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A love letter to rugby league, all the way from Canada

Canadian filmmaker Chris Evans was suffering from not being able to watch sport. Then he discovered the NRL.

If you haven't heard or seen, LIVE SPORT IS BACK, BABY. While North American pro sports have pussyfooted their way through this pandemic, Australia and New Zealand have done it right. They brought back sport, all the hard-hitting, fast-paced action that has been a void in our lives for the past three months.

Rugby League and the NRL have been back for three weeks now, and I couldn't be more pumped. I've experienced two RL games in my life, all in the past year, all in the first month I was living in Toronto, and all with the Toronto Wolfpack.

I approached the club when I landed on the east coast about doing some film work for their games. The games I shot were the Preliminary Final and the RFL Grand Final (Million Pound Game), where they won promotion into Super League, an unreal accomplishment for the only Canadian team in an English league.

Not gonna lie, when sports came to a halt, I hated it.

Roosters v Eels - Round 6

I was alright for the first few weeks, kept busy and kept my mind off of it. But then things became repetitive and I felt as if I was just counting down the minutes of each day, waiting for them to pass to the next.

It was affecting my mood more than I wanted to admit and I needed to shake it off as best I could.

That's when I read the NRL was planning their restart on the 28th of May. This got me HYPED.

Soon as the announcement came out, I started rapidly scrolling through the deep, deep depths of Twitter, trying to soak up as much info as I could on the league, teams, players, controversies, a bit of history, and of course, the rules and positions (which I'm still not 100 per cent on, but I'm getting there).

Fullbacks in the frontline dominant in Round 5

And let me tell you, Rugby League fans are some of the most welcoming and friendly people you've ever met, even if they are online through Twitter. Back in the day (pre-corona), I was a staple in #NBATwitter, a cutthroat online group of self-proclaimed basketball geniuses.

Don't get me wrong, I love every minute of defending my Boston Celtics, knocking Raptors fans down a notch, and laughing at the pain of the Sixers fans here and there, and can't wait till they actually play again, but it was somewhat of a relief being able see the interactions between people of NRL Twitter being quite civil.

PS. If there's a realm in the rugby league twitter world that I can sit and scroll with some popcorn and beer and enjoy reading the banter between club supporters, I would love to know where it is. But as a new fan, I'll be that kid who never joins in yet always watches the pick-up games from the sidelines.

With only two rounds of games played before the shutdown, I didn't have much game footage to go by. I wanted to back a club, but had no idea who to go for.

Raiders v Sea Eagles - Round 6

I reached out to the trusty Twitter machine and got responses from people I had never met, some living halfway across the world, recruiting me to join their supporters group. From Brisbane and North Queensland, to Wests Tigers and Cronulla, I had to make a decision.

Following the New Zealand Warriors story of them having to relocate to Tamworth for training camp and set up their new lives in Australia without knowing when they would be going back to their families or their family not being able to travel across the Tasman Sea, was heartwarming.

Eels forward Ryan Matterson.
Eels forward Ryan Matterson. ©Grant Trouville

Aotearoa always has a special place in my heart and I will always root for them to do well. And that win against the St George Illawarra Dragons was inspirational to me; feeling the sacrifice they all made for the greater good of the game really was something amazing to experience.

SEE WHAT I MEAN! Sport enriches lives and needs to come back sooner.

Talking with a couple of my friends who lived and went to uni in Sydney, I was intrigued by the Cronulla Sharks and Parramatta Eels. Both these teams were quite interesting to me, as Cronulla used to have Wolfpack star Ricky Leutele, and Parramatta was where my friends lived.

But there was just something about Parra that drew me in.

The Blue and Gold army, the Wooden Spoon (last place by season's end) in 2018, a recovery in 2019, and looking promising before the break going into this 2020 season, I felt like this was enough to hook me.

As a sport videographer here in Canada for the past four years, I thrive off good stories in sport, as well as likeable characters, and Parramatta have some of the most fun (in my somewhat biased opinion) players, with the likes of Maika Sivo, Mitch Moses, Dylan Brown, and RCG.

Maika is an absolute beast on the wing, with big friendly giant type vibes. Moses is the commander of the ship, but also has some finesse to him. Dylan Brown seems like a fun guy.

Centres are the centre of attention again

King Gutho, with a name like that it's hard to lose. RCG has that sweet, sweet moustache. Waqa is a thunderball of energy. And I love watching Fergo bash into the line at full speed, it's quite exciting to watch.

Honestly, I think the backflip he did after his try against the Dogs was a selling point that this team is full of entertainment.

To be fair though, I've enjoyed following and rooting for all the Eels players and hearing their stories and dramas each and every week, albeit there hasn't been too much drama surrounding their 5-0 start this season.

Beating the Brisbane Broncos 34-6 on re-opening night was an unreal experience. The NRL did it right with their fan-less production. The virtual crowd noise really added to the product of the game, and the new rules (every rule was technically new for me!) made for exciting, fast-paced action.

I watched all eight games of Round 3, 650 minutes worth of action, and it did not disappoint. I even decided to shake the rust off my film editing software and create a quick, easy to consume, video recap of the round.

Wests Tigers v Cowboys

I was inspired by Chris Berman of the NFL's "Fastest Three Minutes" segment that played at halftime of Monday Night Football. I wanted to voiceover my video as well to explain what's happening but firstly, I have absolutely no clue what I'm talking about, and secondly, I hate my voice.

A couple of other decent games in Round 4 also piqued my interest, with the Gold Coast Titans upsetting the Wests Tigers, and the dark horse Newcastle Knights defeating powerhouse Canberra. I really like this Newcastle team as well, young beast Bradman Best and Kalyn Ponga are quite fun to watch run around and blast through defences.

Now, I'm not writing this blog to provide stats or proper insight on the game. I'll leave that up to my favourite pundit Jamie Soward, who I also found out is a Boston sports fan. Much love to Jamie!

This blog, if you're still following along, is my thoughts on the game, what I saw - or think I saw and my reactions to things that have happened over the course of each week.

The Round 5 Parramatta versus Penrith game last Friday was something out of a fairy tale. Watching the game at 9am on my Friday morning was a perfect way to start the weekend, and the excitement levels were on 100, since I didn't need any coffee to actually wake up!

So I'm living in #PARRAdise from now on, and you should, too. Pick a team, research them, and join in on the fun. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Chur.

 

Chris Evans has been involved in sport his entire life. He played basketball in the NCAA and then overseas in Scotland while studying for a Masters in Sport Management. He is now involved in cinematic sport videography, producing video content for numerous sports such as lacrosse, rugby league, basketball, football and mountain biking. 

For more information about Chris and his work go to chrisevansfilm.com.