How Tina Turner Changed The Game Of Rugby League

The Queen of Rock n Roll led a revolution in Australian RL
11:53, 25 May 2023

Rugby league had never looked like this before. The big-hitting, snarling, gruff figures of the game in 1980s Australia were not the most naturally appealing ambassadors for a pastime many believed to be little more than a mud-wrestling match with a ball in hand. So it was a stroke of genius that led to a six-year advertising association with Tina Turner which altered the perception of the sport forever.

The legendary singer, who died on Wednesday at the age of 83, changed the face of rugby league in a way many players, executives and fans could only dream of. An ugly duckling sport was rejuvenated by a dose of glamour that would previously have been considered to be the most alien concept possible for a game which was tough as teak and proud of it.

The deal made for Turner to be the face of TV advertising for the Australian club game in its NSWRL days brought rugby league to a whole new audience. It’s arguable that she’s a bigger RL icon than many superstars who have wowed the game down the years.


To this day, former NRL CEO John Quayle speaks fondly of his early discussions with the Queen of Rock n Roll, explaining her surprise at the players’ lack of padding when she was first shown a tape of rugby league in action. In persuading Turner to sign up to front the series of ads, Quayle made one of the biggest signings in history.

The 1989 promo which intercut match action with shots of players training on the beach in trunks, soundtracked by Tina’s ‘What You Get Is What You See’, was a revelation. The follow-up which saw her actually playing the game out by the ocean alongside some of Australia’s finest players to the sound of her iconic hit ‘The Best’ took the campaign to a whole new level.

The best of the lot, though, was when she turned in a legendary performance on the field ahead of the 1993 Grand Final between Brisbane Broncos and St George Dragons at the old Sydney Football Stadium. One of the most iconic figures in 20th Century US popular culture was celebrating her wonderfully successful partnership with a sport whose image had been completely transformed in the space of a few short years thanks to her unlikely association. No longer a hard slog between brutes, RL was appealing to fans of all genders, shapes and sizes.

The shots of her handing over the Winfield Cup trophy to the winning Brisbane skipper Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer after the match with yellow ticker tape in her hair take some beating. The seemingly starstruck half-back could easily have been handing the oversized statuette over to Turner rather than the other way around, so great was her contribution to the cause it would have been the very least she deserved.

These days the idea of glitzy marketing campaigns surrounding major sporting events is nothing new, but back in the late 80s the link between Australian rugby league and Tina Turner was nothing short of revolutionary. So while the US leads the world in mourning one of the greatest singers of all time, the echoes of her fabulous hits will likely be heard loudest and proudest among rugby league fans Down Under.


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