Recently, the NHL announced that they would be playing two pre-season games in Melbourne, Australia in September of 2023 at Rod Laver Arena (primarily used as the main venue for the Australian Open tennis championship), which is curious at best. Thankfully, the arena does have a retractable roof should inclement weather come about.
For those in North America who are unaware, late September is when both winter sports in Australia (rugby league (NRL) and Australian Rules football (AFL)) are finishing their play-offs, with the AFL typically playing both semi-final games in Melbourne. Melbourne is also home to one of the better NRL teams, who could be playing as well by late September. This assuring the NHL that nobody in Australia will likely notice. If that weren’t enough competition, it’s also the start of the rugby union World Cup in France. Thankfully the FIFA Women’s World Cup will be completed by then.
Being a fan of rugby league, it occurred to me that the NRL and the NHL are in many ways similar. Both run by wildly unpopular men who have a history of odd appearances and interesting thoughts on labor unions (among other things). International and representative games do better than club games. Both leagues have teams in two countries who have an odd relationship with one another.
At their best, both sports are built upon physical play, collisions a constant focus on trying to grow the game while another sport whose season runs parallel to theirs draws better ratings, and at times still gets referred to as being a largely regional (rather than national) sport. At least the guy running the NRL hasn’t (yet) declared a lockout and canceled an entire season because of a labour dispute. I mean, who’d do something that stupid? Oh, hi Gary!
But if you’re a fan of the NRL, perhaps you’re wondering which NHL team you should support? While you’d think the NHL would send two of its marquee teams to promote the game, fans in Australia will be getting the Los Angeles Kings (okay, fair enough), and…if I’m reading this correctly, the Arizona Coyotes.
Worry not, North American sports fans. The NRL has announced that they will move two regular season (not pre-season) games to Las Vegas next year (2024). This will feature South Sydney Rabbitohs (one of their owners and major investors is Russell Crowe), Manly Sea Eagles (Hugh Jackman is probably their best-known celebrity fan), Brisbane Broncos (the late Steve Irwin and Lachlan Murdoch (son of Rupert) are their best-known celebrity fans, although NewsCorp is the majority owner of the Broncos), and Melbourne Storm (best known for having to forfeit several championships in 2010 over pervasive violations of the league’s salary cap laws).
The Coyotes used to play in Winnipeg (in Canada if you weren’t sure where Winnipeg was) but moved to Phoenix for economic reasons, which might lead you to think that the Coyotes are a huge success in financial terms now that they’re in Arizona. Not so much. They started out playing in the same arena as the NBA’s Suns, then moved to Glendale (about 30-40 minutes from Phoenix), then left there after the arena terminated their lease. They currently play in an arena in Tempe (just outside of Phoenix) that they share with a college hockey team that seats just over 5,000 (NHL arenas typically hold 17-20K) and are hoping to play in an arena that hasn’t been built yet (and may never get built).
NRL fans are used to a competing sport that draws better numbers and is more popular, so you should really enjoy the NHL, who get trounced in the ratings by the NBA.
You say you like a guy running your sport who’s universally hated, looks like a Batman villain and says some of the dumbest shit imaginable? You’ll fit right in.
You say you like it when your sport has a salary cap with more loopholes that most people have brain cells? You see where I’m going with this.
When you see memes that compare your sport’s toughness to that other more popular sport, does this make you all giddy inside? We have a winner.
But what team should you support? Unlike most North American leagues, the NHL has a heavy presence in Canada, where 7 of the 32 teams play. Luckily, I’ve done the work for you to help you find a team to support. You’re welcome. Now be prepared to have your soul destroyed. Enjoy.
Sydney Roosters supporters: You like tradition, and teams that wear the tricolor of red, white, and blue. Your fans have no problem reminding everyone that they’ve been around longer than anyone else. The term ‘FIGJAM’ is something you enjoy using. You have a hated rival. Several, really. A 30-minute ceremony to honor your tradition before every home game is just your thing. You like your owner despite him not being from your home city. Your fans are…something. Your NHL team: Montreal Canadiens.
Penrith Panthers: Defending champions (2021, 2022) but struggling a bit with injuries. Still the best current team (seriously) when healthy. You’re from the mountains. Everyone kind of dug you as fun a couple years ago, and now you’re the obnoxious bully everyone wants to see take one on the chin. Your NHL team: Colorado Avalanche. Alternate Choice: Boston Bruins.
Melbourne Storm: You’ve been there or thereabouts several years in a row. Your team is a bit arrogant and has players who aren’t that popular outside your own fanbase. You kind of get lost in your own back yard as other sports based in your city are more popular, but you don’t care. Flaunting rules is very much your thing and boy are you a fan of doing some grubby stuff. You ‘might’ be in decline but your coach is one of the best in the game. Your NHL team: Tampa Bay Lightning.
Cronulla Sharks: Your team won that one title several years ago that everyone seems to forget about. While you’re in the Greater Sydney area, you’re not really “in” Sydney, are you? You’re improving. Nobody really wants to live in your backyard. Your most well-known player was named Paul and has an interesting history. Your NHL team: Anaheim Ducks.
Manly Sea Eagles: You’ve won some titles, and your part of the city is widely associated with the beach. Your team has a couple great players who can get you in the play-offs but let’s not talk about that one thing. Or that other thing. Movie star fans? Check. You have a fair bit of history and acquired one of the greats under some weird circumstances. Your NHL team: Los Angeles Kings.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: You play in the largest city in the continent and have legions of fans who show up at random places. You even have your share of celebrity fans besides Russell Crowe. While you play in the big city, you like to tell people you’re the heart of the sport and not that other team that you hate. You won a title after a long drought and everyone went crazy celebrating that championship. You just acquired a great player who everyone wondered how you’d fit them under the salary cap. Prior to that, things were kind of dark. You’re one of the better teams right now and you love to remind that team you hate that they’ve slipped a notch. Your NHL team: New York Rangers.
Dolphins: Hey, look at you, having an amazing first season near the party capital of the country! Exceeding expectations, wearing new colors, and you’ve got that famous coach. Bold choice with the gold/beige in your uniforms. Your NHL team: Vegas Golden Knights.
North Queensland Cowboys: You embrace the rural spirit of your home state/province and that Cowboy ethos. You have a distinctive looking arena and can’t really stand how that other team gets more attention. You’re the true heart of the game. Your NHL team: Calgary Flames. Alternate: Edmonton Oilers.
Gold Coast Titans: Nobody really knows why you exist. Everyone points to population and other things that show that it makes sense, but your team isn’t that good despite being in that area that everyone said is a gold mine but is mostly a resort/leisure area. They keep trying to make this thing work and swear at some point it’ll happen. There were a couple players who came up in your area but they’re playing elsewhere. There’s no sign they want to come back. Your current arena is a joke. Your NHL team: Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes.
Newcastle Knights: Your fans are from a manufacturing/mining base who represent the ‘real’ people of your country. You win titles when you have generational talents/immortals playing for you, even though everyone kind of forgets that the one talent has had some…let’s call them challenges. Your NHL team: Pittsburgh Penguins.
Wests Tigers: You had a weird merger with another team in the 90’s that everyone loved and still longs for in some circles even though that team kind of moved elsewhere. You’ve had a couple decent seasons but are now very much in rebuilding mode except for the one player who you can’t really get rid of. Your spiritual home is a shithole. Your NHL team: San Jose Sharks.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: A team with rich history that was good in the 2000’s and early 2010’s but has since gone off the rails, but you’ve got that famous guy running things who used to play for the team, which has everyone pretty excited. Everyone’s pretty excited seeing what he did at his previous club. Everyone thinks you’re a year or two away from being really good if you catch a break. Most people hate your fans. Your NHL team: Detroit Red Wings.
Canberra Raiders: You have this odd fascination with being cold that you use to your advantage. You’re in the nation’s capital and have had some success including a recent final appearance that went off the rails a bit. You’re close to the largest city in the country and are often made to feel like a pariah by people in the bigger cities. The team isn’t bad, but the arena is a pain the ass to get to and from and you’d like a new one. Some players don’t want to play for your team. Your NHL Team: Ottawa Senators.
Parramatta Eels: You have some history and have been good last year, but your neighbors are dominating. You were really good last year but your neighbors kind of knocked you down a rung or two. You recently made it to the championship which surprised a bunch of people but got absolutely steamrolled. Your NHL team: Florida Panthers.
St. George/Illawarra Dragons: You had a decent run in the late 2000’s/early 2010’s, and now things have gone bad. Your reputation (both ownership and players) is at best not very good. Seriously, it’s bad. You have a LOT of bad apples. Everyone just kind of forgot all that while you were winning. You just won a lottery, so there’s that. You’re kind of a big deal, and certainly the broadcasters are happy when you’re doing well given your fan base. Red is your power color. Your NHL team: Chicago Blackhawks.
Brisbane Broncos: You play in the largest market in the game, owned by highly reviled media entities that broadcast the game in your country. Somehow this is normal. People either love you or they hate you with the fire of a 1000 suns. Your building is a fortress for representative and national teams. Everyone outside your fan base celebrates when you lose. When you finished last? Yeah, everyone really loved that. Seriously, people really hate your team. They REALLY resent that you’re always getting the best TV slots for games even when the team isn’t good, even though it’s entirely ratings driven. When you lost a gut-wrenching finals game after being ahead late, everyone loved seeing you lose. Your fans tend to show up no matter what. Your city is pretty fun to be around; it’s considered (to the ire of everyone else) to be the centre of the sport’s universe despite that other city to the south being larger. You were a hub in 2020. Your NHL team: Toronto Maple Leafs.
Adelaide Rams/Western Reds: Losing your team sucks, especially when you’re nowhere near the next closest team in the league. Your fans get more credit than they deserve. Your NHL team: Quebec Nordiques. Or Hartford Whalers.