The passing of Tina Turner, often referred to as “The Best,” has left the world in mourning. The renowned US music icon died at the age of 83 after a prolonged period of ill health.
Turner, whose remarkable career featured chart-topping hits like “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “Private Dancer,” and “The Best,” holds a special place as an African American icon. While she spent her final years in Switzerland, her connection to Australia through rugby league stands out as a notable crossover in recent sporting history.
In 1989, Turner became the star of a now-iconic TV advertising campaign, lending her powerful vocals to “What You Get Is What You See” from her sixth solo album, “Break Every Rule.” This memorable campaign aimed to transform the image of rugby league, then known as the Winfield Cup in New South Wales, by infusing it with an element of campness. Turner’s smash hit served as the backdrop for captivating visuals, featuring players running on the beach, in the sheds, and in full flight on the field.
The two-minute advertisement sought to reposition rugby league as a more inclusive and family-friendly sport, appealing to females and breaking away from its blokey stereotype.
Coincidentally, Nicky Braithwaite, the assistant to then Australian Rugby League CEO John Quayle, had a personal connection that played a significant role in the TV ad’s success. Braithwaite happened to be friends with Roger Davies, an Australian rugby league enthusiast residing in the United States, who coincidentally served as the manager for both Turner and Olivia Newton-John.
This unexpected connection between Braithwaite, Davies, and the iconic music duo added an extra layer of serendipity to the advertisement. The boldness of the campaign quickly proved to be a masterstroke, resonating with a distinct aspect of Australian culture and capturing the attention of audiences across the nation. Its triumph was overwhelming, solidifying its status as a true phenomenon.
In the following year, Turner unleashed her chart-topping hit “The Best” and went on to film another rugby league promotional video titled “Simply The Best,” which has since become ingrained in Australian sporting folklore.
The commercial’s tremendous success led to a continued partnership between Turner and the NSW Rugby League. In 1993, she graced the stage at the Sydney Football Stadium, captivating the crowd during the Grand Final as she performed “The Best.” The spectators passionately belted out the iconic lyrics, and after the Brisbane Broncos triumphed over the Dragons, Turner posed with the team, clutching the trophy. It was a moment so extraordinary that one could hardly imagine it being scripted.
Turner’s collaboration extended beyond the advertising realm. She collaborated with Jimmy Barnes to re-record the song, which has now become synonymous with the NRL’s pre-game Grand Final entertainment.
Interestingly, the late 1980s and 1990s are often regarded as one of the greatest eras in rugby league history. The star-studded Canberra Raiders, featuring powerhouse players like Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, and Ricky Stuart, set the stage on fire before the Brisbane Broncos, led by Allan “Alfie” Langer, emerged as a dominant force in the competition. The era also boasted luminaries such as Glenn Lazarus, Andrew Ettinghausen, Peter Sterling, and Wally Lewis. Notably, the Balmain Tigers, despite their prowess, tragically never clinched a premiership.
Turner played an immense role in the game’s resurgence. As Tigers legend, Steve Roach eloquently stated, “Tina Turner made it fashionable to be a rugby league supporter. I believe that the ad campaign was the greatest ever in Australian sport. It put rugby league on the map.”
Turner’s initial involvement in rugby league left an indelible mark on Australian sporting culture, leading to the revival of the campaign three decades later. This time, “The Best” was adopted as an NRL anthem.
The prefect tribute this weekend in the @NRL to celebrate Tina Turner' s life and contribution to rugby league would be a halftime presentation at every game. Big screen..crowd sing along to Simply the Best. @VossyBrandySEN @fanfoxleague A minutes silence would "not be her go." pic.twitter.com/zESXviWxtR— Andrew Voss (@AndrewVossy) May 24, 2023
A period of our lives we will never forget pic.twitter.com/Mk2oLDATnD— ⚡Steve Mascord☠️ (@SteveMascord) May 24, 2023
The rugby league community mourned the loss of Turner, recognizing her as a significant off-field figure who has exerted perhaps the most profound influence on the game over the past thirty years. Today, when attending a rugby league match, with a considerable number of female spectators in the crowd, we can attribute it, at least in part, to Tina’s influence.
Somehow, the union between rugby league and Tina Turner seemed destined from above. She truly epitomized being “simply the best.”