'Utterly destroyed it': NRL divides opinion with 'politically correct' ad

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

The NRL has firmly divided opinion with its new ad for the 2020 season.

The NRL unveiled its new advertising campaign on Monday - a throwback to Tina Turner’s iconic hit Simply The Best.

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Featuring some of the game’s biggest and brightest stars including Cameron Smith and Latrell Mitchell, the ad takes a look back at the game throughout the past 30 years.

The two-minute ad features the Super League war, South Sydney’s expulsion from the comp, as well as some of the more memorable grand final triumphs of the last few decades.

Fans flocked to social media to sing the ad’s praises on Monday, however not everyone was impressed.

A number of prominent figures believe the ad is too ‘politically correct’, criticising certain aspects of the ad such as a long shot of Mitchell draped in an Aboriginal flag, Macklemore’s performance at the 2017 grand final in tribute to same-sex marriage, and the famous kiss between Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki after the partners played against each other in a State of Origin match.

Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki feature in the ad. Image: NRL

NRL commentator and Daily Telegraph writer Paul Kent said 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,” he wrote on Tuesday.

“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.”

The ad features Latrell Mitchell and Macklemore. Image: NRL

Kent also questioned whether Macklemore’s performance was a “significant part of the past 30 years”, saying the US rapper was “involved in rugby league for, oh, about 15 minutes tops”.

Fox Sports reporter James Hooper noted the ad had “political grandstanding intertwined”, which he wrote was “true NRL-style”.

Sky News host Rowan Dean also blasted the inclusion of Mitchell draped in the aboriginal flag, saying it “utterly destroyed” the ad.

“It’s a great ad and it does all the right things in harking back to … an era that was great for the game, which was the best ad they ever did — and their research groups would have said ‘why can’t you just run that ad again?’ and they would have thought ‘how do we do it?’,” Dean said.

“Someone’s had a very clever idea … their copyrighter or art director has gone ‘let’s show the kids watching (the ad) and then they grow up and play the game’.

“Fantastic. That was the idea. But then, someone else around the committee room has said ‘ooh, but we’ve got to get in the aboriginal thing, and we’ve got to get in the sheilas, and we’ve got to get in this, and we’ve got to get in that’.

“And to me they’ve utterly destroyed it with that ridiculous shot of the flag on the back … Why bring politics into something like this, at a time when politics is dividing the game? When you’ve had talkback radio going berserk. When you’ve had people say ‘we’re not going to sing the anthem’.”

Positive reaction to NRL ad as well

However there were plenty who didn’t see a problem with the ad.

Michael Rennie of the ABC said: “This was so well done! Absolutely brilliant ad from the NRL. I also like that they are showing what they stand for as an organisation.”

While Anna Caldwell of The Daily Telegraph said the ‘political’ aspect of the ad wasn’t too over the top.

“I do think politics should stay out of sport and increasingly we see with the general public there is a disdain for politics in sport, politics in pop culture. People tune off the Oscars when they believe it is too woke,” she told the Today Show.

“This ad, I don’t have a problem with it. It gives me goosebumps. It gives me goosebumps on my goosebumps as people say. Inclusivity? I don’t think it is slamming correctness down people’s throats.”

Renowned rugby League journalist Steve Mascord said he was shocked by the negative reaction.

“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.”