Anzac Day clash shows rugby league’s value on the big stage

Greg Prichard Columnist

By Greg Prichard, Greg Prichard is a Roar Expert

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    Imagine an NRL where every day was Anzac Day, at least in terms of the size of the crowd. How good would that be?

    I hate to call it a pipe-dream, but as far as ambitions go it’s a huge one. Still, no-one ever got to the top by aiming for the middle.

    As a big NFL fan myself, the thing that always hits me straight away with that competition – either watching on television or at the game – is the packed stadium.

    I’ve been to Gillette Stadium at Foxborough to see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning go head-to-head for the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. I was lucky enough to go to a Super Bowl as well. NFL games are bona fide events.

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

    Generally, the closest we get to that sort of level here is with the AFL, and they, of course, have their own Anzac Day extravaganza with the Essendon-Collingwood match. A crowd of 87,685 attended that game at the MCG.

    But the NRL has something very special itself with the Anzac Day game between Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra at Allianz Stadium.

    Every year, the tradition grows stronger. This year, a crowd of 40,864 attended and it was another mighty occasion. Watching on TV or at the ground, this clash draws you in and grips you for the 80 minutes – or even longer, as it turned out on this occasion.

    The way it ended, with Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce slotting an extra-time field goal, was stunning in itself because of Pearce’s well-documented previous run of outs in the field goal-kicking department.

    But it was also the last play of a game that had been great as a whole.

    Big crowds and electric atmospheres can make average games seem like good ones, and good ones appear great.

    But the Anzac Day clash has developed to a stage where it doesn’t need help to be a great match. The atmosphere just adds to it. The players are clearly honoured and feel lucky to be an active part of such a big day on the Australian calendar.

    It really is like a finals game in April.

    Unlike the AFL, the NRL prefers to go with more than one Anzac Day game every year. I’d be OK with the Roosters-Dragons match being the only one, but at least the other one has an Australia-New Zealand flavour with Melbourne playing the Warriors.

    Aidan Guerra celebrates a try against the Dragons

    That was a pretty good game as well, but it still didn’t quite have what the Roosters-Dragons game has got. It has the massive event feel.

    The trick is to transform more NRL games into bigger occasions, so there are more genuine events.

    I don’t profess to have the brilliant answer as to how this can be done, although shortening the competition by a few rounds from the existing 26 would help. The less games there are, the more meaningful each game becomes.

    I’m not talking about reducing it to something like the 17 rounds of the NFL, but that competition is a great example because every game is crucial.

    The point is, you can always do things better. You’ve just got to find the right way.

    The Anzac Day game is up there on a pedestal, where it should be. It’s a big occasion, an event. But in the space of 26 rounds there has to be scope for more big occasions, more events.

    We’ve just got to find the key to establishing them.

    Greg Prichard
    Greg Prichard

    Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. Twitter: @gregprichard

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    The Crowd Says (42)

    • April 26th 2017 @ 7:26am
      I ate pies said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

      The key to establishing the big games is crowds. You’ve got to find a way to convince Sydneysiders to turn up to the footy. That’s what makes games events in the AFL and in the NFL; people turn up. It’s that simple.
      If you want event footy try playing the games in Brisbane; at least people will turn up there.

    • April 26th 2017 @ 7:50am
      Agent11 said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      NFL and AFL are cultural events in themselves. League is as good a product as any but it’s not a cultural event to go to a League game unless its a special game like ANZAC day. League is seen as easy entertainment I think, which is why its TV numbers are so massive compared to the live attendance. There’s also the issues with Sydney transport and playing games in all corners of the city every week. Hopefully with the future stadium upgrades the NRL can get more consistent and larger crowds.

      • Roar Pro

        April 26th 2017 @ 11:42am
        Alexander Clough said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        Definitely agree with the transport issue – which is endemic to Sydney as a whole.
        Brisbane has free busses from all over the city straight to the games, not to mention a local train station. Then you’ve got Caxton Street before and after games.
        Melbourne is just Melbourne when it comes to the proximity of Docklands and Olympic Park to the city and other hubs.
        Whereas you go to ANZ and there’s nothing there to build an atmosphere around. SFS is an absolute pig to get to and feels very dry outside the stadium.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 26th 2017 @ 2:42pm
          William Dalton Davis said | April 26th 2017 @ 2:42pm | ! Report

          Good old Caxton street. If anything it hinders crowds. Whatever the crowd is at a broncos game there’s at least 10x that in Caxton street pubs. Even more on an origin night. By comparison ANZ has the novotel.

    • April 26th 2017 @ 7:57am
      Oingo Boingo said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Sitting in WA watching that game last night , me n the missus were so disappointed that we didn’t make plans in advance and go over for the game .
      It had an almost grand final feel about it .
      I imagine I’d be nursing a pretty average head this morning if I had but it would have been a fantastic experience and worth every bit of the pain.

    • April 26th 2017 @ 7:58am
      Jimmmy said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      I thought both ANZAC day games were excellent. The Dragons game was not flashy by any means but boy was it tough. Those guys went at it for the full 80 and gave us an enthralling contest. Great to see . When Rugby League is played with that intensity there is no better game on the planet. The Storm game was also high intensity and while I always thought they would win the Warriors were playing well enough to snatch it from them up to the end.
      I think the players do react to the big crowds so it is a little chicken and egg . The intensity goes up with the crowd and often you get a better game. The crowd often create the game. The solution. Just go to the footy, you will make the game better.

    • April 26th 2017 @ 9:13am
      AGO74 said | April 26th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      It’s a big event but it’s a 4pm kickoff on which also helps. I wonder what the crowd would be if it was given a 7.50pm kick off? I reckon it’d be 10,000 less at least. Given the majority of NRL games are at this time and/or on a Thursday/Friday night this gives an indicator as to why crowds are not as good as they should be. And that’s without commenting on the Olympic stadium!

      • April 26th 2017 @ 11:25am
        Boz said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        Absolutely. More day time football please.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 26th 2017 @ 11:34am
          At work said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          Let’s look at next rounds scheduling as a comparison:

          AFL: 6 (out of 9) are afternoon games, i.e start before 5pm
          NRL: 3 (out of 8) are afternoon games which start before 5pm.

          Speaks for itself really

    • Roar Rookie

      April 26th 2017 @ 9:27am
      At work said | April 26th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      Considering the AFL are in the top 5 average attended leagues in the world says it shouldn’t be a pipe dream. I find it hard to get behind their hysteria in Melbourne but they certainly do this much better than the NRL. What can we learn from them to take on board in the NRL, does Todd Greenburg even care??

      Is it because;
      – We are more of a TV product, or
      – because we play too many rounds, or because
      – Origin hurts the competition, or because
      – We keep changing rules and love to complain about the sport or the refs as much as we enjoy our teams

      We shouldn’t be satisfied with a 15-16k average across the league considering the absolute juggernaut TV ratings achieves. It’s obvious people like the league, why don’t they turn up in bigger numbers…

      • April 26th 2017 @ 10:37am
        Perry Bridge said | April 26th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

        #At Work

        I do think that Origin hurts – that’s the first thing I though of when the author mused “The trick is to transform more NRL games into bigger occasions, so there are more genuine events.”

        That’s Origin.

        For about 6 weeks the H&A club competition is devalued in the extreme.

        The AFL is often criticised for their ‘Blockbuster’ games/fixturing. This though is often seen as a Melbourne/Vic centricity however outside of Vic the AFL ensure that each interstate pair of clubs face off to each other twice each year – effectively providing a home derby match each. The nearest the NRL gets to that outside of NSW/QLD is for Storm to host the Warriors.

        re TV product – perhaps. re rule changes – that’s not unique to the NRL. Too many rounds – well – my view on that is yes, especially because of SoO (why play 3 games??).

        re a day like Anzac Day – well, the AFL has now been running these games since 1995 (Ess v Coll at the MCG). It has now become a tradition – – so, things like that, generally need a bit of ‘bedding down’. The game itself is often secondary. I like neither club – but, when attending dawn service at the Shrine – to see the number of fans with their scares there already – all set for a massive, long and highly respectful day – you can’t help but be impressed.

        It helps that Melb is less splintered in the premier footy code perspective than is Sydney. The MCG on Anzac day is centre stage – – in Sydney it’s unlikely that the soccer or RU folk will be pencilling in the NRL clash in their calendars.

        Some things just take time to evolve. Ironically then – the ANZAC eve clash Rich v Melb with 85K was almost the greater spectacle (a good argument for AFL to push the GF later) – and this has had less time to ‘bed down’ but perhaps is able to ascend to greater heights quicker on the back of the established tradition.

        2 games on the day – ANZAC day can be good and bad – depends largely what day of the week it falls upon.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 26th 2017 @ 11:21am
          At work said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

          @PerryBridge

          Agree that Melbourne is less splintered; AFL 1st and daylight 2nd.

          But if we go off TV ratings at least, you would think Sydney loves their rugby league, unfortunately the crowds don’t back it up…

          There’s lot’s to do and there’s no silver bullet, but it just seems the NRL aren’t too concerned by their lack of crowd growth over the past 20 years.

          Cheers

          • April 26th 2017 @ 11:45am
            Perry Bridge said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            #At work

            The crowd growth is tied to membership growth. It took a while for the NRL to catch on. But – when you play a lot of games at 20K capacity local venues then there’s a logical limit on memberships.

            The pain of ground rationalisation in the AFL has been over come by virtue that it is the peoples game and generally if you want to go – you can go – you might be seated up on level 3 but so be it.

            The interesting thing with the AFL in recent years was the move of TV to go head to head live – so, even in Melbourne on a Friday night – the game is beamed into Melb live (both FTA and Foxtel) and yet people are still going in good to very good to great numbers.

            Is it purely because the game is better seen live at the venue? Or is the TV commentary so hated that we’d rather be at the ground with the trannie on and ear plug in one ear.

            • Roar Rookie

              April 26th 2017 @ 11:52am
              At work said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

              True on rugby leagues smaller grounds; as much as ANZ is hated, the clubs which use it have all seen increase in their average gate.

              I can see that once ANZ stadium is redone to a proper rectangle stadium and slightly smaller capacity (~75k I think) then it should be another boost the the teams which use that ground.

              Safe to say that AFL is a better live experience then on TV. I commented on a another thread today comparing the different sports in terms of live vs TV viewership.

            • April 26th 2017 @ 4:39pm
              Baz said | April 26th 2017 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

              AFL is much better live than league

      • April 26th 2017 @ 10:33pm
        Jeff Dustby said | April 26th 2017 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

        It’s the competition between the rugby codes

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