Jamie Wall reviews 2nd Chance Charlie, where lower grade rugby players compete to have another go at rugby stardom and success.
Here’s a show for all the battlers: one of the oldest male traditions in New Zealand, the “had it not been for [insert reason here] I would’ve been an All Black” story, has been made into a series called 2nd Chance Charlie. Over eight weeks, it will follow five lower grade rugby players as they compete for a 12-week intensive training programme with a Super Rugby team and $10,000 cash prize, ostensibly giving them a chance to crack the career they feel like they deserved.
With episodes only five minutes long, on the surface it’s a pretty fun little story to follow of attempted redemption. However, if you dig a little deeper 2nd Chance Charlie inadvertently lays bare a couple of glaring issues with rugby at the moment, as well as the realities of what these guys are actually after. Pro rugby players these days should really be called pro gym goers, as lifting weights and cardio is what the vast majority of their time is spent doing; passing and kicking a ball around being a distant second. The series is more of a fitness and weight loss challenge than anything else, even then it’s pretty hard to know how they’ll determine a winner given the wildly differing physical states of the contestants.
The men selected for the show represent the Super Rugby regions that they’re based in, all with varying stories of why they’re slogging it out on club fields on Saturday afternoons rather than in front of thousands in stadiums around the world.
The cast fit perfectly into character tropes that anyone who has spent a bit of time involved in the game can identify readily; firefighter James is a cuddly front rower who seems impossible not to like but has weight and fitness issues. Tai is a perfect physical specimen of a human, who has been plagued by injuries that stalled his career and probably played a big part in him becoming a mental health advocate. Dan, a halfback from the Navy, has all the tools and just needs a bit of self belief.
However, the two most interesting characters couldn’t be more further apart. Nili is a Salvation Army driver and father of an autistic child, the soft-spoken giant who transforms into a brutal hit machine whenever he takes the park. The 28-year-old genuinely was on the path to stardom in his late teens – playing alongside a number of guys who are now All Blacks and gaining selection for the New Zealand under 20s, before giving it all up to go on a religious mission for two years. Although other devout athletes have managed to return from such a long break and make it, Nili wasn’t so lucky. It’s pretty poignant watching him having to stand up in front of the Chiefs team he will be embedded with, wearing a t-shirt that clearly marks himself as the odd one out and almost tearfully re-introducing himself to a bunch of far more chiseled old friends that are enjoying the career he missed.
Then there’s Dave, the full-of-himself pretty boy whose past team mates have clearly only tolerated because he’s presumably either an excellent goal kicker, gets some hot girls coming to the clubrooms or can score pingas on the reg. The personal trainer has fashioned himself into one of modern society’s most loathsome figures, a preachy Instagram wellness influencer wannabe, and his insufferable nature makes him immediately stand out – a must for any reality TV show, made especially clear when his reason for not making it big is simply that he was too busy getting pissed and chasing girls before rehabilitating himself through “eastern mysticism”. It’s pretty hard to not think the guy is just playing it up for the camera, however Dave’s schtick does kind of make you want him to win just so he can get his head taken off by Scott Barrett as part of his “prize”.
The premise itself is somewhat of an antidote to the much-covered rugby “pathway”, whereby these days if you haven’t been identified as a potential All Black by the time you finish school, it’s going to be a massive uphill battle to make a career out of playing the game. This sort of thinking has seen talent being concentrated mainly into private or traditionally strong boys colleges that regularly pilfer promising players out of lower socioeconomic areas, taking away the chance for those communities to have a home grown success story that inspires the kids at the schools they inevitably leave. With upwards of six figures a season of school money reportedly spent on some first XV programmes though, it’s no wonder the powers-that-be are more than happy for this situation to continue, as it essentially churns out developed players for Super Rugby teams without them having to do anything.
This in turn leaves players like the 2nd Chance Charlie men with only club pride and a pat on the back to play for every weekend, even though they’re putting their bodies through the same rigours as the pros but without the costly system in place to make sure they’re in the best possible shape for the next one.
2nd Chance Charlie also shows, even though its run time is annoyingly brief, that rugby players have personalities that can be explored to market the game through individualism. Within a few minutes, you know these guys and their motivations. Tellingly, three of the men are fathers with a desire to simply be providing a better life for their families. All too often, all we know about the All Blacks is their commitment and relentless attitude to do the jersey proud. While that’s a laudable part of the team’s mythos, it’s also a barrier for potential new fans that simply see them often as interchangeable robots. For a sport that is desperately struggling to recapture the almost religious engagement of the past, very little of what could be described as “unique” has really been done lately to broaden its appeal.
However, the clock is ticking on the stoic, team-first, bore-the-media-into-submission attitude that NZ Rugby so steadfastly holds itself to, and shows like this can hopefully guide it to a newer vision of how it presents itself. Let’s just hope the irony of that happening off the efforts of a bunch of club rugby battlers isn’t lost on them.
2nd Chance Charlie airs after The Project on Wednesdays and Thursday on Three.