I played Rugby League for twenty-three years and when I finished playing the sport, I ran from it.

It’s a funny game, Rugby League, you get hit hard, you get up to get hit hard again and if you don’t get up you’re a failure, but if you do you’ll have to repeat the action without injury for the next eighty-minutes.

At four years of age I was dropped off at my local football oval. It seemed to be Rugby League training for the young, but it was possibly more like baby-sitting in disguise. Many parents in my area, including mine, didn’t mind a drop of alcohol—the local drinking hole wasn’t a good spot for kids and babysitters weren’t feasible for those on the doll. My area was a housing commission area and as with many housing commission areas the young males played Rugby League. If your son’s good at Rugby League he’s considered “a tough little bugger.”

Growing up in Rugby League taught me many qualities; it taught me about schedule, comrades, organising them and our teamwork, about keeping on keeping on and that the game’s not over until the final whistle blows. All sound like good qualities for life, no?

Mitchell Pearce is a Rugby League player who is the son of Wayne Pearce. During my youth Wayne was considered a “fitness fanatic” and a positive role model for the kids of Rugby League. When I was eleven years old Wayne Pearce travelled to my country town in North West, New South Wales. He was there to give a seminar on “keeping fit” and what it takes to stay on top, not only in Rugby League, but also in life. Wayne Pearce wore number thirteen when he played, which meant that his position was as “lock” and that he steered the Rugby League scrum and that he had to be prepared to tackle and run all day—or at least for the eighty minutes of a game. Mitchell Pearce, his son, is now in the media as a result of a thug act. Many involved in Rugby League refuse to raise a hand to defend this player.

Rugby League is a sport for the strong people of the lower to middle class, a class range where “keep on keeping on” and being strong are just as important as one another and where praise is given to young men who prove that they can be “a tough little bugger” from an early age.

“You give a little bit of health, you get a little bit of wealth; you give a little bit of wealth, you get a little bit of health,” I was once told. To be a “tough little bugger” who’s “keeping on keeping on” requires time that is heavily devoted to “health” and fitness. Therefore, education that often leads to wealth is often neglected.

It came to my attention today, while hanging out in Bondi Beach, that the underlying culture of Australian Rugby League is not well known. A local practising Martial Artist discussed his views on the sport with me; some of the views I agree with while others I thought: He knows a little about the sport’s requirements for success, but he’s lacking the finer of details.

There’s a culture in Rugby League that goes beyond the Rugby League that belongs to the media. The main competition in the sport, the one on the television and if you’re a competitor in it,it’s considered that you’ve “made it” – has less than 200 competitors involved in it while who knows exactly how many hundreds of thousands participants are in the sport annually on national level—so the probability that a young Rugby League player will “make it” is low, meaning there’s a culture of comrades and boozing that eventually caters for a lot of players that provides them with a sense of reward. If Mitchell Pearce didn’t make it, perhaps he’d be rewarded by this, too.

There was no doubt that the Martial Artist who I spoke with knew about the laws of physics and injury prevention. This seems like a logical area to start when assessing the key attributes for a Rugby League athlete. The logic came through the eyes of an artist who delves in the art of combat with a relaxed and fluent body. I agree that this will assist the mind in times when mental precision and injury prevention are a must and I agree that lucidity will reduce the force of contact when two men interact in Rugby League. Though, I’m not sure it’ll assist both men to achieve their opposing objectives as players, which depends on the two kinds of plays in Rugby League – attack or defence – that they are performing.

“Physics” was repeated many times whilst chatting with the Martial Artist, who I’m certain knows about one on one human contact, however, the physics component of our chat lead me thinking about Newton’s second law:

“For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.”

According to the law, the force created by a Rugby League defender needs to be greater than or equal to the force of an apposing attacker. To a movement specialist, such as a Martial Arts instructor, precision and injury prevention may seem reasonable and therefore the promotion of relaxed and fluent movements also feasible to produce this result. But there’s more to Rugby League than meets the eye of a physicist. There’s no doubt that Rugby League involves physics and it’s very obvious that it requires power, but if we are going to talk about physics then we should dissect power and consider that power is only possible to exist as negative or positive and that it can never vanish—the only way power can move from one area to another is through a transition of charge from one form to next.

If Newtown’s second law is applied to a Rugby League attacker interacting with a Rugby League defender, it will seem logical that if you can provide power, with relaxed muscles, that this will assist with injury prevention whilst maintaining an efficient level of power. True, though, there are many variables of Rugby League that haven’t been mentioned in order to be successful. There’s no denying that identifying all variables – and their perfect blend – is not an easy task. However, all of the variables, as with the items of life, can be categorized as things that consist of matter and things that do not have matter. So what are the things that don’t include matter? They’re the qualities of the mind that are difficult to measure as this often includes variables such as resilience, focus, determination and mental games that are all exchanged consistently on the Rugby League field between a defender and an attacker—none of which were discussed with me today by the Martial Artist and his logical physics focus.

The mental traits of a successful Rugby League player are accumulated over years of competitions with other Rugby League athletes. I’m sure Mitchell Pearce is regretting his actions, especially while none of his Rugby League colleagues are willing to put their hand up and say “he’s just a Rugby League man who is a successful Rugby League man.” Pearce had all of the variables required to be a star. I’m not supporting Pearce’s actions, but I’m also not supporting a culture that breads a Rugby League athlete then abandons him for his role in the Rugby League culture—which often involves beer. The sport produces many undesirable outcomes in the media such as many links to off field violence and thuggery, which even shape the eyes of internationals visiting Australia as they attempt to identify Australia and the “typical Australian man.”

I know the French are famous for the French kiss, the Spanish for “Spanish”, which I was once told is “titty sex”, and the Greek, so I’ve been told, for “Greek sex”, which I believe fits the bill of “up the bum, no babies,” as I was once told by a man with a cheesy grin.

So what are the Australians becoming famous for?

“The knockout punch,” I’ve heard a French accent say.

It may be time to look deeper into the culture that pushes the lower to middle class Australians in to having the variables that make a “tough little bugger” who spends a chunk of his life attempting to “make it”.

I’m happy I ran from the sport after twenty-three years in the game. It is true, though, that the game does also provides qualities that can produce gentlemen. I do my best to keep these.

There’s no answer for eliminating the frowns that view the negative issues that forever arise in the media concerning Rugby League. However, if the media is going to show the successful participants of a thugs’ game, then the public should expect to see some thugs making headlines. And to the thugs who assisted the thug to become the villain, they shouldn’t abandon the man who assisted them to gain the qualities of a successful Rugby League star—and if you do abandon him, it’s just a reminder that you are a thug in a “thugs’ game”.


Gaston Cavalleri is an Australian author, screenwriter, travel writer and Jiu-jitsu athlete.