WITH a significant new job title, David Gallop last night stood in front of Rugby League Central, with the nuts, bolts, windows and panels still glistening, and spoke of a defining night for the game. The new Australian Rugby League Commission chief executive said the code was in rarefied air. It may also be a defining season.
''Never has rugby league entered a season with so much to look forward to, nor has it done so from such a position of strength,'' Gallop said.
He stood on one of those very positions, outside the game's plush new headquarters, which had been opened on the same day the independent commission took over the code, on February 10. Last night, as he launched the season in front of the building, he had much to look out to, the new commissioners and the players and officials. And much to look forward to, the same commissioners, the same players, as well as a potentially lucrative broadcast deal.
''This is an exciting moment in any season, but as we stand here tonight with the history of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground to one side, with the bronzed images of Dally Messenger and Reg Gasnier facing towards a building that is a unifying symbol of the game's future, and with the game now truly independent under the Australian Rugby League Commission, this is a defining night for rugby league,'' Gallop said.
The turf set up for the guests was artificial, but few sentiments were. Gallop was joined last night by the new commission chairman, John Grant, and Manly halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran. The night featured the airing of the latest ad campaign, featuring the Bon Jovi song used with much success last year. It was a reworking of last year's campaign, with last year's tune, but given the venue for the launch, suddenly the wording of Our House had far more resonance and relevance.
The new television campaign has been reworked to include footage from last season, including miraculous tries from Ben Barba and David Mead. ''It [the campaign] has the best special effects modern advertising can deliver and yet nothing you see is rehearsed,'' Gallop said.
''All of it actually takes place in front of our eyes at the footy each week. These are things that can't be choreographed. They are memories that live with us for years because we sat there, we watched it and we still didn't think it was possible.''
The men who always believe anything is possible, the players, were echoing the optimism. ''It's a massive honour, and a privilege to be asked [to launch the season],'' Foran said. Amid all the intangibles - the yet-to-be-determined broadcast deal, the perennial rumblings about the salary cap, the on-field injuries and triumphs - the fact that it is a new era is what will give comfort to all league fans.
Grant had to be patient to take on his new role, as the code dithered and dawdled towards the establishment of the commission. But now in the role, he plans to make the most of it. He will have help of course. Speaking about the players, he said ''the legacy of innovation and inspiration that began with Dally Messenger is indeed in safe hands''.
''It's safe to say that there is an enormous sense of opportunity around rugby league as we stand here tonight and an extraordinary level of anticipation about what we will see on the field in the weeks ahead,'' Grant said. ''I speak for all the commissioners in expressing our gratitude for the support we have received since taking office a little over a week ago and I assure you that we take seriously the responsibility we have been given.''