Rugby league has never been in better shape
The Melbourne Storm's Ryan Hoffman (right) is congratulated after scoring a try against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs during the NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Today I read two articles from my esteemed colleagues, Paul Kent and Curtis Woodward, about the supposedly poor state of the NRL and its governing body, the Australian Rugby League Commission.
They echoed some scathing articles written recently by some reporters at The Daily Telegraph.
This relentless focus on the negative is a distortion of something which should be clear to anyone who not only watches the games, but is also prepared to take a look at the metrics used to define growth and success.
The quality, skill and athleticism of the players has never been greater. Yes, the play-the-ball needs to be sped up. But that doesn’t negate the entertainment that is provided to us on a weekly basis.
The TV rights deal is tremendous. These writers abandoned that bit of good news as soon as it was professionally feasible to do so.
Crowds have been on an upward trajectory for years now. Are there tiny peaks and valleys? Of course. But the trend is upward, and with clubs prepared to play more games at larger stadia while also attracting thousands of new members annually, the growth curve will continue.
The TV ratings are outstanding. League is simply dominant in this area.
Junior numbers are up. The AFL is not making the inroads it led us all to believe, as reported by Roy Masters recently in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Aussie Rules will always be a presence, but the ARLC has committed itself to strengthening the grassroots and now has the finances to do it.
Let us not forget that Melbourne recently blooded the first ever player to be developed within the local Victorian system, Mahe Fonua. This is an enormous development for our game and has been almost completely ignored.
Finally, we have a commission and it has made the right decision in almost every instance with regard to issues both on and off the field.
Installing the new finals system this year bore immediate dividends, with the top four teams facing off in the penultimate week of the season.
Resisting the urge to raise the salary cap beyond $5 million was a prudent decision, as was putting a hold on expansion – for now. This commission is dedicated to ensuring all 16 clubs are strong before league makes its inevitable move to the West, and possibly further south into New Zealand.
Yes, the season ended in deflating fashion with the James Graham biting incident and the Bulldogs’ Mad Monday fiasco. Many questioned the ‘absence’ of the commission in dealing with these issues.
Yet Graham received a lengthy suspension and the Bulldogs players were fined – a directive that came straight from the NRL. Any argument that their ‘voluntary donation’ of $30,000 was indeed voluntary is a fantasy.
Yes, more can be done to change the sexist hooliganism that exists in the game, but rugby league’s governing body was not silent.
Finally, there has been much criticism of the delay in hiring a new CEO for the game. This is nonsense. John Grant has merely shown restraint, and this approach will bear fruit with the very best person being given the job.
Rugby League received its biggest ever payday in 2012 because it has never been in better shape. The game will continue to grow, despite those who persist in focusing on the negatives.