Friendly banter? So that’s what it’s called!
As Shaun Johnson replied when asked during this week’s media calls, “I don’t know if it will increase more, but you might hear it a bit more.”
Stadium lock outs are going to be a massive adjustment for players and for those supporters who enjoy the atmosphere created by a rugby league crowd. Unquestionably, our favourite memories are often associated with big clashes and capacity attendances.
However, as Johnson has noted, broadcast viewers might be on the cusp of experiencing football as they never have before.
Regular readers of my Parramatta Eels pre-season training reports would note that I often include player talk such as communication in defence, and encouragement/urging during conditioning work, when assessing how impressive a session has been. I also report on the sound of the collisions in attempting to describe the toughness of opposed sessions. I can comment on these features as there is minimal surrounding noise blocking what I can hear.
Despite sideline microphones and mic’d up referees, broadcast viewers are only receiving the smallest portion of the sounds of the footy. Even those who are in the stadium rarely hear the on-field voices. You don’t need to call on Einstein for the reason – the crowd drowns out the majority of the sound.
The talk on a footy field is universally regarded as a barometer for how a team is travelling during a game. Sideline reporters will often reference whether they can hear the communication between players at key moments as a team either struggles or asserts their dominance. A “quiet” team is not a good sign.
Now, in our lounge rooms, we will have similar access to these “sideline eyes”. Imagine the tension this will create for viewers who will be able actually hear momentum changing. The “wind in the sails” will be an audible phenomenon. We’ll be riding along in those moments of celebration, elation or frustration like never before.
It’s not rugby league as most spectators know it, and players will find it strange to perform without a stadium full of people, but the next few months could deliver a new broadcasting dimension that only attendees at park footy are familiar with.
Providing the ground microphones do their job, I’m expecting to hear the fullbacks as a dominant voice, especially in defence. They’ll be organising the line in front of them, getting players to move left or right of the ruck or to fill in spaces.
We should also hear players in the defence line communicate with each other when the attack heads their way. The opportunity will be there to learn more about why the best defensive teams are so successful.
The sound of collisions might be an adjustment for some viewers, but it will delight football purists. Rugby league is a physically tough game and this should be captured perfectly in empty stadiums.
Conversely, we will find out who the key players are in attack. Calls, over calls, and the names of plays or shapes will be heard in lounge rooms. Viewers will become more familiar with how skilled play makers are at reading the play, along with their art of deception.
And then we come to that “friendly banter”. It will be intriguing to see how the players respond to this. I’d be surprised if all aren’t aware of the likelihood that things said will no longer be left on the field.
Noted “grubs” might pull their heads in, extroverts might sense a new audience for their sense of humour, and there will no doubt be those who simply don’t change. That said, it’s unlikely that the “colourful language” will be restrained in the heat of battle.
The audience will be the flies on the wall as dynamics within a team or even between teams are revealed. I can’t wait to tune in to the antics of the “Josh Brothers” – Reynolds and Hodgson. Can we encourage Michael Ennis to make a comeback? I never thought I’d wish for such a thing!
These are challenging times and the NRL can hopefully continue to provide the distraction that many of us are looking for.
Embracing the different colours that empty stadiums will introduce to the coverage might just be something that we will all enjoy.
Eels and NRL forever!
Credit to NRL.com and Eels media for the images used.