10 Apr 2019

Cheap thrills demeaning sport - Bidwell

1:49 pm on 10 April 2019

Opinion - Sport's in an interesting place right now.

Ma'a Nonu celebrates with team mates after scoring a try for the Blues

Ma'a Nonu celebrates with team mates after scoring a try for the Blues Photo: Photosport

Maybe it's the endless search for clicks but, for some reason, excellence appears to have become tedious.

Folk clearly don't want to read stories that celebrate the deeds of achievers such as the Crusaders and Melbourne Storm. Yes, the Crusaders' name has some news value, but not the team itself or the men who play for them. They are of little interest to readers right now, with two types of copy preferred instead.

First is your basic clickbait. Something salacious or controversial, preferably accompanied by video. They offer a cheap thrill that certain types of people enjoy.

The other, more insidious, phenomenon is the proclamation. They're being made everywhere at the moment.

Where the Storm and Crusaders have become old hat, the proclamation provides a host of previously unimagined possibilities. It's like an ad for a frypan, with some free steak knives thrown in as well.

Let's look at a few proclamations from just the last few days.

The Blues rugby team has turned the corner, apparently. Since winning the last of their three Super Rugby titles in 2003, the Auckland-based franchise have made the playoffs just twice.

In fact, after being champions in 1996 and 1997, then losing finalists in 1998, the Blues have only made the playoffs three times all up.

With the best will in the world, that's a pretty mediocre record. But never mind, they're in the same city as a large chunk of New Zealand's media, and they're back, baby.

Hardly a day goes by without someone announcing it; as if a record of four wins and three losses this season was cause for celebration.

It definitely wouldn't raise a cheer down in Crusaders country, where the nine-time champions have begun the season 6-1. They'd be looking to sack their coach at 4-3.

Not only have the Blues been proclaimed as corner turners, so a young player has had his name put in lights. Caleb Clarke scored a try in Saturday's 32-29 win over the Waratahs and now we're being told of the rugby heights he might reach.

Earlier in the season the same thing happened at the Chiefs. Etene Nanai-Seturo scored a couple of tries and we were told a star had been born. It's just a shame that Chiefs coach Colin Cooper has hardly picked him since.

But at least Nanai-Seturo and Clarke have actually ascended to Super Rugby level. Sprinter Edward Osei-Nketia has not, but that hasn't stopped all sorts of wild and premature predictions being made about him.

But that's how we roll now. We're all in such a hurry to anoint the next big thing - and to proclaim we did it first - that we lose sight of the athlete themselves.

Netballer Grace Nweke is 17. She might prove an elite shooter in time, but don't lumber her with the future star tag. Better still, don't publicise her social media feeds.

New Zealand sprinter Edward Osei Nketia.

New Zealand sprinter Edward Osei Nketia is being touted as the next big thing in athletics, rugby and the NFL by media outlets. Photo: Photosport

There are so many things 17-year-olds have to go through, so many mistakes they need to make. Thankfully most can do that anonymously, without media outlets making them a potential target for trolls or creating a hype around them that they're not mature enough to manage.

Again, we're so quick to declare who's going to be good, bad or indifferent in the future that we can't recognise what's happening now.

Who knows if the Crusaders will win this year's Super Rugby title. All you can say in the meantime is that they're a phenomenal outfit whose performances don't appear to differ no matter who's in the line-up.

It's remarkable how relatively unheralded types such as Quinten Strange, Will Jordan, Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece have come into the side this year and immediately looked the part. In that respect, the Crusaders and Storm are very similar.

Players who didn't look much elsewhere, suddenly appear high class once they're at the Storm. The systems and the coaching and the culture are so good that people - provided they work hard enough - cannot help but thrive.

Yet, in the wake of the Storm's narrow 18-16 win over the Bulldogs on Sunday, all the talk was about how impressive the losers were. How, after a slow start to the season, they'd suddenly turned the corner.

Cobblers. The story of that game was the Storm. How, on one of their worst days, they still found a way to win.

Anyone can look good on their best days, but the good teams are the ones who still succeed when things aren't going well.

Not that you would've read that. Everyone was too busy proclaiming that the Bulldogs have got their bite back.

*Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.

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