How to save Test rugby league
Kangaroo Darren Lockyer looks for a hole in the Trans - Tasman Rugby League Test (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
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What do you think about the Test match this weekend? The talk is that nobody seems to be talking about the game at all. Instead we seem to be talking about what a fizzer it is destined to be.
Simply put, neither game is drawing much interest at all, nor is the overall anticipation level above zero.
The general consensus from fans has been that this representative weekend is really just a somewhat annoying interruption to what has been a pretty engaging first six rounds of the NRL competition.
Channel Nine is intelligently starving fans of club football this weekend so that TV ratings for the year’s two weakest (read boring and meaningless) games will still do well. What else are we going to watch?
I want to put in my two bobs’ worth opinion as a genuine armchair critic! But before you write me off as another hack ask yourself this question:
When did you last get excited about international rugby league?
For me personally it was back in the 90s. Yeah – the 90s!
I like the ‘representative round’ concept, it’s great. It’s just that the two games on offer don’t really offer very much at all, I think I might go down the pub and have a few games of darts instead!
If we really want to stick with the ‘representative round’ concept why don’t we use this to truly promote international footy.
Surely we should be taking these international games to Asia.
For example – a three-Test series between New Zealand and England might have both nations host a game each and play a third fixture somewhere in Asia – Japan? If rugby can can do it, surely so can league.
I would love to see a format that embraces a best-of-three series where the winner gets to challenge the current world champions in a one-off final played each October.
For instance, let’s assume that the Kangaroos win this year’s World Cup and New Zealand and England place second and third. Here is how it could work.
In 2014 England play New Zealand in a three-Test series throughout the regular season that now has six ‘representative rounds’ (be patient, I will explain this further shortly).
The winner of this series now goes on to challenge the Kangaroos in a one-off Test in October with the winner being deemed world champions for 2014.
The other two teams fight it out in a three-Test series the following year for the right to challenge.
Every four years we hold a World Cup that provides an opportunity for our other rugby league nations to force their way into our top three nations.
In order to accommodate six standalone ‘representative rounds’ and ensure we don’t add to the workload of our games elite I suggest the following.
- A 29-week season played From February to September including six standalone representative rounds – one per month of the regular season.
- NRL All Stars vs Indigenous All Stars (one game) in February.
- An international Test series (three games) during March, April and May.
- State of Origin (three games) in June, July and August.
- A total of 22 regular NRL rounds.
- September finals as per usual
- October – ‘World Champions’ final.
Note: City/Country to be scrapped with the trade off being that NRL commits to and subsidises 12 club games and plays them in regional centres throughout Australia/NZ/Tonga/Samoa and Papua New Guinea per season.
The new NRL structure – 22 rounds
Under this format each NRL Team plays each other at least once/per season.
The previous year’s grand finalists will receive three byes in the following season, and will be exempt from playing each other more than once with in the regular premiership rounds with the Premiers securing home ground advantage.
Teams that finish third and fourth will receive two byes and will also be exempt from playing each other more than once within the regular premiership rounds.
Teams that finish fifth and sixth will receive one bye and will also be exempt from playing each other more than once within the regular premiership rounds.
Teams that finish seventh and eighth will receive one bye and will also be exempt from playing each other more than once within the regular premiership rounds.
There is no question that this format could work and international rugby league would be the biggest beneficiary.
I admit that there is no such thing as a perfect formula and under this structure a player could potentially play up to 34 games in total in a single calender year, which is a lot of matches.
But to put this into perspective, Cameron Smith could play only a maximum of 32 games this year if this structure was in place which is exactly how many he could have played last year.
Under this structure if Australia finish the year as World Champions and Storm win the grand final Cam Smith could only play a maximum of 29 games in 2014, excluding pre-season trials.
It may be fairly extreme to suggest such massive changes to an NRL structure that is working so well, but let’s face it, we need a stronger international game and our top-tier players can only play so much footy.