The NRL Season

This weekend saw the first phase of the representative season in the (Australian) National Rugby League. Australia towelled New Zealand, and City stormed home to knock over Country the same night. Over the ensuing 72 hours, the majority of these 68 footballers, the best in the league, were required to back up for their clubs. Most performed below par, and quite a few sustained injuries.

Broadcasters lapped it up. Game after game on Channel 9 and Fox Sports. So desperate are broadcasters for more content, and NRL administration to receive blanket coverage, the compact schedule forced a quality City-Country match to be replayed at 10pm on Friday night to fit it all in. Players from North Queensland and St.George-Illawarra needed special charter flights in order to be able to do it all again 24 hours later.

Players and coaches make pleas every year for a revised schedule that allows elite players recovery time and a better opportunity to perform at their best. Administrators listen instead to the pressure applied from broadcasters seeking more content, and the result is that the game suffers.

Fewer people are attending matches: NRL Attendance 2008 for the Home and Away season 2,993,518 , averaging 15,591, down from 2007 which was 3,024,040 averaging 15,750. Clubs are struggling for both memberships and sponsors. Maybe less is more. How about less games, but more blockbusters. Less games makes memberships cheaper, and more affordable. Less games means that more is on the line with every match. Less games allows recovery for the elite rep players, and turning out for their clubs more often.

Administrators elect to play representative games and club matches on the same weekend because to do otherwise would unreasonably lengthen the season. Currently 16 teams compete across 26 rounds of the NRL, with 4 weeks of rep footy thrown in. Each team gets 2 weeks off. How does that work? More randomly than you’d hope.

Occasionally a couple of teams get a week off. Sometimes the draw favours you, sometimes not. All stakeholders acknowledge that the Premiership has become attritional.  It is acknowledged that the current system creates an unfair competition.

The solution is elegant, effective, will make for more focus on rep footy, and more emphasis on club football.

16 teams. You play everyone ONCE. Simple. Every time your team plays, you know this is the one shot you get at this opposition during the regular season. Fewer home games, it’s true. But every game will more of an occasion. The product will be better because players will be fresher. A better product is likely to bring more media, more crowds, not less.

4 weeks of representative games. Each of these weeks dedicated to rep footy. sometimes that means only one or two games for the entire weekend. A bigger build-up to each game, every fan watching, everyone talking about the same event at the water cooler on Monday morning. It’ll be compulsory viewing. Clubs will get the same weeks off, when the spotlight shines on the rep games. 

A shorter season. Fewer injuries. Bigger crowds per game. A greater spectacle. More sponsor interest. Cheaper memberships. A better product.

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