Thirty years on since Tina Turner’s Simply The Best captivated the Australian rugby league community, the NRL has reimagined the iconic campaign ahead of the 2020 season to mixed reception.
The ad, unveiled two weeks out from the season opener, relives some of the biggest stories that have shaped the game since 1990 including the Super League war, the birth of the Titans, South Sydney’s exile from the competition and the Sharks’ first premiership.
The campaign also contains a firm nod to the pivotal moments that has allowed the game to reach fans from all walks of life.
Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki kissing each other after the women’s Origin game is pictured alongside Macklemore’s 2017 grand final tribute to same-sex marriage, while Latrell Mitchell draped in an indigenous flag forms a stirring acknowledgment to Indigenous peoples’ contribution to the game.
The campaign has garnered a firm raft of fans delighted with the celebration of the game’s history.
While others wished the game was kept separate from socio-political issues.
The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kent argued the ad “looks like a box-ticking exercise”.
“Bland, politically correct gestures from an NRL losing touch with the great majority of the game’s fans as it continues its blind path towards irrelevance.
“In all, it is an angry ad, highlighting everything that has or does divide our society. It overlooks the years of hard work many good people did to make rugby league an inclusive game, a game that actually united communities.
“So Latrell Mitchell’s protest is recognised, a proud Mitchell dominating the ad while draped in the Aboriginal flag.
“The actual reality, that indigenous players almost always bring a light to children’s eyes, that the women’s competition is so far ahead of its AFL rival, goes unrecognised as the game chooses to focus on other aspects of their contribution.”
That view was, in part, shared by TODAY show host Karl Stefanovic who thought the ad didn’t necessarily unify fans.
“How do you unite the game when you have a picture of Latrell Mitchell on his own with the Aboriginal flag around him?,” he said.
“That’s not unifying, that’s divisive, as far as I’m concerned. Because it’s putting him on his own.
“Rugby league is about indigenous (peoples) and everyone else coming together for the sport. Not putting anyone on their own. It’s supposed to be for clubs and for the fans, for those who go to the rugby league every Saturday morning and volunteer to watch a great game.
“This game is the best game because it unifies people. And I don’t think necessarily that (ad) unifies people.
“I want to see unification for the game, I want to see the fans, I want to see people, I want to see Johnathan Thurston hugging his fellow players which was what you see every Friday and Saturday night. I want to see that on the field and I want to see that off, with the fans. Because that’s what we do, we go together. There’s too much division in this country at the moment, and I want to see unification.
“You can disagree with me on it, but that’s what rugby league is, it’s a big disagreement.”
Other sections of the game were baffled there were such strong swathes of negative reaction, including rugby league journalist Steve Mascord who felt goosebumps watching it.
“The new NRL commercial seems to upset the same people who get annoyed by Greta Thunberg, he wrote for rugbyleaguehub.com.
“It’s a curious aspect of rugby league that fans feel so invested in the sport and the way it looks to outsiders that they pay as much attention to advertising campaigns as they do most matches.
“If there are triggers in the NRL ad, then they might be: the “Love Is Love” pro-LGBT+ message, the prominence of the Aboriginal flag, women’s sport … have I missed any?
“If referencing these issues is divisive, I know what side of that particular divide I’d like to be on.”
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