SHOWDOWN: Queensland's Dylan Napa and Coen Hess wrap up Blake Ferguson during game two of the 2017 State-of-Origin series. The issue of player burnout and game scheduling has risen yet again with solution to the problem in sight.
SHOWDOWN: Queensland's Dylan Napa and Coen Hess wrap up Blake Ferguson during game two of the 2017 State-of-Origin series. The issue of player burnout and game scheduling has risen yet again with solution to the problem in sight. DAN HIMBRECHTS

The future of NRL remains cloudy and uncertain

THIS all began with Laurie Daley saying last week it was cruel to ask Origin players to back up for their clubs.

Suddenly, everybody came forth with their big idea, hatched under a dim bulb, and off we went.

Before we go any further it is best to understand that rugby league is not a game void of ideas.

Indeed, too often we go the other way.

We take on every good idea and squeeze them together without ever appreciating that the secret to a souffle is just the right amount of sugar and salt, not as much as you can shovel in.

Daley's comments shined a light on scheduling and so the natural next step was to find a way to lessen the workload on players. Stand alone Origin weekends emerged as the popular choice, not for the first time.

Good idea.

Instead of playing Origin on a Wednesday, they whizzed, let's play it on a weekend and suspend the home and away competition for that weekend.

It was an opportunity to make player welfare a priority and give everybody a chance to rest.

That suited everybody until it didn't.

Just one game the entire weekend?

Do that and we are opening the door to the NRL's natural rivals, the AFL, to schedule blockbuster games in Sydney and Brisbane as part of their planned infiltration of traditional rugby league strongholds.

So back they came again, the thinkers, and presented with all that vacant landscape they could not help themselves and so they proposed international games across the rest of the weekend. Fiji and Samoa, New Zealand and Tonga. NSW and Queensland country teams playing each other, the State Cup rep teams filling whatever hole was left.

We could take the games to the bush and have our own little international festival.

It was beautiful.

Until it wasn't.

The rest everybody was promoting was no longer a rest because the club competition was still suffering.

One idea bumps into another and the roll is unstoppable.

The conversation then drifted where it usually does, about scheduling and Brisbane's advantage being a one-town club and the seven day turnaround it regularly affords them, because of television ratings, and so quickly we were on to fixing that as well.

We went through it all on Triple M on Sunday and then yesterday Phil Rothfield rolled the grenade in the room by suggesting a Sydney club has to go, it could be any club except Cronulla, and off we went again.

Of course he is right.

And meanwhile the NRL sits back saying nothing and we realise it is because it has nothing to say.

Nobody knows what the NRL landscape will look like in 50 years. Nobody knows what it will look like in 20 years or even five years.

At some point the NRL has to acknowledge the game needs to grow and planning must begin now.

Everybody believes the game will be a national competition in 50 years.

It is something former NRL boss Dave Smith recognised five minutes into the job. Yet Smith knew his history well enough to know it was dangerous to force a club to relocate and alienate all those fans.

Smith reasoned it was basic logic.

If you dreamt up a National Rugby League now, would you put nine clubs in Sydney and one each in Brisbane, Melbourne, Townsville, Auckland, Gold Coast, Canberra and Newcastle while Perth and Adelaide remained NRL free?

Of course not.

 

KEY ADDITION: Melbourne Storm are kicking goals deep in the AFL heartland.
KEY ADDITION: Melbourne Storm are kicking goals deep in the AFL heartland. DAVID MARIUZ

The Bradley Report followed in August 1992, saying relocation of some Sydney clubs was the only viable solution.

The problem was how to implement it, an idea that became redundant when Super League broke in 1995.

Doesn't mean the problem went away, though.

Smith, not tied by tradition, recognised it and considered a quieter strategy.

The plan was to allow natural competition to take course. Let the clubs spend until one became financially vulnerable and went to the NRL for support.

The NRL would save the club from closing, but only if it agreed to voluntarily relocate.

At the same time the NRL was offering a $15 million incentive for any club that relocated.

The NRL's club of choice was Cronulla.

 

STANDING TALL: The Cronulla Sharks have proved to be one of Sydney's and the NRL's most viable clubs despite a rocky past.
STANDING TALL: The Cronulla Sharks have proved to be one of Sydney's and the NRL's most viable clubs despite a rocky past. CRAIG GOLDING

The Sharks have now insured themselves, though, through developments that make it one of Sydney's more financially viable clubs.

Meanwhile the game is suffering financially, so the $15 million is no longer there, and the game has no plan for its future.

So, if a national competition is in everybody's 50-year vision, when does it begin?

What are the steps towards attaining it?

If the game remains in current markets its growth is minimal and the AFL, with its own expansion, will continue gouging huge chunks of NRL heartland until it is all theirs.

So why would the NRL consider a second team in Brisbane, where it already dominates the market and would only weaken the Broncos' stronghold, before it has teams in Perth or Adelaide or wherever they plan to go?

A national competition is vital.

It enriches the broadcast deal. It allows clubs to sell their brand as a national product. It opens the door to bigger sponsors looking for national exposure.

At some point the game has to return to its future.

News Corp Australia

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