On Sunday afternoon, the Brumbies put the sword to a New Zealand team for the second week in a row.
The Brumbies’ performance and the game as a spectacle deserved far more than the crowd of just over 8000.
For entertainment value, it was up there with the Brumbies in their glory years when 20,000 regularly turned out at Canberra Stadium.
The result keeps the Brumbies near the top of the Super Rugby Pacific, with only the Auckland Blues in front of them on the ladder.
The crowd size for the game against the Hurricanes on 1 May must have been disappointing for the Brumbies as an organisation as everything was in place to attract a large crowd. The game was played on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Canberra Stadium and the team was coming off a victory over the Highlanders.
What will be interesting will be the game against traditional rivals, the Crusaders, on Friday, 13 May, at Canberra Stadium, especially if the Brumbies beat the Chiefs in Hamilton this weekend.
The expectation is that more fans will start getting behind the team. They certainly deserve it.
In many ways, in the late 1990s, the Brumbies capitalised on the turmoil in rugby league during the Super League war. The Brumbies crowds soared as people turned off rugby league.
It took over 15 years for the crowds to return to rugby league in Canberra, and they came when rugby union was starting to struggle for crowd support.
For example, in the 2013 season, the Brumbies took all before them before going down to the Chiefs in the grand final.
The Brumbies struggled for a crowd throughout that season, including for the qualifying final against the Cheetahs, which attracted just 14,000 fans. Ten years earlier, it would have been close to a sell-out.
With the Brumbies now riding high and playing entertaining rugby, will those fans who turned out in their many thousands 20 years ago return for another adventure that only live sport can offer?
The Brumbies’ resurgence comes when the Raiders’ fortunes are low, with the side currently 14th on the NRL ladder, with the same amount of victories as the 16th placed Newcastle.
The Raiders’ loss to the Warriors was the club’s fifth loss in a row. Their last win was on 26 March against the Titans. In the wake of the loss to the Warriors, coach Ricky Stuart alluded to the impact it might have on the supporter base.
“Publicly, I am lost for comment in regard of the quality of that performance in the second half, and for any loyal fan and any real fan we have got left, I feel really embarrassed and sorry for them,” he said.
The first test of that loyalty comes as soon as Friday night when the Raiders take on the 15th placed Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium.
It’s probably not the best indicator as the Bulldogs are a side that doesn’t have a huge support base in Canberra and is also struggling, despite the recent win over the Roosters.
It’s also a 6 o’clock start on Friday night, which is often the hardest time to attract a crowd in Canberra.
As I have pointed out, the success of teams in Canberra doesn’t always translate into crowd numbers, but 90 per cent of the time it is a valuable indicator of overall general community support.
The history of Canberra sporting teams alludes to this.
In the late 1980s, the Cannons were one of the hottest tickets in town with capacity crowds at the Palace before they started losing games. Once this began to happen, support disappeared altogether.
The Cosmos battled for relevance at times despite massive numbers of registered players. Football fans simply didn’t go to watch the games at Canberra Stadium.
Rightly or wrongly, Canberra has often been pigeonholed as a city of fickle sporting supporters. But only time will tell whether the Brumbies supporter base increases with so many wins or the Raiders’ collapses with the side struggling so far this season.