How to fix rugby league in five easy lessons

Simon Tatz Columnist

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    There’s been plenty of chatter on The Roar and elsewhere about the problems with rugby league, and how to fix them. Here are five sure fire ways to do so.

    1. The Draw
    The NRL must be the only professional football code that doesn’t have an equitable ‘for’ and ‘away’ draw.

    Every team should play each other once at home and away. It’s ludicrous to decide the ladder positioning based on ‘for’ and ‘against’ when the draw is so inequitable.

    Each year when the draw is released I pray my team is playing here (like many fans, I live in a city but support another side). This year they’re not. And the NRL must also stop creating the draw to provide particular match-ups that suit broadcasters.

    Surely with all their millions, it cannot be beyond the NRL to produce an equitable draw? Just once.

    Alex Green Brisbane Broncos NRL Rugby League 2016

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    2. Technology
    The Bunker needs to be guided by principles and philosophy, similar to other judicial systems (e.g. innocent until proven guilty). The decision made by the on-field referee, as bad as that may be, should stand unless the Bunker can provide absolute irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

    This should be decided within a time frame (say, 30-45 seconds) with a limit on the use of slow-motion replays.

    No human sees sport in slow-motion, and zoom lenses distort angles, perspective and separation of ball from hand. Limit slow-mo to two replays and the rest in real time – if they cannot determine categorically the ref made a mistake, then the ref’s decision stands.

    The Bunker must also have a consistent interpretation of ‘obstruction’.

    3. Coverage
    The coverage of league is, at times, amateurish, boorish and downright embarrassing. Channel Nine has become a club of in-house jokes and inane banter that more times than not has bugger all to do with the game.

    They talk crap – about other shows, the races, a game they saw in the 16th century, a player’s origami hobby; whatever it is it’s not the game viewers are watching.

    Most games, Nine doesn’t even provide an update on replacements so viewers have no idea who is on the field and their position.

    Fox is vastly superior, but it’s free-to-air that is the lifeblood of the NRL. A good comparison is the way cricket’s Big Bash on Ten is so much more entertaining and analytical than the staid, dull old boys of Nine’s cricket coverage.

    Print media needs improvement too. League is a 17-man game. Interchanges are no longer ‘bench players’, they often play the same if not more minutes than run-on players.

    Yet the Daily Telegraph and other media highlight the names and statistics of the starting 13, adding the four interchanges as if they are a footnote. The way league is presented to fans is important, yet neither the TV nor print media have adopted to the modern game.

    Players too want to be in the starting 13 because of the way the interchange is disregarded; and many switch clubs with the promise of a starting position, even though they may play no more game time than as an interchange.

    4. Salary cap, transfers and signings
    It frustrates fans more than anything else to see loyal players leave, or sign to another club, mid-season. We also cannot understand how some clubs remain under the salary cap when their team roster bears an uncanny likeness to a Test or Origin side; while others field a team of hard working but inferior players.

    How can they all be operating under the same transparent system? For years, it’s been argued that long-term players be exempt from the cap. Without transparency and changes, fans will continue to be disillusioned and believe the cap is inequitably enforced.

    James Tedesco running during Origin

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    5. Stadiums and attendance
    Going to the footy isn’t cheap, so for the price paid you expect to be treated with a modicum of respect or appreciation. For my partner and I, it’s a $100 outing. For that, we get to park in a dirt, barely lit field with no attendants or assistance to help navigate the traffic jam.

    In wet weather, it’s a swamp. The stadium is old, cold with legroom for a six-year-old. The food tastes like Korean War surplus stock and there are no options for anything that isn’t comprised salt and fat.

    The toilets are manky and the ‘entertainment’ is a bunch of frost-bitten teenager girls parading around in miniskirts and sexual innuendo. It’s no wonder a crowd of 12,000 is a cause for celebration.

    Every week TV viewers see a near deserted ANZ Stadium with a few fans seated far and wide, as if there’s a BO contagion. It’s embarrassing – a big empty atmosphere less colosseum; like Gladiator without the lions and spears, and Rusty Crowe played by Clive Palmer.

    The reason AAMI Park (Storm) and Suncorp Stadium (Broncos) attract huge crowds is not just the quality of the teams (that helps) or being the only league team in a major city (that helps), it’s because they have excellent public transport, good amenities, reasonable food options, better seating and they treat the fans well.

    Tickets need to be similar to movie prices (around $20), parking and public transport must be provided; and something novel and radical, like food that is healthy and edible.

    Simon Tatz
    Simon Tatz

    Simon Tatz is the former sports adviser to the Federal Labor Party and the Australian Greens. He has written about ethics and sport and been a contributor to The Drum.