This article was first written for and published by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Saturday night was one of mixed emotions. It started with pure joy when my AFL team (the GWS Giants) beat the Collingwood Magpies to claim a spot in the club’s first ever AFL Grand Final. A mere two hours later, joy turned to devastation when the Melbourne Storm comprehensively beat my rugby league team, the Parramatta Eels, ending their 2019 season.
You will not see me buying into any attempt to begin a code war this week or to garner fear among rugby league fans that just because the GWS Giants have made it to a Grand Final that there is a battle in the west for the hearts and minds of sports fans. Both codes can co-exist and prosper in Greater Western Sydney.
For the GWS Giants, this week is the culmination of eight years of hard work and significant investment from the AFL. There are several players in the squad who have been with the club for its entire history including Jeremy Cameron, Stephen Coniglio, Phil Davis and Toby Greene. It caps off what has been a remarkable season for the club, where it announced a record-breaking 30,000 members and continued its involvement in the AFLW and Suncorp Super Netball.
But this is not something for rugby league fans to panic about. Good things are happening for league too. A new stadium has opened up in Parramatta that is the benchmark for rectangular stadiums in this country. The Eels made the finals this year and the Penrith Panthers only narrowly missed out. More people are watching rugby league than ever before and, despite a very challenged off season, there continues to be great interest in the game. Fingers crossed, in the not too distant future the west will also have an NRLW team to call its own.
The people of western Sydney should have the opportunity to support both codes without fear that one is looking to destroy the other.
One of the reasons I love sport is because it has a capacity to bring people together in a way that almost nothing else can. A strong rugby league presence in western Sydney means that boys and girls have the opportunity to play tag, tackle and touch. Likewise, the AFL’s presence means little boys and girls can aspire to play AFL and feel connected to a club in their local area. This is all positive.
You can live in western Sydney and support more than one footy code; I’m living proof and can’t wait to share what will be a very special week with a very special club.