Actually, NRL is in the shape of its life

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The Sharks looking dejected during the round 25 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Cronulla Sharks. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan

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I recently sat down with my father and watched the 1981 NRL grand final between Parramatta and Newtown. While it certainly provided rich nostalgia (place-kicks for touch, the old SCG, Rex Mossop’s mind-numbing commentary), I got up from the couch in awe of how far rugby league has come as a spectacle.

In short, it’s now the most entertaining sport in the world.

Not to take anything away from the Sterlings, Kennys and Prices of the 1980s, (had they been raised in today’s league environment, they’d be just as dominant), but the game today has travelled light years; it is now the perfect blend of legal violence, skill, speed and theatre.

League leads the sporting world in self-correction, with rule changes the norm at the end of every season.

So, in the words of Axl Rose (and I’m not even a Gunners fan), where do we go now?

Let’s assume the NRL does land a billion-dollar-plus TV rights deal, which it absolutely should, given the way it dominates the top 100 broadcasts every single year.

Concerning the product we see on the field every week, not far. The game is fantastic as it now stands. It is our work off the field which must be near-perfect for the game to grow significantly.

In terms of expansion, Perth must round out the national aspect of the league. And the team must be properly supported by the NRL, unlike the Reds, who were never given a chance.

Forget the Central Coast; the greater Sydney area is too congested as it is. Instead, there must be two Brisbane teams – the current situation is absurd. And we shouldn’t wait very long to introduce another Kiwi venture.

New Zealand is ripe for the picking. Remember, Benji Marshall played rugby at one point – let’s keep siphoning off more teenagers just like him.

Where there’s expansion, there must also be contraction. Cronulla should relocate to Perth. The team simply doesn’t have the appeal, corporate support, or fan-base to add much value to the comp where it is. Goodbye, Sharkies.

Salary cap exemptions should have been made more broadly available decades ago (think Canberra, 1991). Any player developed within a club’s own system should get a massive exemption from the cap. Champion teams are great for the game, as are one-club, franchise players.

Then there’s junior funding. With a billion clams in the bank, the NRL should go for broke on juniors. Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, country regions, Pacific Islands. Just flood them with cash and quality administrators. That investment will reap huge rewards down the line.

Mid-season signings have to go. Folks, if Major League Baseball doesn’t have players signing with other clubs for the following season before their current year is over, there’s no reason for NRL fans to tolerate this farce. Make it illegal for players to negotiate. Period.

These are just a few things we can do to strengthen the game. But make no mistake – our game is special right now, and in good hands. The trick from here is to know when to act and when to sit back and just enjoy it.

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