark has never existed and regardless of a clean catch, the man with the ball must play on.
  • The scoring system is different in both games. In Aussie rules, if you kick the ball through the large two posts, it’s worth six points (a goal). If the ball hits one of the posts or bounces between the outer two posts, it’s worth one point and is called a behind or a minor score. In Gaelic football, you can kick the ball past the opposing goalkeeper (worth three points) or kick the ball over the goalpost (worth one point). This makes Aussie rules a much more high-scoring affair.

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Historian B.W. O’Dwyer once pointed out the similarities between Gaelic football and Aussie rules:

The Gaelic presence in Aussie rules football may be accounted for in terms of a formative influence being exerted by men familiar with – and no doubt playing – the Irish game. It is not that they were introduced into the game from that motive [i.e. emulating Irish games]; it was rather a case of particular needs being met.

O’Dwyer has also referenced the fact that Aussie rules was founded shortly after the Victorian gold rush in the 1850s, when many Irishmen had left their homeland in search of riches Down Under. But again, there is little (if any) concrete evidence that the founders of Aussie rules were explicitly influenced by the Irish game.

On the other hand, there’s a chance that one of the founders of the GAA, Archbishop Thomas Croke (1824-1902), was exposed to Aussie rules while he was the Bishop of Auckland in the 1860s. At the time, New Zealand was experiencing its own gold rush, and many Aussies were heading over to their smaller South Pacific neighbor to get a piece of the wealth. Therefore, the sporting culture of Auckland was heavily influenced by the Aussie presence there at the time, and Croke had a chance to witness it firsthand. But once again, there’s no specific link here, and it’s mostly speculation.

Historian Geoffrey Blainey of the University of Melbourne has claimed that the connections between the two sports is coincidental, with all evidence connecting them being purely circumstantial.

If a historian of football wishes to press the argument that one code must have copied the other, then this conclusion would be difficult to escape: the style of play which Gaelic and Australian football share today was visible in Australia long before it was visible in Ireland. By that line of reasoning, Gaelic football must have been the imitator. The present evidence, however, suggests that Gaelic football made its own way … which happened to be in the Australian direction.

Aussie rules was founded in 1858 by members of the Melbourne Cricket Club, with the goal of starting a sport that would keep them fit during the winter months (cricket is played in the Australian summer).

Gaelic football was not officially founded until 1887 when the GAA was formed by schoolteacher Michael Cusack, although there is evidence of similar ball games as being played in Ireland for centuries.

Despite the historic controversies among philosophers and academics regarding the two sports’ similarities, the average observer had noticed the connection long before that. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, there were occasional test games featuring experimental rules, in an effort to get players from both sports to play competitive matches against each other.

In 1984, the hybrid sport of international rules football was created, featuring compromise rules as agreed upon by the AFL and the GAA. Since 1998, the Irish have played the Aussies every other year in international rules after both of their seasons have concluded (they alternate the host country). It’s normally a competitive contest, and is similar to the Pro Bowl in American football.

So what do you think? Are the similarities too good to be true, or purely coincidental? Check out these two videos from YouTuber Ninh Ly as he breaks down both sports:

With that being said, “cheers, mate” and “the luck of the Irish to you!”

Where will NMSU go?

 

Flashback: In early 2013, New Mexico State Aggies football was facing one of its darkest periods in school history. The Aggies are a program that has the longest bowl drought in NCAA history (going on 56 years) and at the time, had just been orphaned in conference affiliation.

The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) had disintegrated as a football conference after the 2012 season, as part of a broader wave of conference realignment. All of the football-playing members of the WAC had jumped ship to greener pastures in the Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, or the Sun Belt Conference – with the exception of New Mexico State and the Idaho Vandals.

Both teams were stranded and forced to spend the 2013 season as FBS independents. Both were forced to play brutal schedules under first-year head coaches (Doug Martin at NMSU, and Paul Petrino at Idaho), with both the Vandals and the Aggies going 2-10 that year. Luckily, the Sun Belt threw a life raft to both schools, offering both Idaho and NMSU football-only memberships in the conference starting in 2014.

This past March, the rug was pulled out from under the feet of both schools.

In 2018, both NMSU and Idaho’s football-only Sun Belt memberships will expire. Within the past year, the Sun Belt decided to add a new member from the FCS (Coastal Carolina) in 2017 and to create a conference championship game, following the leads of the other FBS conferences (it should be noted that the Big 12 and the Sun Belt were the last two conferences to add a conference championship).

In the process, both NMSU and Idaho were kicked out of the Sun Belt after having a grand total of two seasons to make an impression to the powers-that-be. In an ironic twist, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson was also the former WAC commissioner, and he was the one giving both programs the axe.

This was after NMSU President Garrey Carruthers and Idaho President Chuck Staben made their cases to stay in the Sun Belt via PowerPoint presentations to the conference administrators back in early March. There were allegedly supporters of both the Aggies and the Vandals among the presidents of the Sun Belt schools, but in the end, the vote was unanimous – goodbye, Aggies and Vandals.

Again, the Sun Belt’s rationale was to have an even number of teams. As of right now, there are 11 Sun Belt football teams (including Idaho and NMSU). Add Coastal Carolina to the mix next season, and you’ll have 12; subtract NMSU and Idaho and you’ll be back at 10. This was in response to the NCAA’s decision to allow championships to conferences that have only 10 members (the previous limit had been 12, leaving out the Big 12 and the Sun Belt).

Up at Idaho, Staben made the devastating decision for the Vandals to drop down from the FBS to the FCS, joining the Big Sky Conference (which the Vandals are in for all other non-football sports).

This was an unprecedented move. Idaho football had spent 20 years at the FBS level and only had two bowl games to show for it, but a Division 1 team had never moved down a level. This also has numerous ramifications for Vandal football:

  • Numerous long-time program boosters have threatened to withdraw their financial support for Idaho football.
  • The Vandals will have to fire one assistant coach as part of FCS protocol.
  • The Vandals will also have to reduce their roster by 22 players. FCS teams have only 65 players on scholarship, as opposed to FBS programs, which can have up to 85 and generally average 83. This means that within the next year, Coach Petrino and his staff will be forced to under-recruit in order to be compliant with the FCS scholarship limitations by 2018.

Recent emails between Staben and Idaho athletic director Rob Spear have came to light. These emails show Staben as being reluctant to fight for the Vandals’ FBS future, and already having made up his mind about dropping down to the FCS even before the Sun Belt officially announced its decision. Seeing the writing on the wall, it appears that Staben was ready to throw in the towel and hope for the best at the FCS level.

This was in stark contrast to Spear, Idaho’s longtime athletic director. Spear has been at his position in Moscow for over a decade – he was the one who hired Petrino and successfully maneuvered the team through the brutal 2013 campaign before accepting the Sun Belt’s initial invitation. For what it’s worth, Spear seemed to be optimistic that another conference would be willing to pick up the Vandals in the near future and reportedly urged Staben via email to err on the side of caution. (Note: these emails were legally obtained as part of an FOIA request by reporters at the  Lewiston Tribune.)

In the end, it didn’t matter. At the press conference where Staben announced Idaho’s decision to step down, he claimed that it was a mutual decision among all parties involved. Spear’s body language at the adjacent podium suggested otherwise, although he has declined to comment on the situation since then.

Over 1,500 miles away, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a different decision was reached. Both Carruthers and athletic director Mario Moccia agreed to keep the Aggies at the FBS level, go independent again, and cross their fingers that a new conference would pick them up. This surprised some observers, with many predicting that the fates of Idaho and NMSU were tied to each other.

Could there be another seismic shift in the national landscape as far as conference realignment is concerned? Quite possibly.

The Big 12 stated over the summer that they are open to the idea of expanding back to 12 teams (the conference currently fields 10 teams in football). The most logical choice – both geographically and in terms of gridiron competition – would be the Houston Cougars of the American Athletic Conference, with possible interest from a school out west. BYU is currently an FBS independent who has shown interest in moving to a Power Five conference after spending previous years in the Mountain West. Both Houston and BYU would be interesting candidates, with BYU the more obvious choice for a football-only membership (they’re in different conferences for Olympic sports).

If the American loses Houston, they would likely poach a competitive team from Conference USA or the Sun Belt. Some likely C-USA candidates would be Western Kentucky, Southern Miss, or Marshall, while the Sun Belt’s most likely suitors would be Troy or Arkansas State.

Conference USA’s most recent additions were UTSA (2013) and Charlotte (2015); they currently field 13 teams in football (including NMSU’s closest regional rival, UTEP). If, for example, Western Kentucky jumped to the American, C-USA would be less likely to consider expanding, as they would be going from 13 teams back down to 12. Also, UAB is reinstating football in 2017 after a three-year absence, so instantly restocking C-USA with a brand-new team would be unlikely  – unless, of course, C-USA is open to having 14 teams in two divisions.

How about the Mountain West? Hypothetically, if the Big 12 snatched Boise State, where would the MW turn to find a new member? The answer could once again lie with a rival team. In 2013, University of New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs went to bat for his rival school, petitioning the MW to add NMSU, but he was ignored. Would the conference be more open to expanding in two years?

It’s worth noting that NMSU is much more competitive now than they were in 2013, when Coach Martin inherited a rough FBS independent schedule, not to mention a dumpster fire from predecessor DeWayne Walker. With one more full season left before going independent again, can the Aggies make a case for themselves to join the MW or any other conference?

I can’t imagine that the Aggies will roll over and play dead (and they haven’t so far this year). There’s a healthy chip on this team’s shoulder, both now and heading into their final Sun Belt season in 2017. Idaho has already raised the white flag, but NMSU hasn’t, choosing to stick it out in the FBS and hope that someone is sympathetic to their cause. It’s a daunting task, but it took guts to go for it, and both Carruthers and Moccia deserve credit for that.

Let’s hope someone outside of Las Cruces takes notice.

Forgiving, but discerning

A new film is coming out called Hacksaw Ridge – a bloody WWII drama that premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month and drew a 10-minute standing ovation. The plot focuses on the remarkable true story of Desmond Doss, an Army medic at the Battle of Okinawa. Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist who didn’t carry a weapon, but managed to save 70 men in his unit while under enemy fire. He ended up being the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.

Hacksaw Ridge has been met with critical praise already, even though it doesn’t arrive in American cinemas until November 4. It currently holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is being talked about as a sleeper pick at this year’s Academy Awards.

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Why is this relevant? Well, Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson – the Oscar-winning superstar who’s spent the majority of the last decade in hiding. As most of us remember, Gibson’s public disgrace was a punchline for years, following his infamous 2006 DUI incident in which he used anti-Semitic slurs, as well as a divorce from his wife and other related issues. Since then, public opinion of Gibson has been less-than-stellar, to put it mildly.

Gibson, now age 60, has tried to bounce back, but he’s largely viewed as box office poison even long after his problems faded from memory of the tabloids. Several films he has starred in have flopped, and he’s tried to lie low for awhile. Until Hacksaw Ridge premiered, Gibson hadn’t been behind the director’s chair since 2006’s Apocalypto.

In his personal life, Gibson was also accused of beating his then-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, in 2010 and leaving obscene voicemails on her answering machine. Gibson pleaded no contest and the two settled out of court. Some forensics experts believed that the messages were invalid or fabricated, meaning that Gibson was framed, but this was never confirmed nor denied. Gibson’s ex-wife, Robyn Moore, also defended him, saying that she had never experienced any abuse from Gibson in their 30 years of marriage.

Gibson has had long struggles with alcohol and found out several years ago that he was manic-depressive and bipolar. In the aftermath of his DUI arrest, he called his remarks “despicable” and that they were “blurted out in a moment of insanity.” In a follow-up hearing six months after the arrest, a Los Angeles judge praised Gibson for going above and beyond what was required, which included counseling and community service. Gibson also met one-on-one with Jewish leaders and attempted to reach a measure of public forgiveness.

The point I’m trying to make here is this: should we, as consumers of media, be willing to forgive people? On one level, the obvious answer is yes. In order to be a happy person in life, you need to forgive people who have wronged you. On the other hand, these people are celebrities and, as such, could care less what the guy on the street thinks of them. Still, people like Gibson should be given credit for trying to rebuild their reputations and being willing to meet people halfway.

But as movie-watchers, should we be able to watch Gibson’s films without guilt? That’s not an easy answer, and I don’t expect that everyone will be lining up to watch Hacksaw Ridge (or any of Gibson’s other previous films).

However, in hindsight, other people in the entertainment industry have done terrible things too. Sean Penn was a domestic abuser. Charlie Sheen trashed hotel rooms and nearly had prostitutes overdose on his dollar. Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. Many of these people were pariahs at first, but were eventually accepted back into the Hollywood fold (and some never left to begin with).

Then why has Gibson, a full decade after his most notorious episode, not been given an olive branch? Some people would say that he’s not truly sorry, given his other problems since the DUI. Others would say he’s been unfairly treated because he’s an outspoken, conservative Catholic. Whatever the explanation is, I think it’s time for a guy like Gibson to make his comeback. Disregarding Gibson’s personal demons (which aren’t unique to him), film is a richer place with him around.

If you want to look at a guy outside of Hollywood with a situation comparable to Gibson’s, look no further than Michael Vick. He served time for several years following his involvement in an illegal dogfighting ring, and it looked like his NFL career was all but finished. However, upon his release, Vick did everything he could to make amends and show remorse. To this day, he is still protested when he makes appearances, but if you’re being objective, I can’t imagine how he could have handled himself any better upon his return to public life, or what else he could do to show repentance.

As a society, we tend to put people on a pedestal and want to think the best of humanity. That’s why we’re shocked when a cop kills someone in cold blood. That’s why we get pissed off when middle school teachers turn out to be pedophiles. It’s not something that’s unique to celebrities – then again, with public figures, people tend to have longer-than-usual memories.

I think it’s natural to want to admire people. I think it’s silly when people admire someone with no evident talent or anything useful to say (looking at you, Kardashian family), but I’m not going to fault people for having role models, whether they’re celebrities or not.

I’m also not going to fault anyone for not watching movies from certain people. That’s their right, and as consumers of entertainment, we’re obligated to be free in what we choose to watch. My dad consistently refuses to watch Woody Allen movies due to his own distaste for Allen’s personal life. My mom doesn’t like Jack Nicholson’s movies, based on his playboy lifestyle.

So at the end of the day, we should be willing to be forgiving, but also discerning. That’s our right and our duty, both as free people and as moviegoers.

Sizing up the Sun Belt, one month in

Hard to believe it’s October – which means we’re five weeks into the college football season. Like many mid-major conferences, the Sun Belt Conference has been topsy-turvy. Some teams have been pleasant surprises, and others have been bitter disappointments. At this point, you can basically shake these teams up in a bottle and see where they land.

So where does everyone stand? Well, let’s find out. I’m recapping the first month of the season for all of these teams, as well as giving them a grade.

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Appalachian State Mountaineers (3-2, 1-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Georgia State, 17-3
  • Up next: Bye week

The Mountaineers have looked equally impressive on both sides of the ball. They raised eyebrows nationally by giving Tennessee a scare in the season opener. Then App State sandwiched that by convincingly defeating Old Dominion, falling to nationally-ranked Miami, and winning a shootout over Akron on the road. App State has one of the most experienced lineups in the Sun Belt, and it shows.

Grade: A-

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Arkansas State Red Wolves (1-4, 1-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Georgia Southern, 27-26
  • Up next: vs. South Alabama (Oct. 15)

The Red Wolves upset the apple cart in the Sun Belt last night with a last second win over the Georgia Southern Eagles. Up until then, Arkansas State’s offense had been a train wreck during an ugly 0-4 start. Even in the first half against Georgia Southern, they were shaky, losing two fumbles. It took sophomore QB Justice Hansen a huge effort to rally the troops and escape with a victory.

Hansen has been the unquestioned starter for a couple weeks now after Chad Voytik (a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh) was benched. With Hansen as a steady hand, new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner needs to get his unit to play faster and with more discipline.

Grade: D+

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Georgia Southern Eagles (3-2, 2-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Arkansas State, 27-26
  • Up next: @ Georgia Tech (Oct. 15)

Who are the Eagles? Are they an triple-option offense that passes, or a more balanced offense that is run-first? The Eagles have certainly been able to score points in bunches, but their star is falling after last night’s loss to Arkansas State and the previous week’s road drubbing at Western Michigan. The defense has been impressive, though, and it helps that first-year head coach Tyson Summers specializes on that side of the ball. This team is capable of rebounding, but they need to guard against complacency.

Grade: B-

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Georgia State Panthers (0-4, 0-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Appalachian State, 17-3
  • Up next: vs. Texas State (Oct. 8)

The ball really bounced the Panthers’ way last year, when they won their last four games and qualified for their first bowl in school history. It’s safe to say that they aren’t recapturing that magic this year after an 0-4 start. Granted, they’ve had a tenacious schedule—Ball State, Air Force, Wisconsin, Appalachian State—but Georgia State is averaging a dreadful 13.8 points per game. The defense has been lackluster, too, which is mystifying considering that it’s mostly a veteran group. Adding injury to insult: star wide receiver Penny Hart is done for the year with a broken foot. 

Grade: D-

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Idaho Vandals (2-3, 0-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Troy, 34-13
  • Up next: @ Louisiana-Monroe (Oct. 8)

The Vandals still haven’t had an impressive win—they’ve beaten UNLV (in overtime) and Montana State by a combined six points, and QB Matt Linehan continues to have turnover issues. The running game has been stagnant, and the secondary has been suspect, despite plenty of veterans back there. But at the end of the day, head coach Paul Petrino will take wins wherever he can get them—and his squad has a chance again this weekend on the road at lowly Louisiana-Monroe.

Grade: C-

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Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (2-3, 1-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to New Mexico State, 37-31 (2 OT)
  • Up next: Bye week

The Cajuns have a chance to rest up this weekend during their bye, but their confidence has to be shaken after falling in double overtime to NMSU and in four overtimes to Tulane the previous week. The Cajuns’ new-look defense has improved, especially in the pass rush, and the receiving corps has been solid, but there are questions about the health of running back Elijah McGuire heading forward. This looks like a middle-of-the-pack team until they prove otherwise.

Grade: C+

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Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (1-3, 0-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Lost to Auburn, 58-7
  • Up next: vs. Idaho (Oct. 8)

New coach Matt Viator knows what he’s getting into, and he’s had significant success at smaller programs. The Warhawks have had an unforgiving schedule—taking their lumps against Oklahoma and Auburn, among others—and are currently on a four game losing streak. Like Georgia State, they’ve had some serious problems scoring. Unlike Georgia State, Louisiana-Monroe can use youth as an excuse (they only have 14 seniors).

Grade: D

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New Mexico State Aggies (2-3, 1-1 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Louisiana-Lafayette, 37-31 (2 OT)
  • Up next: Bye week

In 2016, NMSU has their most experienced team in the Doug Martin era. They were largely competitive in a high-scoring loss to Kentucky, and they’ve clawed out narrow (but significant) victories against Louisiana-Lafayette and in-state rival New Mexico.

All-American running back Larry Rose III is back to 100% after missing a few weeks after  sports hernia surgery. NMSU still has a long way to go on defense, but they’re blitzing more and showing more aggressiveness this season. The Aggies are also fortunate to be heading into their bye week in relatively good health.

Grade: C+

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South Alabama Jaguars (3-2, 0-2 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat San Diego State, 42-24
  • Up next: Bye week

Like Georgia Southern, South Alabama seems to be suffering an identity crisis. They’ve shocked both Mississippi State and a nationally-ranked San Diego State team, but they barely beat FCS Nicholls State in between and also lost to both Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Quarterback Cole Garvin, a transfer from Marshall, has helped add much-needed consistency to the Jaguars’ offense, and the defense looks solid, particularly in the secondary. Nonetheless, it’s a good time for a bye week. 

Grade: B-

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Texas State Bobcats (2-2, 0-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Incarnate Word, 48-17
  • Up next: @ Georgia State (Oct. 8)

The Bobcats have been surprisingly competitive in what was widely predicted to be a rebuilding year under new coach Everett Withers. They upset Ohio in a season-opening overtime thriller, but then took their lumps in beatdowns at the hands of Houston and Arkansas. There’s very little depth, and the defense is inexperienced, but if Texas State can stay healthy, they should have a chance at a couple more wins the rest of the season.

Grade: C-

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Troy Trojans (4-1, 2-0 in Sun Belt)

  • Last week: Beat Idaho, 34-13
  • Up next: Bye week

Troy was a trendy preseason pick as the Sun Belt’s dark-horse, and they’ve certainly lived up to that reputation. After pushing nationally-ranked Clemson to the brink in Week Two, the Trojans then added a comeback win over Southern Miss to their resumé, before beating NMSU and Idaho to earn their first two conference wins. The Trojans are entering their bye week with a ton of momentum.

Grade: A-

HISTORY OF FOOTY: The Barassi Line

Aussie rules or rugby? That’s the question for many young Australians looking for a favorite sport to watch or play in the winter months. There’s no doubt that Australia is a sports-crazy country, but the dichotomy between rugby league/rugby union and Aussie rules football has been apparent since both sports were introduced during the British colonial days.

This phenomenon has resulted in the so-called “Barassi Line,” as shown below (rugby is in green; Aussie rules is in yellow).

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Both sides represent roughly half of Australia’s population. Brisbane, Sydney, and Canberra (the nation’s capital) are on the green side, while Melbourne, Hobart, Darwin, Adelaide, and Perth are on the yellow side. The media coverage of winter sports is heavily skewed towards rugby league/rugby union on the right side of the line, and towards footy on the opposite side.

Australia is one of the few countries in which rugby league is more popular than rugby union, and the sport has also been a pastime for many recent immigrants to Australia from countries such as New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji. Aussie rules has diversified to include many international players as well, but has long been viewed as a sport by Aussies, for Aussies, so to speak.

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The line is named for Ron Barassi Jr., a former Aussie rules player and coach who was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996. Now 80 years old, Barassi is considered a giant figure in developing the game of footy into a national phenomenon in Australia.

A third generation Italian-Australian, Barassi was raised in Melbourne and spent his teenage years in the shadow of his father, Ron Sr., a star player for the VFL’s Melbourne Demons who later fought in WWII.

Sadly, Ron Sr. was killed in action during Australia’s campaign in North Africa in 1940. Immediately, Ron Sr.’s former teammates at the Demons pledged to support the entire Barassi family. As a teenager, Ron Jr. was taken in by Melbourne’s coach, Norm Smith, after the rest of the Barassi family moved to Tasmania. Smith, a footy legend in his own right, played a crucial role in the younger Barassi’s development, both as a footballer and as a person.

After his playing days were over, Barassi became a coach, most notably for the Carlton Blues (1965-1971) and the North Melbourne Kangaroos (1973-1980). He retired from the game in 1995 after winning four VFL premierships as a coach and six as a player.

Barassi’s line was a theory that he had developed while he was coaching at North Melbourne in the 70s. He envisioned a country that featured professional footy teams from rugby-dominated areas of Australia – meaning that traditional rugby strongholds like Queensland and New South Wales would have up to two footy clubs apiece in a national competition.

At the time, Barassi’s predictions were not taken seriously. Despite his huge popularity in the sport of footy, many experts found his opinions to be ludicrous. Both rugby league and rugby union had long towered over Aussie rules as competitive enterprises in Brisbane, Sydney, and Canberra. No professional footy clubs existed on the rugby side of the line, or vice-versa. It wasn’t seen as plausible – culturally or economically – to bring Aussie rules to other states besides the traditional ones.

One of the major reasons that footy and rugby were located in the regions that they were was due to the massive size of the country itself. In the 19th century, when Australia was introduced to both sports, the majority of the competitions sprang up as inter-neighborhood and inter-city focused. The massive distances involved made interstate competitions rare, if not impossible.

Even after WWII, when air travel was much more common, traveling to different states to play footy or rugby wasn’t a very popular thing to do. If you were a Melbourne-based footy club, for example, why would you fly all the way to Sydney to play footy when there were plenty of other clubs to play in Melbourne? And even if you could get the money to fly to a different state or city, why would you spend it playing nobody important and in front of apathetic crowds? It didn’t make sense.

At the professional level, the VFL administration felt the same way. There wasn’t enough money to expand teams to other parts of the country, and there wasn’t enough interest to keep an expansion club in a rugby-heavy city for very long.

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In 1982, everything changed. The financially-strapped South Melbourne Football Club moved to New South Wales and became the Sydney Swans, shocking many observers. Sensing that his theory was coming true, Barassi became a huge supporter for the relocated club, even though it didn’t catch on with most Sydneysiders until later. Four years afterwards, in 1986, the VFL developed an expansion franchise in Queensland, the Brisbane Bears.

Both the Bears and the Swans struggled mightily in their first decade in the VFL (soon to be renamed the AFL). Some experts predicted that one or both clubs would fold, move back to Melbourne, or even combine into one interstate team representing both Queensland and New South Wales.

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In the end, something did happen, but not in the manner that many assumed. The Bears folded in 1996 and merged with the Melbourne-based Fitzroy Football Club, becoming the Brisbane Lions. The Lions enjoyed quite a bit of success in the coming years, culminating in a sensational trio of AFL premierships in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Meanwhile, the Swans began winning and drawing more interest in Sydney, earning their first Grand Final berth in 1996 and an AFL premiership of their own in 2005.

Barassi’s prediction – two AFL teams in Queensland and two in New South Wales – finally came true in 2012, when the Gold Coast Suns and the Greater Western Sydney Giants also joined the AFL competition. Here is the current competition (bold indicates a team from the opposite side of the line):

AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

  • Adelaide Crows
  • Brisbane Lions
  • Carlton Blues
  • Collingwood Magpies
  • Essendon Bombers
  • Fremantle Dockers
  • Geelong Cats
  • Gold Coast Suns 
  • Greater Western Sydney Giants 
  • Hawthorn Hawks
  • Melbourne Demons
  • North Melbourne Kangaroos
  • Port Adelaide Power
  • Richmond Tigers
  • St Kilda Saints
  • Sydney Swans 
  • West Coast Eagles
  • Western Bulldogs

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In rugby league, the push for different clubs in footy-dominated states hasn’t been as consistent. The Australian Rugby League (ARL) featured both the Western Reds (located in Perth) as well as the Adelaide Rams for several seasons. However, there were significant corporate sponsorship conflicts between the ARL and the Super League in the 1990s; this period is colloquially known as the “Super League war” and ended with the ARL folding in 1996.

In 1997, the National Rugby League (NRL) was created as a compromise. It currently features 16 teams – 15 from Australia and one from New Zealand. There is only one NRL team based on the opposite side of the Barassi Line, the Melbourne Storm, but they have enjoyed frequent success – including two premierships in 1999 and 2012 – as well as four runner-up finishes. Here is the current NRL competition (bold indicates a team from the opposite side of the line):

NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE

  • Brisbane Broncos
  • Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
  • Canberra Raiders
  • Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
  • Gold Coast Titans
  • Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
  • Melbourne Storm 
  • Newcastle Knights
  • New Zealand Warriors
  • North Queensland Cowboys
  • Parramatta Eels
  • Penrith Panthers
  • South Sydney Rabbitohs
  • St George Illawarra Dragons
  • Sydney Roosters
  • Wests Tigers

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Rugby union first became fully professional in Australia in 1996, featuring teams from Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand in what was originally called the Super 12 competition (now Super Rugby).

Once again, all of the original Aussie teams were based on the rugby side of the Barassi line. But in 2006, the Western Force were added as a new team based in Perth, and in 2011, the Melbourne Rebels also joined the fray. The Rebels have the distinction of being the first privately-owned rugby union team in Australia.

Here is the current Super Rugby competition and which cities/countries they represent (bold indicates a team from the opposite side of the line):

SUPER RUGBY

  • Blues (Auckland, New Zealand)
  • Brumbies (Canberra, Australia)
  • Bulls (Pretoria, South Africa)
  • Cheetahs (Bloemfontein, South Africa)
  • Chiefs (Hamilton, New Zealand)
  • Crusaders (Christchurch, New Zealand)
  • Force (Perth, Australia)
  • Highlanders (Dunedin, New Zealand)
  • Hurricanes (Wellington, New Zealand)
  • Jaguares (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
  • Kings (Port Elizabeth, South Africa)
  • Lions (Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Rebels (Melbourne, Australia)
  • Reds (Brisbane, Australia)
  • Sharks (Durban, South Africa)
  • Stormers (Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Sunwolves (Tokyo, Japan)
  • Waratahs (Sydney, Australia)