NRL Real or Not: Fans always have and always will boo

This week we take a look at the booing of Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell, the debacle surrounding the suspended suspension of Tylan May and the danger of Top 4 sides going out in straight sets this year.

Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.

Fans will continue to boo, especially if it gets to you

REAL: Booing is an age-old way for an audience to express displeasure with a performance of any kind, just as applauding and cheering is used to show approval. It has a long history of use at sporting events where fans have no other tangible way of voicing their disapproval.

When a particular player is booed by opposition fans, it is often an inadvertent recognition of how damaging that individual has been to their team's chances of victory. In some circumstances the booing relates more to a particular incident or a behavioural pattern that upsets fans. Regardless of the motivation, there is one sure way to encourage further booing and that is to complain about it. If you suggest you are being treated unfairly and place yourself above the reactions, good or bad, of the people who are ultimately paying your lofty wages, they will be relentless in setting you straight.

Roosters fans have a long list of grievances against Latrell Mitchell, dating back to his decision to leave them for their arch enemies. That alone has been reason enough in the past for players to be booed for the rest of their careers. Add to that Mitchell's face-cracking hit on former teammate Joseph Manu last year and the way in which Mitchell continues to play up to the crowd, and it is not surprising that he is being booed. Is it right or wrong to constantly boo him? It is neither, it is simply part of the theatre and every ticket purchaser's right as an audience member.

After earlier making a comparison between himself and Adam Goodes, Mitchell was more accepting of the treatment when asked about it ahead of the finals rematch with the Roosters.

"It was expected," he said. "I did what I did over (at the Roosters). It's a game of rugby league.

"They're passionate and South Sydney are passionate. It's two clubs going at it, foundation clubs. It's very enjoyable being out there kicking goals."

Mitchell would do well to take a leaf out of the book of immortal Wally Lewis, who was booed mercilessly whenever he played in New South Wales, whether for his club, state or even his country at one point. He treated the booing and abuse as a badge of honour, and a powerful source of motivation, because he knew the better he played the louder they booed, so the louder they booed the better he played.

NRL is just thinking of the fans in May ban delay

NOT REAL: There has been confusion and anger over the decision to delay Taylan May's punishment for bringing the game into disrepute. The finer details of when the assault happened, what the courts decided and how bad the NRL perceived his actions are all irrelevant in the eyes of fans. Once the NRL decided that he deserved to be suspended, it is reasonable to expect that the suspension would be served immediately.

For the record, May was charged with assaulting a teenager during the Panthers' celebrations on the Sunshine Coast in October 2021, and was found guilty late last month. No conviction was recorded but May was ordered to pay a $1000 fine and another $1000 to the victim. The NRL handed May its own $7500 fine, half of which was suspended, as well as a two-match ban to be served at the beginning of next season. May is free to play in the finals starting with Friday's clash against Parramatta.

"In proposing the timing of the match suspension, the NRL considered a number of factors including when the incident took place, the date at which the proceedings were finalised and the impact of a match suspension at this time of year," the NRL said in a statement.

Never one to care too much for the fans' perception of right and wrong, ARL boss Peter V'landys defended the decision in a manner so tone-deaf that it almost defied belief.

"A lot of ex-players look at it through the players' lens, we look at it through everyone's lens. And the most important person now is the fan," V'Landys told Channel Nine.

"Why penalise the Penrith fans for an indiscretion the player did?

"The person that should be paying the penalty is the player, and they will because they've got two matches and a substantial part of their salary."

It wasn't immediately clear how any and every other suspension in the 100-plus-year history of the game hadn't penalised the fans. I'm pretty sure Rabbitohs fans felt penalised by not having Latrell Mitchell in their Grand Final team last year, because of something Mitchell did, albeit on the field of play. Dragons fans were penalised for years as Jack De Belin was stood down during his court proceedings.

The NRL have made a rod for their own back with this call, which can only be perceived as being grossly inconsistent. That's the risk you take when you take a case-by-case approach to such matters. The fans expect all players and all clubs to be treated equally.

Straight-sets exit very likely for Top 4 teams

REAL: This season, more than any I can readily recall, the Top 4 teams appear to be in a perilous position, if they lose in week 1 of the finals.

With Melbourne Storm, or a hot Canberra Raiders team awaiting them, Penrith or Parramatta will have to bounce back from the disappointment of losing the derby or their season could be over way too soon. The loser of their clash will more than likely face the Storm, who are finals specialists and difficult opponents at the best of times.

On the other side of the finals bracket we have the Cowboys and Sharks, who really have overachieved to reach the Top 4. The loser of that game will surely start as underdogs in a clash with either the Roosters or Rabbitohs.

It makes a win this weekend more vital than ever for the Top 4 teams. No one wants to end their season with two finals defeats.