Retro-grade: NRL wind back clock for bumper match days
Peter V'landys has a new mission for 2021 - to bring back all three grades.
The ARLC chairman and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo's mandate to give the game back to the fans is set to continue with the return of reserve grade and under-21s games before NRL matches.
In a throwback to rugby league's halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s, when fans could follow the development of a rookie from the lower grades into a star of first grade, the NRL brains trust has been in talks with all 16 clubs about the return of "all three grades" this season.
The NRL is "down the track" with corresponding state leagues from the NSWRL and QRL on relaunching the model that will provide footy fans with the opportunity to watch three games inside the same stadium.
The NRL is acutely aware of the financial impact the model may have on some clubs, but believes that returning the lower grades to game day is viable.
Saturday and Sunday match days have been identified as the most likely starting point for the return of the reserve grade and under-21s matches, when possible.
"The concept of having fans being able to see up-and-coming and younger talent in the feeder competitions, or even a superstar making their comeback from injury, we believe that is a great project for us to work on,'' Abdo said.
"We play NRL matches on Thursday to Sunday and some of the logistical arrangements with aligning the draw with the NSW Cup and Queensland Cup on a Thursday or Friday night, due to a large majority of the players still working jobs, could be problematic.
"But on a Saturday or Sunday, being able to align the draws of the NSW and Queensland Cup, makes sense and we are working on it.
"There's not a lot of resistance to it. It's just about aligning who is affiliated to which club and getting the draw to work.
"We're receiving the co-operation that we need from both the NSWRL and QRL."
Abdo said the NRL had spoken to host broadcasters Fox Sports and Nine about their mission to bring the stars of the future back into the schedule of an NRL game day.
"That's what we're working on,'' Abdo said. "We want it broadcast, so we're working with everyone, including Fox Sports and Nine, to see which games could be broadcast.
"We're working with the NSWRL and the QRL to try and optimise the draw so that when Penrith play, their reserve grade team and possibly under-20s are also playing before on the Saturday.
"We're hoping to get up to 30 or 40 (lower grade) games this season to maximise that outcome for fans.
"There's something in there for everyone. It's much easier in NSW. In Queensland it's a bit trickier because the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans are aligned with Queensland Cup clubs, but it's not impossible and we're working on it.
"There's not a lot of resistance to it.''
Some of the game's most gifted players, including Arthur Beetson, Graham Eadie, Phil Blake, Des Hasler, Andrew Johns, David Peachey and Mat Rogers, had already developed a fan following in the lower grades long before they made their first grade or NRL debuts.
V'landys, as evidenced by his polarising rule changes, has made no secret of his desire to return the game to the fans.
He said fans would be excited to be able to watch the game's next generation of players.
"It's very important that there is vertical integration to get into the NRL, like it used to be, which is the under-21s, into reserve grade, into first grade,'' V'landys said.
"You only need to look at these Facebook forums where they put the teams up from years gone by to see all the players that were in the under-21s and reserve grade that ended up in first grade.
"To me it's a priority. We have to look at it. Obviously, like anything, when you want to make a change there's resistance, but Andrew is talking to the clubs about all those pros and cons.''
Originally published as Retro-grade: NRL wind back clock for bumper match days