When you think of bears you don’t usually associate them with sport, but there’s a growing trend of bears and cubs following the various footy codes, as well as participating and watching the games socially.

Sydney’s bears are increasingly embracing the National Rugby League (NRL), with the newly opened Bear Bar on Oxford Street now screening the games on a weekly pub night.

We popped along to ‘Footy Thursday’ to see what all the fuss was about.

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It’s 7pm and Bear Bar is already busy with happy bearded fellas munching on pizza and downing jugs of beer.

Most of the crowd – predominantly guys in their 30s and 40s – are there to watch tonight’s game between Sydney’s Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and the Brisbane Broncos.

Craig from Kings Cross is a regular. He’s originally from Brisbane and by default a big Broncos fan, and has been coming to Footy Thursday since it started in March this year.

“I love it,” he says. “It’s a shame more gay guys aren’t into rugby league, as it’s a great game and there’s a lot of hot guys who play.”

His friend Damien from Surry Hills also explains the attraction.

“It’s insanely homoerotic,” he says. “The players look like gay bears or metrosexuals, like they might be up for it if you met them out clubbing.

“Watching the game together with your mates at Bear Bar, you can have fun and pick the ones you want to sleep with, something we do each week.”

One of the bartenders, Juan, is a recent arrival in Sydney from Colombia. Before arriving in Australia he’d never heard of Rugby League, but is now a fully-fledged convert.

“I don’t really understand the rules of footy, but it’s a good game,” he says. “Plus, it has a lot of sexy players and attracts some hot daddies to the bar.”

David from Woolloomooloo says he definitely understands the rules and follows the Penrith Panthers as he was originally a “westie”. His favourite player is NRL ‘bad boy’ Josh Duggan.

He thinks most bears start following the NRL for the men first but then get into the game.

“Rugby League is a blokey culture with big chunky men, much like the bear scene,” he says.

Tim from Bondi agrees that the NRL can be a hyper masculine culture that feeds many a bear’s fantasy, and explains there are plenty of Tumblr pages devoted to players including the posting of risqué selfies and videos shared online.

“As bears we know many of the footy players’ off-field antics can be bad but they can often be sexually appealing too,” he says.

As the game starts and play gets underway, the bears settle down for a night of old fashioned camaraderie and community.

Craig from Kings Cross says “isn’t this great – a gay bar showing Rugby League. Here we can be gay and enjoy the game we love around friends and smiling faces in a safe fun environment.”

Footy Thursday runs from 5pm every Thursday at Bear Bar, 2 Oxford Street (entry at the rear on Liverpool St). Free entry. Games screen around 7.30pm.

For more info head to www.bearbar.com.au.

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