The late Tina Turner had a river deep connection with Australia, one that was built on hits, touring, connections and a unique sporting alliance.
Turner’s extraordinary solo comeback in 1984 was engineered by Roger Davies, the great Australian artist manager who has guided the careers of Pink, Olivia Newton-John, Janet Jackson, Cher and many others. For bonus points, Davies was portrayed by one of his clients, James Reyne, frontman of Australian Crawl, in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It, the award-winning autobiographical film based on Turner’s life.
The “Nutbush City Limits” singer, however, would tackle something no other U.S pop artist had done, when she committed to a series of much-loved campaigns for Australia’s premier rugby league competition.
From 1989 to 1995, Turner was the face of the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) competition, now rebranded the National Rugby League (NRL), appearing alongside the game’s most famous athletes in national commercials, and sometimes on the ground for the sport’s showpiece events, including a set during the 1993 grand final at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Those campaigns included Turner’s hits “What You Get Is What You See” and “The Best,” and, for many sports fans and athletes in these parts, she represents a golden era for the code.
Thanks to her contribution as the competition expanded out of New South Wales, “The Best” is today recognized as the unofficial anthem of rugby league in Australia, a sport for only the knuckliest, toughest types in society.
Turner, who in one memorable promotional video pushes those he-men around in the dressing room, was a perfect fit, her sass, style and songs offsetting the brawn. She became the unlikely Queen of League.
Those Aussie connections played a part. Because her manager Davies was Australian, “we were able to make contact,” John Quayle, then head of the NRL, recounts in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The sport’s administrators presented to Davies while on a visit to his homeland. A partnership seemed unlikely, then an opportunity materialized.
“He rang and said you’ve got one day in London to film and if you can do it, we can have a look at it and go from there.” Working in “freezing conditions,” the team taught Turner the finer points of the game, she warmed to it, and a slice of marketing magic was created.
On Wednesday (May 24), Turner died at 83 years old, prompting both fans, fellow musicians and friends to express their condolences on social media — including one particular sporting code in the land Down Under.
“Vale Tina Turner, the Queen of Rugby League,” reads one post from the official NRL account.
Another post reads, “Tina Turner provided the soundtrack for a golden era of rugby league. Today we reflect on her immense contribution to the game.”
Watch some of Tina Turner’s classic campaigns for Australia’s professional rugby league competition below.