Unheralded and unknown – it’s a good combination. At least that’s theory of the sporting clubs working their hardest in enemy territory. Over the past decade the Swans in Sydney and the Storm in Melbourne have battled to win the hearts and minds of sports fans in cities where their sport is not number one.
As fans of both Australian rules football and rugby league will attest, there is often a feeling that the clubs leading the charge into a foreign market need to be permanently successful to ensure the club is held in high esteem in cities where sports followers have only the time and money to support to their first love.
For players on the cusp of the scrapheap or looking for a fresh start this is an attraction. From an outsider’s viewpoint of player trades to the Storm and the Swans, it seems that the allure of being a small fish in a big pond is a tantalizing one. Footballers that move to another city, where their sport is not on the back page of the paper has seen them play career best football.
The Swans have regularly traded or drafted players with AFL experience, be it a handful or games or close to 100. Of the current list: Kennedy (Hawtorn); Mumford (Geelong); Shaw (Collingwood); Richards (Essendon); Seaby (West Coast) and throw in Pike from Canada and Walsh from Ireland via St Kilda and the successful development of players in the Sydney environment appears to be unrivalled.
However looking south and it is the same scenario with the Melbourne Storm. The Storm have acquired players from other clubs, provided opportunities or enhanced the games of the following: Blair (Penrith); Hinchcliffe (Raiders); Lowe (South Sydney); Lowrie (Parramatta); Norrie (Cronulla) and Ryles (Sydney) this year just to name a few.
In both codes the respective cultures of the Storm and the Swans are revered and held in high esteem by opposition clubs and supports alike. The Storm under Bellamy and the Swans under Roos and now Longmire are clubs that create mountains out of molehills. They are clubs if you have a modicum of talent that hasn’t been fulfilled then roll the dice, request a trade and watch your potential be reached.
In cities where the microscope of the local press hones in on all your mistakes, lack of game time or just bad luck through injury, a trade is better than a holiday. All of a sudden an escape from the petri dish means that you can go about doing what you love without the average man on the street reminding you of that bad kick or missed tackle.
With both the Storm and Swans starting the 2012 season undefeated after seven and four rounds respectively there is obviously more than the change of scenery for some players to attribute their results to. Both sides have superstars of the game on their lists, both clubs have strong winning cultures and both teams remain a second, third or even fourth viewing options for the vast majority of sports fans in their city.
The Storm are favourites for the NRL premiership. If last year was meant to be retribution for lost glories that ultimately wasn't realised, then look out this year. The Swans are still 6th or 7th favourite with most agencies, however if they keep winning games like their opposite numbers in Mexico then we might be acknowledging them as the surprise premiers of 2012. The gift to the recruited players of a second chance could be trumped by the gift of a premiership as well.