Trials or pre-season cup, which is better for the NRL?

Chris Chard Columnist

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NRL player Danny Buderus during a press conference with ACT Brumbies head coach Jake White in Canberra. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

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Rugby league sceptics are always quick to label the game as being ‘predictable’.

While a few Youtube clips of Benji Marshall and more or less any Origin match are quick to dispel this myth, there is a part of the NRL more predictable than Jason Ryles giving away a penalty at the crucial moment of a match.

The pre-season.

2013 may have just ticked over, but already the headlines between now and early March can be written. Any fan knows the run sheet.

Player X is training the house down (who or what house in particular we’re never told). Team Y has a good blend of youth and experience (or in other words, ignorance and apathy). And Canberra has been tipped to come last again.

Aside from these though there’s another issue that’s on the repeat cycle, the argument over whether the NRL should put into place a pre-season tournament or continue its scatter gun trials method.

It’s a hard argument, and one that is probably tainted by nostalgia.

Ask any rugby league fan who stayed up to watch the 94 Kangaroo tour and they’ll go misty eyed talking about the Tooheys Challenge, and if you are talking about the 92 series won by the Illawarra Steelers over arguably the team of the decade in the 1992 Broncos, then I’ll happily join in with you.

This was a different time however, and whether the feel good vibes would exist for such a tournament today are questionable.

The AFL has run its pre-season cup for over 20 consecutive years, and every year it still needs to defend its legitimacy to its own fans as people moan about travel, favoured draws, player burnout etc.

On the other hand though… trials.

Every couple of years I think I’ll try KFC again. Yeah I know last time it made me ready to call the priest for my last rites, but I’m desperate and a weak man. Inevitably it ends up being just as terrible as it was previously.

That’s how I am with trials.

I go, promise I’m never going to another again, only to a couple of season later find myself paying full price to watch two teams of 40 players drop the ball and jog into the defensive line. For the spectator who can attend a season-proper NRL match, they really have no redeeming quality, save for an easy way to get autographs for the kids.

One or two like the Charity Shield are a bit more fair dinkum, but most contain a level of play painful to watch. Which is ok, I guess, considering the stage of the season, but why am I paying full price for half the quality?

As far as solutions go I don’t really have any, and would be more than happy to have the All Stars match as the only sanctioned pre-season game to get all the wacky rule experiments and new tattoos out of the way.

Those not involved can just play against their NSW Cup/Queensland Cup reggies affiliates at the training ground and let members come down to watch for free.

But if the NRL and the clubs really do want to go the more commercial route and make the pre-season a financial and development mechanism, they may as well go the whole hog by doing a proper draw, getting a naming right sponsor and a shiny trophy for the thing.

Because right now all we’ve got to lose are the half-arsed trial matches which, let’s face it, aren’t exactly up there with what the Colonel’s offering in the temptation stakes.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Vic_Arious

Chris Chard is a sports humour writer commenting on the often absurd nature of professional sport. A rugby league fan boy with a good blend of youth and experience taking things one week at a time, Chris has written for The Roar since 2011. Tweet him @Vic_Arious
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