You might think I have officially gone stark raving mad or, even worse, I've become the biggest turncoat in sport. Either way, let me explain. Yes, I have been hugely critical of the finals format and, yes, I have constantly lamented the lack of skill and quality in Australia and, outside of the Lions, the continuous decline of South African teams. But, and this is a massive but, I can honestly say I've never felt more engaged or enjoyed Super Rugby more than I have this year. My reasons, in no particular order:
The Kiwi sides - their skill level, speed, and scant regard for making the improbable probable have been great. It even led to one heated debate on my NewstalkZB show, "who's the most skilful forward in New Zealand rugby?" Dane Coles won the day, but the contenders are endless. Then there is the rugby itself. Where are all the scrum resets, the laborious time it used to take for lineouts? Rugby has a flow again. The stats tell us the time the ball is in play is up and, therefore, our enjoyment levels are up. Which leads me back to my original question: is this the best season of Super Rugby ever?
I remember when Super Rugby started in 1996. Maybe I'm looking back through rose-tinted glasses but it felt like that was the best rugby there has been.
That was until I interviewed Sir Graham Henry, the man who coached the Blues to successive titles. I expected him to proclaim that era was the best rugby he'd seen as well. Alas, no. In fact, Graham asked if I'd had one too many Vs and began to explain why rugby now is so much better. Stronger players, better skill-sets, younger players better able to make the transition not just into the All Blacks, but professional rugby in general. Quite simply, the Kiwi rugby production line has never been in better shape. We've seen that across all Kiwi franchises, even the Blues, in 2016.
So while I remain frustrated at Sanzaar's head-in-the-sand approach to a flawed competition, I have never enjoyed more Kiwi games or felt more connected to Super Rugby.
It seems a lot of you agree. Apparently ratings of New Zealand derbies are up 13 per cent on last year and all matches involving New Zealand teams are up seven per cent. People are watching New Zealand rugby more than ever.
The NRL have lost the plot
I normally wait until Monday to have my vent on all things sport but the NRL have officially lost the plot. This is an organisation I've generally rated for their ability to move with the times and change rules when rules needed changing. But here we are with the most ridiculous lack of judgment on the game I love. In a week when they should have been sorting out golden point, they decided to punish the Dragons' Tyson Frizzell for brushing his arm past a referee. I can't imagine what the legal fees were for that one, yet the judiciary said, 'on ya bike, you're out for a week'. Joke!
This comes at a time when the NRL are serving up two games, one called rugby league that runs for 80 minutes and the second called golden point 'bull rush'. The concept of game No 2 is to spend all day offside and target the opposition field-goal takers. It's not footy, not even close.
We have a bunch of spineless referees too scared to end a game with a penalty matched by a bunch of spineless administrators too scared to put the mandate out there, do your job. Until this week, I had been an advocate of golden point. In this modern world where television and entertainment rules the roost, it gives the game a climax. Well, it used to. Grumpy Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has always declared his contempt for golden point. Given what we are seeing this year, he's right. Get rid of it.
Sporting read of the week
You may remember last week I mentioned my apathy towards the standard sporting biography. Well, this week I found one I loved, mainly because it fused life, business and sport in a way I could understand. It's the story of Tony Quinn, the Scotsman-turned-Dargaville-pet-food-manufacturer-turned-race-track owner. The book is called Zero to 60 and talks about the balance between work and life. Tony is your ultimate no BS person. It's estimated he's worth north of $400 million, but Tony told me it's much higher. It's a great story of a bloke who went from nothing to want for nothing.
3 - If our Kiwi Olympic team win at least 14 medals in Rio (some have predicted as many as 25), it will be the fourth Games in a row we have improved on our medal success. To put that into a global context, that would make New Zealand the third country behind only Great Britain and Azerbaijan to have ever done that. We've come a long way from those days when we used to be the masters of coming fourth.
- Anyone else relieved Jarryd Hayne is actually staying with one code for two years? Nothing against the bloke himself, but the media obsession in Oz has been nauseating.
- If the Warriors lose tonight (just posing the question) and they face an uphill battle to make the eight, do the club stick to their pre-season KPIs for the coach about top eight being a must?
- Who is your sentimental favourite to win gold for New Zealand? Think about the options: Val to make history with three successive golds; Lisa Carrington to make history, becoming the first Kiwi woman to win two golds at one Olympics; Bond and Murray to complete the most staggering unbeaten run in Olympic history; Lydia Ko to add gold to a golfing major in the one year ... Do I need to continue?