Has the AFL already won the war?

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Remember when AFL was just some weird thing they played down in Melbourne that resembled aerial ping pong?

Oh, how we laughed.

When the Sydney Swans arrived on the scene in the early 1980s and the AFL was determined to become a truly national game, we continued to chuckle.

The Swans struggled for survival during the dark times of the late 1980s and early 1990s, almost wiped off the map financially and struggling to get any serious recognition in what was a rugby league city through and through.

On the back of Tony Lockett’s arrival in 1995, the Swans finally started to make some ground, helped out by rugby league’s bitter Super League war, and have never really looked back.

Almost without the NRL noticing, the Swans would go on to capture a piece of Sydney’s heart and importantly, discretionary spending.

A couple of premierships, consistent success and high profile signings ensured the Swans became a permanent part of the sporting landscape in the Harbour city, albeit the poorer cousin to rugby league for much of that time.

While rugby league continued to fumble about, remaining Sydney-centric and watching attempts to expand into markets such as Perth, southern Queensland and Adelaide fail, the AFL quietly went about their business.

While continuing to build on its success in Melbourne, the code’s careful planning would eventually see each major city in Australia represented by two clubs.

Head office knew that meant local derbies, and has soccer has also proven, derbies are the key to grabbing publicity and interest from people whose sporting eyeballs are usually focused elsewhere.

The introduction of the Gold Coast Suns ensured a Queensland derby, while the GWS Giants’ debut in 2012 was the ultimate chess move. No longer scared by rugby league’s dominance, the AFL declared Sydney was its to own.

And to be honest, it was the equivalent of moving an entire football team into the city via a wooden horse.

Rugby league was arrogant, and either didn’t care or didn’t notice what the AFL was doing.

Fans and officials laughed again, just like they did back in the early 1980s.

A few lone voices warned of what was to come, including Panthers boss Phil Gould who on countless times has preached to the NRL about the threat the AFL provides. They either don’t listen, or don’t have a clue what to do about it.

We’ve seen in recent years, and in particular recent months, that the NRL is a shambles at head office.

The Commission, which was once considered the giant hope of the game, has been a giant failure.

The AFL, meanwhile, continue with their invasion.

The GWS Giants sit equal first on the AFL ladder and on the back of a successful year in 2016, are continuing to slowly build a fan base.

The AFL doesn’t care how long it takes.

The AFL doesn’t even care if you or I become a Giants or Swans fans.

They want our kids, which is why they put so much focus on school visits.

Anyone who thinks the AFL’s invasion is not a reality is kidding themselves.

Consider this. A fortnight ago, the Swans had 36,221 fans at the SCG to watch their match against Hawthorn. On the same weekend, the NRL played three matches at ANZ Stadium involving a total of five Sydney clubs. In TOTAL, the matches attracted 33,755 people.

You do the maths.

We’ll bring out plenty of excuses, of course, headed up by the fact that Sydney has nine clubs versus just two Sydney teams in the AFL. Fine, but five of them couldn’t even manage to attract a crowd that rivalled one of the AFL sides.

The NRL has plenty on its plate at the moment, including a bitter dispute with clubs and players.

The biggest threat to rugby league may well be from within given the shambles at headquarters, but a close second is very much the AFL.

The AFL is not just winning the war, they may have already won it.

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