In the beginning there was darkness. Then professional sports said: let there be garish uniforms, nonsensical team names and frightening, hallucinatory mascots. Calum Henderson looks at the real heroes of the NRL.
Almost every professional sports team in the world has one now, but few leagues have embraced the humble mascot as enthusiastically and wholeheartedly as the NRL. Its hodgepodge pageant of muscle-bound animals and newly invented superheroes puts Super Rugby’s dull and listless line-up to shame. Every club in the league has at least one, and most have about 10 if you take into account all the sponsors’ mascots like Hogster the Hog’s Breath Cafe hog. The league has worked hard in recent years to create a consistent standard of official club mascots – here they all are, illustrated for the 2015 NRL Community Carnival.
There’s some great and some not-so-great mascots in that bunch. Here they all are professionally ranked from worst to best.
16. Scorch (St George-Illawarra Dragons)
Scorch seems to have been forced upon a reluctant St George by the NRL just so that every team would have a suitable child-friendly mascot they could chuck on some toddler merch. The bright red Scorch looks like a rejected concept from a stage production of The Paper Bag Princess and is frequently overlooked in favour of the green St George Bank dragon (pictured) at home games and Dragons events. Scorch is the NRL’s worst mascot.
15. Claws (Penrith Panthers)
The elusive Claws (sometimes referred to as ‘Tryton’) is meant to be a panther, but the costume seems to have been designed by someone who has never seen any species of cat before. For unknown reasons Claws wears sick yellow-rimmed speed dealer sunglasses and his Twitter account (“The #1 Mascot in the NRL is on Twitter!”) hasn’t been updated since 2012. Extremely questionable.
14. Blade (Gold Coast Titans)
The Titans’ colour combination of aqua and golden yellow is one of most aesthetically displeasing colour combinations in all sport. They were doomed from the start trying to make a Titan look good in those colours. Blade has his own Twitter account, but seems to spend more time watching V8 Supercars than rugby league.
13. Rocky (Sydney Roosters)
Something just doesn’t sit right about a rooster proudly wearing a shirt with a big Steggles logo on the front. The cheerful turncoat Rocky is a sporadic tweeter, and mostly seems to use his Twitter account to send fanatical tweets to Australian cricket captain Steve Smith. Impossible to like.
12. Novo (Newcastle Knights)
The big-chinned Knights mascot only got his name in 2013, when Kurt Gidley decided that of all the names suggested by fans ‘Novo’ was the one he liked the most. But what was he doing pre-2013? Just running around Hunter Stadium without a name? Incredible mascot negligence from the Knights.
11. Egor and Ellie (Manly Sea Eagles)
Are they brother and sister or husband and wife? Sea Eagles mascots Egor and Ellie are the White Stripes of the NRL, a mysterious male-female duo on the Brookvale Oval sidelines. According to the Sea Eagles website the pair “like to spend their spare time watching highlights from [Manly’s] past eight premiership victories.” Whatever their relationship, there’s something crushingly sad about that image.
10. Buck (Brisbane Broncos)
The mascot situation in Brisbane is confusing as hell. There are at least three different versions of ‘Buck’ the Bronco, one of whom is an actual horse who “enjoys the job of cantering around the field to celebrate each time the Broncos score a try.” Cool. Sadly compared to a real horse the two official costumed versions of Buck are an overwhelming disappointment.
9. Spike, George and Brutus (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Another club with real live animal mascots, Spike and George are a pair of bulldogs who lead the team out onto the field before every home game. The costumed mascot, Brutus, tends to fly under the radar, but made an exception during the finals series last year when he ventured into ‘Roosters territory’ and had his photo taken drinking a latte at ‘Skinny Dip Cafe’ and cocking his leg outside the Eastern Suburbs Leagues Club. Spike and George are obviously great mascots, but there is something deeply untrustworthy about Brutus.
8. Timmy (Wests Tigers)
Wests mascot Timmy the Tiger has his own Man Cave gloriously decked out in orange and black – he loves his footy club and the feeling seems to be reciprocated by the Leichhardt Oval faithful. He doesn’t do anything too fancy, but ticks all the boxes a good honest mascot should tick. A credit to Western Sydney and a credit to the NRL.
7. Tiki (New Zealand Warriors)
At first glance Tiki is the least imaginative of the NRL mascots – it’s just the club crest made into a mask and popped on top of a Warriors uniform. But to the club’s credit they have written Tiki one of the most thorough and detailed mascot bios in professional sport. Once you know he reads five or six books a week he’s a far more appealing proposition. Tiki is also an capable dancer, but is frequently humiliated by the Warriors’ sponsor mascot Bendon Man, who has probably never read a book in his life.
6. Sparky (Parramatta Eels)
Blue and yellow eel Sparky is the only NRL mascot with his own website. Sparky’s Brigade is a fan club for under-15s offering, among other things, free entry to three home games a season. That’s a great deal, and it seems safe to say Sparky is the NRL’s most generous mascot. His partner Sparkles (not ‘Mrs Sparky’ as a previous version of this story erroneously claimed) often appears alongside him at Pirtek Stadium.
5. Bluey (North Queensland Cowboys)
Huge credit to the Cowboys for thinking outside the square and making their mascot a cool cattle dog instead of a dumb old cowboy. Bluey is probably the NRL’s friendliest-looking mascot and maintains a consistently good-humoured Twitter account. Shares the sideline at 1300SMILES Stadium with a slightly deranged-looking dairy cow called Miss Moo.
4. Storm Man (Melbourne Storm)
A superhero whose only superpower seems to be ‘being a classic Aussie larrikin,’ Storm Man looks like he could drink David Boon under the table and has been known to ride a quad bike around the perimeter of AAMI Park. Easily the most ribald of a mostly child-friendly NRL stable of mascots, he survived an unsuccessful coup a couple of years ago by the truly pathetic ‘Boom’. Storm Man now reigns supreme as the one true Melbourne Storm mascot.
3. MC Hammerhead and Reefy (Cronulla Sharks)
A beautiful coalescence of rugby league’s past and present, the Sharks have two mascots after a fan campaign to reinstate the club’s horrifying original mascot MC Hammerhead, who now works the Shark Park sideline alongside the less-scary Reefy. Sharks fan David Innes, who volunteered to don the MC Hammerhead costume, drives a six-hour round trip to every home game and says he and Reefy have become “very good friends” since Hammerhead’s reintroduction. Just beautiful.
2. Reggie (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The oldest mascot in the NRL, and the only one with his own Wikipedia page, Reggie provided the NRL with its most heroic ever mascot moment in 2013 when club stalwart Charlie Gallico suited up to perform his mascot duties despite his wife having passed away just days earlier. He was carried off the field at the end of the game on the shoulders of Isaac Luke and Adam Reynolds. ”I was crying inside the suit,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “That’s when I knew what respect was all about. To me it meant more than anything in the world.”
1. Victor (Canberra Raiders)
Victor the Viking has been the Raiders’ mascot since the club’s first season in 1982. Quite simply he’s a perfect mascot – funny, rousing, and extremely dedicated to his club. Spectacularly, it’s been the same bloke inside the suit the whole time – Tony Wood survived a heart attack in late 2015 but has returned this season and is narrowing in on his 600th game in the suit. A stone cold Aussie legend – long live Victor the Viking, the NRL’s best mascot.
Dishonorable mention: Hogster (Hog’s Breath Cafe)