Gladiator may have met his match in Sydney public
AS THE Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius in the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe was watched by millions in theatres all over the world.
Because he was such an accomplished actor, the Kiwi-born Aussie didn't have to plead with anyone to attend his blockbuster movie. Positive word-of-mouth feedback and clever PR resulted in crowds simply flocking to see his masterpiece.
Now, the boot is on the other foot. The Academy Award winner is appealing as vociferously as his Kiwi cricketing cousins Jeff and Martin once did, in an effort to fill a stadium not so different to the famed Colosseum where he once starred.
In his finest impersonation of his character in the 2000 epic for which he is best known, Crowe said any diehard South Sydney fan worth their salt should be nowhere else but at ANZ Stadium for tomorrow night's knockout final against the Dragons.
Crowe, of course, has a majority share in the Rabbitohs. He virtually saved the foundation club from extinction in 2006 and his passion for the cardinal and myrtle colours is as intense as his acting.
But the history of Sydneysiders attending NRL matches in recent years is so poor that even the intoxicating appeal of the Gladiator may fall on deaf ears.
Last weekend was typical of Sydney apathy. The accumulated attendance at the two finals played in the Harbour City failed to draw more than Brisbane's 47,296, and even the Storm, with an AFL match next door at the MCG, attracted more than the Panthers-Warriors clash.
TV viewing figures released this week have also underlined the obvious indifference of Sydneysiders to the code in a city that is home to nine of the 16 NRL clubs.
Although NRL TV audiences for the 2018 premiership rounds have beaten the AFL for the first time since 2010, those nine clubs fell well below their Queensland counterparts when it came to viewer support.
The most-watched NRL club was the Broncos, with 18 million viewers, followed by the Cowboys with just on 15 million. The Roosters topped the list in Sydney, with 14.3 million - the same number as the Sydney Swans.
Crowe has not been on his own calling the fans to order. The NRL sent out a media release on Monday headed with the words "a mammoth crowd is expected".
Then on Thursday, ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie threw some fuel on the fire, donning his Queensland hat and goading the Sydney public to show their true colours. His tease was that as State of Origin champions, finally, they owed it to their teams to vote with their feet - Maroon style.
There are historic reasons for a big turnout at both NRL finals. Not since the top-eight system came in 18 years ago have four Sydney teams played in both local knockout matches.
But whether it is considered historic enough to pull one per cent of Sydney's 5.64 million residents remains to be seen. Maybe the Maximus appeal will do it.