The NRL grand final is here, and weird, invasive betting agency marketing campaigns are here with it. Because I'm a young male who likes rugby league and Googles "Josh Mansour beard pics" at least four times a week, betting firms have been flooding my social media feeds with ads urging me to spice up my Saturday afternoon footy with the possibility of economic ruin.
In the run-up to the 2017 season, bookie giant William Hill wheeled out an ad campaign that was especially eye-catching, though probably not for the reasons they'd like: a commissioned series of drawings of anthropomorphised NRL team mascots from Melbourne-based artist Grange Wallis Made. In the days before a game, William Hill would pair the mascots up in ads urging you to place a bet, and stick them in your Facebook feed if the targeting was right.
Here are those mascots. They scare the absolute shit out of me.
LOOK AT THEM. Really look at these things. I see these buff torments whenever I close my eyes. They're like monsters out of Greek mythology, if monsters out of Greek mythology had access to steroids and a VIP room at the Ivy.
Because I won't ever be able to sleep again until I do, I've decided to rank these mascots (which I refer to as "the Sixteen Miseries") in ascending order based on how much they make me want to call an exorcist. I've collected screenshots of them over the last six months, and now I can share my awful findings with the world. Ignore that 'March 12' publication date up the top; that's when I started this extremely bad quest. It has been a long six months.
I should emphasise that I'm not having a go at Grange Wallis Made. He had a brief and he filled it, and making money as an artist in Australia is a tough gig. He's got some ripper art on his site, which you can check out here.
But if William Hill's going to force me to constantly look at fucked nightmare creatures just because I like football, I reserve the right to point out that these abominations should be locked in a vault filled with grave dirt and buried under a burned-out church. Let's do this.
#16: The Warrior
This is the only mascot that doesn't fill me with deep, pelvic floor-weakening fear. It's a guy holding a football! Nothing scary about that. His arms and head are in proportion to his body, which I like, and there's very little about his vibe that shrieks "Eldritch horror". Once he's done playing flashy but inconsistent footy, you could probably go for a beer with The Warrior.
Wallis Made has also done his homework and made sure the traditional tā moko markings on The Warrior's face and arms, topknot, pūkana facial expression and greenstone necklace are culturally appropriate, which is nice, right? It would've been easy to copy the "tribal" tatt patterns you see down Bondi Beach on a sunny day, but putting in a bit of effort not to be a racist jerk is a thing that not-garbage people do. If it had been left to the NRL, The Warrior would've been Paul Vautin in blackface. Enjoy this moment, because things only get worse from here.
#15: The Raider
I have mixed feelings about The Raider. I get the impression The Raider acts really tough and talks a lot of awful shit around his peers, but is secretly a bit of a goof who gets slightly uncomfortable when everyone else gets rowdy. I appreciate the effort he puts into his braided green moustache, and I feel like he would be really hurt if you made fun of it. The Raider is a wayward kid who's hanging out with the wrong crowd, and hopefully he realises he's on the wrong path and works out what's really important in life before too long. None of that excuses his behaviour, but I'm rooting for him.
#14: The Titan
At first glance there's nothing that fearsome about The Titan. He looks like Jeff Goldblum's character in the new Thor movie, which is dope as hell, and his cape and golden bracelet things are off the chain. His facial expression is meant to be "I am a great and angry god," but given what's going on with the rest of his outfit it reads more like "I am on some good drugs".
That said, there is one very good reason to be afraid of The Titan, and that reason is his awful dick. I put it to you that the bulbous white orb The Titan is clutching at crotch height is not a football, but rather his terrifyingly smooth, misshapen dick. I know this in my bones with a certainty that chills me.
#13: The Dragon
See, now we're getting into some real shit. We can all agree that, despite the weird fiery halo, The Dragon is obviously Satan come upon us. When you trade your soul for pinpoint kicking accuracy, as Cooper Cronk did, The Dragon is who you have to play football against in Hell for all eternity. He will fly over you with his big disgusting wings whenever you try to tackle him, which is technically not against the rules, and you can't tackle him anyway because his neck spikes will impale your fucking arms like toothpicks in rockmelon.
#12: The Knight
The Knight definitely wants to kill you, but that's not why he's scary. The Knight is scary because you assume he's all-human, but that assumption falls apart when you think about it for, like, two seconds. We have zero evidence so far that the William Hill creatures obey any natural laws, and I feel like the helmet is a double-bluff designed to put you at ease before something really bad happens.
On closer inspection, the 'helmet' appears to be perfectly moulded to The Knight's skull, and continues down his neck and beneath his jersey. I put it to you that The Knight's helmet is actually just a really jacked-up metal face, which at least gives him a motive for being so angry. Lastly, I don't know what the weird raw patch on his forearm is meant to be, but I do not trust it at all.
#11: The Cowboy
The Cowboy gets a higher ranking than the rest of the human-only mascots because he's the one most likely to be real, and that terrifies me. The Cowboy absolutely lives in far North Queensland, and he absolutely votes One Nation. He is not a charming, folksy cowboy who would save you from a rogue water buffalo, like Mick Dundee. He is the sort of cowboy who would offer you a cup of Bushells tea with Rohypnol in it and hogtie you to a tree for the buzzards to eat, like Mick Taylor. I hate The Cowboy.
#10: The Bulldog
The Bulldog weirds me out in a slightly different way to most of William Hill's other abominations, because The Bulldog has an oddly curvy bod? Look at them hips! Bulldogs do not have hips like that. They're stocky little mailboxes with feet, whereas this guy has a kind of Shakira thing going. This is the first mascot that doesn't have legs so muscly they look like Brutalist architecture. There's a joke in there somewhere about not skipping leg day, but in truth every other William Hill beast should skip leg day every day for forever, lest they get swallowed up by their own mutant gams.
There is also a huge vein popping out of The Bulldog's bicep, which means my dude is absolutely on the 'roids and probably has self-image issues. Get off that stuff, Bulldog! I know your face looks like a soggy tennis ball that's been stuck in a rain gutter for fifteen years, but drugs are not the answer. You gotta love you for you.
#9: The Storm
I'm guessing The Storm was the most difficult mascot to conceptualise, but I'm pretty disappointed the artist didn't go for a big black cloud with a frowny face on it. This guy is just a wizard with a skin disease that makes him look like a ripped blueberry.
Still plenty of reasons to hate him, though! He obviously has god powers, and is in the final stages of an incantation that will burn you down to a subatomic level. He's also levitating, which makes me think he maybe fell into our plane from the Dragon Ball Z universe and is in the middle of one of those power-up phases that took up twenty minutes of each episode.
Come to think of it, that glowing golden egg in his right hand: actual Dragon Ball? It's sure as hell not a football meant for human hands. Maybe rugby league games in The Storm's reality end when the egg-ball hatches and Shenron devours the world. One for the CSIRO to puzzle out.
#8: The Panther
The Panther isn't the biggest or the most powerful Nasty Football Boy, but he is absolutely the most angry. Look at that scowly cat face. The Panther is every cat that has ever been mad at you shoved into one flesh-prison and sprayed with a hose. His fur is glossy and well kept, and his fancy golden boots are very fresh, which he gets points for, but you would not notice those things when you have to hide in a pool forever to stop The Panther from mauling you.
#7: The Tiger
The Tiger gets a higher ranking than The Panther because of how frighteningly jacked it is. If you don't look properly, the orange part of The Tiger's uniform just looks like fur poking out of a needlessly low-cut jersey, and that feels like a personal slight. The Tiger also has the most well-defined tongue of any of these awful creatures, and that cannot bode well given what we've been through so far.
#6: The Sea Eagle
I hate the Sea Eagle because he's obviously the preppy frat boy of the bunch. The Sea Eagle is the one most likely to pop his collar, or always have a possessive arm around his girlfriend at parties, or take a gym selfie that has a really obvious outline of his dick in it. The Sea Eagle will absolutely peck out your eyes, but then he'll probably make it even worse by saying something really homophobic about people with no eyes. The Sea Eagle votes Liberal, and probably has The Red Pill saved on a hard drive.
#5: The Rooster
Oh boy, ah geez, oh MAN. The Rooster. Okay. We're really getting into some rats-in-the-walls territory now.
The scariest part of The Rooster is none of the obvious things, like the huge red cheek-scrotums or the corn-chip hands. The Rooster's scariest quality is the eyes. Really stare into those dark-matter peepers. To use descriptors like "cold" or "dead" for The Rooster's eyes is to tacitly grant them a place in this Earthly realm that they do not deserve. The Abyss spat those little hell-nuggets out because they made The Abyss jittery. The Rooster's eyes are God's grave.
Also, turns out your typical rooster crest blown up to a human scale looks like a set of flesh bagpipes, so have fun knowing that for the rest of your life.
#4: The Shark
Firstly, why does a sharkman need little elbow-knives and claws on his awful webbed hands? He's mostly shark already, he doesn't need any more encouragement. Stop it.
The Shark looks scarily like Alan Jones, which is way too fitting to be an accident. He has an extremely wrinkly mouth, and looks like he's been photographed in the act of yelling at a brown person on a train station platform. The Shark is possibly the chunkiest of all the William Hill beasts, which makes me think he must be quite short and is really belligerent to compensate.
My main beef with The Shark, though, is that his tail is poking out the back of his little football shorts. How does he put those little shorts on with such a big tail? The Shark does not know. No one knows.
#3: The Bronco
I hate The Bronco with my whole body. I hate it extra hard because people have already spent thousands of years workshopping what human-horse hybrids are supposed to look like, and it's never been this bad. Centaurs have their problems, but they don't have quad muscles that are so big they form actual squares. I resent how the artist almost abandoned the hoofs-for-hands idea but not entirely, and compensated for that indecision by making The Broncos' hands needlessly shiny, like they've been bronzed.
Also, this feels like nitpicking at this point, but The Bronco has better hair than I do despite how obviously filthy he is over every single inch of the rest of his body. The Bronco clearly spends so much time snorting and huffing gunk all over himself with his giant gross horse nose, and somehow both his head- and butt-hair still stays shiny and silky smooth. I think about that and it makes me really upset.
#2: The Eel
Oh no. Oh NO.
The Eel actually makes me physically nauseous to look at, a bit. So much is deeply, karmically wrong here. The wrinkles over every available surface; the glassy, White Walker-esque eyes; the little wisps of what can only be hair around the chin and nostrils.
The worst part of The Eel, though, is what goes unseen. It upsets me deeply to inform you that The Eel has to have the weirdest, grossest dick of all these monsters. Going off the rest of his body, The Eel's dick is sickly yellow with blue mottled stripes, has been pickled in seawater for twenty years, and has a fin on it. I'm so sorry your grand final has been ruined by knowledge of The Eel's dick-fin. I really am.
#1: The Rabbit
I loathe The Rabbit. I hate everything about it. I hate how, if you cover up The Rabbit's head, it could be just a very buff man with extremely hairy arms. I hate its on-brand headband and mouthguard. I hate how, if The Rabbit could make a noise, the only noise it could make would be "REEEE! REEEEEEEEEE!". Most of all I hate the tiny, exquisitely detailed bottom row of teeth in its open, scowling mouth.
I hate The Rabbit. I hate him so much.
Thank you for coming with me on this journey through the sixteen circles of my own private hell. I am very sorry.