What's the world's meanest, roughest game? If you're thinking rugby you'd be wrong. Rugby went all soft and beige when Buck Shelford retired, rucking was eliminated and they started slapping each other with handbags.
League is full of hard men, but when the biff gets going the biffers get banned.
On the other hand, fighting is such an established aspect of ice hockey in North America even Commissioner Gary Bettman affirmed the NHL's position that fighting was part of the game.
Ice hockey players are the absolute toughest athletes in the known universe. Compared with ice hockey, every other macho sport is like kissing your sister. In fact, an old joke goes: "There was a fight and an ice hockey game broke out." No matter how much administrators poo-poo the idea fans like to see a bit of biff just as part of the thrill of going to Nascar, or any form of motorsport, is watching the inevitable multiple car crashes.
I happened to be in Sydney when the Swans' AFL hardman Barry Hall cut a swath through the air with one of the sweetest roundabout left hooks you'd ever want to see, knocking West Coast Eagles defender Brent Staker right out of the Olympic stadium at Homebush. And the thing that struck me was no matter how many times they showed it - and believe me it was more than once - you were hypnotised. You just couldn't draw your eyes away.
The Footy Show in Australia has a segment called "Bring back the Biff" and in Canada when Don Cherry is on television, Canada watches. He's the star of Coach's Corner, a seven-minute segment that attracts 1.2 million viewers (Canada's largest sports audience) because he shows ice hockey fights - hell, he gives instructions: "This is the way you do it. You don't use your stick, kids. Don't fight until you get older."
Politically correct sporting powers are forever telling us fighting promotes bad role model behaviour for youngsters and yet you certainly can't say that Canadians are the most aggressive race on the planet.
Rugby league officials are constantly swimming against the tide in their battles to stamp out one of the most natural components of their game. Some of my most memorable moments of watching league are of Mark Broadhurst's epic brawls and Wally Lewis fronting up to Mark Geyer. And I will never forget that classic ripper of a slug-fest between Kevin Tamati and Greg Dowling.
Instead of trying to do the impossible, league administrators could save themselves a lot of headaches - and at the same time enhance the entertainment value of their code - by following the informal but very specific rules governing fighting in ice hockey: The most important etiquette being that opposing enforcers must agree to fight, this helps to keep unwilling participants out of fights. At the initiation of a fight both players must drop their sticks so as not to use them as a weapon and they must also "drop" or shake off their protective gloves in order to fight bare knuckled. And once the players have been separated or one of them hits the ice they must heed the referees' warning to end the fight.
If these types of rules were adjusted to suit league you'd eliminate the king-hit and the all-in brawls. Bring back the biff, but with intelligence!
- © Fairfax NZ News