With the release of the draw for the 2014 season looming, here are some thoughts and ideas that the NRL should consider as the game only starts to grow much bigger and better after what could only be described as a dominant 2013 season by the Sydney Roosters.
It is now known that the Roosters and Rabbitohs will lock horns in Round 1, as they have done all but once since the Rabbitohs were re-admitted to the NRL in 2002.
The only time in which there was not a season opener between the two old rivals was in 2003, when the Roosters, back then the defending premiers, opened against the Parramatta Eels.
Next year, the Roosters will almost certainly receive the first acid test of their premiership defence when they take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs, once again in the first round of the 2014 season.
That match will kick off the season on the first Thursday night of March, as it did last year.
It has also been reported that the Brisbane Broncos, headlined by none other than Ben Barba, will kick off what should be a new era in the club’s history against the club he departed in acrimonious circumstances last year, the Bulldogs.
After a disappointing 2013 season which saw the club out of the finals for only the second time since 1991, the Broncos responded by aggressively recruiting Barba, Martin Kennedy (from the Roosters), Todd Lowrie (Warriors), Daniel Vidot (Dragons) and Stewart Mills (Sharks), among others.
Anthony Milford could also be headed north, but the Raiders are looking at offering him a lucrative $1 million contract to keep him in the nation’s capital.
It’s understood though that Milford desperately wants to return home to care for his seriously ill father.
Here are some other thoughts and ideas the NRL should consider for at least the upcoming season and beyond.
In recent times, the NRL have taken games beyond the boundaries of league territory, including to Cairns, Darwin, Mackay, Adelaide, Wellington and even Perth’s Patersons Stadium.
From next year (or maybe from 2015 onwards), the league should start considering taking premiership matches to Tasmania and Geelong for the first time, as they try to combat the AFL and its strong presence in those two areas.
The Melbourne Storm would be an ideal team for the NRL to feature in their venture to those two areas.
Simonds Stadium in Geelong has recently been redeveloped, allowing for night games to be played at the venue. The seating capacity of the venue has also been increased to 33,500, which is 3,000 more than the Storm’s current ground, AAMI Park.
The AFL qualifying final between Geelong and Fremantle attracted 32,815 spectators. It’s highly unlikely though that such a crowd would be achieved at a Storm home game at the venue, unless the Storm and the NRL promote the game in the Geelong area aggressively.
Aurora Stadium in Launceston has a capacity of 21,000, while Bellerive Oval seats up to 16,200. That’s two good venues which the NRL can use should they venture into Tasmania in the near future.
It could also prove to be the first building brick towards an unlikely Tasmanian bid to have their own NRL team, though if that were to happen, both venues would have to be redeveloped.
It would be great to finally see some NRL matches being played in Tasmania and Geelong, so the locals can learn and understand the game of rugby league.
Potential opponents for this move could include the Bulldogs, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Gold Coast Titans or Canberra Raiders, to name a few.
Also, in the same manner that the AFL’s Sydney Swans take their blockbuster games to ANZ Stadium and the A-League’s Melbourne Victory host their big matches at Etihad Stadium, the Melbourne Storm should follow suit and relocate some potentially big matches to the much larger Docklands venue.
Ideal opponents could include modern-day rivals the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, the Brisbane Broncos, and this year’s premiers, the Sydney Roosters.
There are also some grudge matches that a lot of fans will also want to look forward to in 2014, none more so than the grand final rematch between the Sydney Roosters and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
The first rematch should be held early in the season, most likely within the first five rounds of the season and held on a Thursday night, where not just the crowd, but also the television audience, will be very high.
As this would be a grand final rematch, it would be practical to either have it back at ANZ Stadium, just like the Panthers did for their grand final rematch against the Roosters back in 2004, or at Allianz Stadium, the Roosters’ home ground, given how high the crowds are expected to be.
The Suncorp Stadium Friday night double header, which was notably absent from the fixture this year, should also return.
The Brisbane Broncos would play the first match, against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, while the second match would be between the Gold Coast Titans and another yet-to-be-determined opponent, likely to be either the Bulldogs or the Sea Eagles, who in 2011 took their home game to Broncos territory for a convincing 34-10 victory.
This initiative, first launched in 2009, would earn Channel Nine a knockout victory in the ratings in Queensland and New South Wales, and also possibly sell-out.
With Queensland hosting two State of Origin games this year, it could be a post-celebration to what could potentially be the Maroons’ ninth consecutive State of Origin series, should the double-header be played after the third (and possibly deciding) Origin match.
Traditional rivals should also meet twice during the season – but the best matches should be saved for well away from the dreaded State of Origin period.
As an example, this year’s Bulldogs versus Roosters match at ANZ Stadium was robbed of its star power due to Origin, although the match saw Sonny Bill Williams step foot onto ANZ Stadium for the first time since walking out on the Bulldogs in 2008.
The match attracted only 20,275 spectators, though it could so easily have been more than double than that had the match not been played in an Origin-affected weekend.
To add more spice, if there were to be two meetings between the two rivals in 2014, the first should be held within the first seven rounds of the season, with the second to be held in the final round, to possibly serve as a finals warm-up for both teams.
That said, the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm should meet at Suncorp Stadium, either as the first match of the aforementioned double-header, or two days after the first State of Origin match, which will be held in the Sunshine City this year.
It would serve Queensland fans a double-dose of their favourite stars, ranging from Sam Thaiday to Corey Parker to the Storm’s spine that is Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.
The city of Brisbane would also still be in celebration mode after the first State of Origin match, regardless of the result.
And finally, as ANZAC Day falls on a Friday next year, it would be practical for Channel Nine to televise both the Dragons versus Roosters and the Storm versus Warriors matches on the same day.
This year, the network televised this year’s edition of the Roosters versus Dragons showdown despite the match being played on a Thursday afternoon, in which case Fox Sports would have the rights.
However, as part of the new television rights signed off last year, the free-to-air station picked up the broadcasting rights to the match for the next five years in order to combat Seven televising the AFL fixture between Essendon and Collingwood, which also sells out and rates highly.
As Nine also have the rights to two further matches across a standard round, it would also be practical to televise the Storm versus Warriors in the evening, with the match starting later at 7:45pm (from its traditional 7:00pm) to meet the contract.
This would give league fans a double-dose of ANZAC Day action, as the NRL combats the AFL and their recently launched ANZAC Night match in New Zealand, which involves St Kilda.
Ratings-wise, ANZAC Day next year could prove to be a spicy one in the battle for ratings between Nine and Seven. Nine, though, may have the upper hand in Sydney and Brisbane, as the AFL is televised on 7mate in those two cities, while it’s the reverse in the southern states – whereby the NRL is televised on GEM and the AFL on Seven.
Those are many of the thoughts and ideas the NRL should consider as they look to expand the game in the near future.
Roarers, what do you think?