AUSTRALIA Test star Luke O’Donnell is already a big fan of English rugby league!
The 30-year-old back-row forward may have played in some of the biggest games the sport has to offer, including several appearances for the Kangaroos and a number of State of Origin clashes for New South Wales.
Those fixtures regularly attracted 50,000-plus crowds, while he also played in front of some bumper attendances during his time in the Australian NRL with Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys.
They were also some of the most competitively intense rugby league encounters on the planet.
But even though O’Donnell has played just half-a-dozen Super League games for the Giants, he’s already impressed with what the game in the northern hemisphere has to offer and believes its merits deserve far more recognition – starting with the way the fans get behind their team.
“I absolutely love the crowds here,” he said.
“I’d heard before I came over here that the atmosphere the supporters help to generate is something special, and I’ve now experienced it for myself.
“All the singing and cheering is absolutely fantastic. You can sense all the time how much the fans love their footy.
“I think it really struck home when we went to Castleford last month. There were just over 5,000 in the ground, but you’d have thought there were well over 10,000 because of all the noise they were making.
“And the way our own supporters get behind us at the Galpharm is also something very, very special.
“Hearing them during the games really does give us a massive lift.
“Let’s hope we’ll be hearing them cheering a lot more times between now and the end of the season!”
As well as the enthusiasm of the crowds, O’Donnell is also enjoying the style of English rugby league.
And he doesn’t believe league observers over here should keep comparing Super League to the NRL.
“I’m often being asked how I feel the game over here compares to that in Australia, and I don’t think that’s healthy,” he argued.
“Super League is a great competition in its own right and it’s wrong to keep on looking for comparisons with the NRL.
“Super League is a really exciting brand of footy.
“There’s a lot more offloading than in the Australian game and it’s played at a frantic pace.
“Also the referees over here let the game flow, which is something I applaud, and I’m also glad to get away from the two referees system we’ve got back in Australia.
“All that’s doing is giving the match officials twice as many opportunities to spot infringements, which is exactly what they’re doing in the NRL.
“So rather than focusing on how we fare against the NRL, I think we should all concentrate on the fact that in Super League we’ve got something very good, and we should all be proud to be a part of it.
“To be honest, I think the NRL could learn as much from Super League as Super League can learn from the NRL.
“They are two fantastic competitions in their own right.”