How to fix rugby league in five easy lessons

Simon Tatz Columnist

By Simon Tatz, Simon Tatz is a Roar Expert New author!

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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.

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    The Crowd Says (101)

    • July 9th 2017 @ 6:27am
      soapit said | July 9th 2017 @ 6:27am | ! Report

      hard to argue with anything there

      • July 9th 2017 @ 9:53am
        Dom said | July 9th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        I’ll do my best!

        1) Having a full for-and-away draw means a 30-week regular season, plus more weeks for Origin (whether there are split rounds or standalone weekends), plus a four-week finals series. There are already complaints that the season’s too long, so extending it further’s probably out of the question.

        Yes, the current draw isn’t equitable and that would be unforgivable if the league champion was decided by the home-and-away season, but as there’s a finals series at the end it hardly matters that much, does it?

        2) For the most part that’s how the bunker works already. When they can’t say for certain that the on-field decision is wrong, they let it stand. And it’s much quicker with decisions than the old system. Of course the humans in the bunker can make the wrong call, but that’s a fact with human nature and the bunker system means we get more correct decisions than we used to (we just notice it more when a wrong decision is made because of the hype around the Bunker).

        3) I won’t defend Channel Nine’s coverage so point three stands.

        4) Again, great point on transparency with the salary cap. I fear the third-party system in place at the moment means things aren’t as equal as fans would like so it’s not in the league’s best interest to make things transparent, but that should obviously change.

        5) Increasing footy crowds is a difficult one that I reckon comes down to more than ticket prices but whoever comes up with a solution to that one is a genius.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 9th 2017 @ 9:58am
          William Dalton Davis said | July 9th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          As for 3 it isn’t a rugby league issue it’s a channel 9 issue. The NRL doesn’t get a say on how the game is covered just on who covers it, and considering that the only real competition for the FTA rights is 10 (no money) and 7 (wall to wall AFL) I’d say that 9 is there to stay.

          • July 9th 2017 @ 12:54pm
            Dom said | July 9th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

            Yeah exactly. That also goes for “there should be better public transport, etc” in the point about crowds – ie. it’s not all in the NRL’s hands.

          • July 9th 2017 @ 10:30pm
            Alex L said | July 9th 2017 @ 10:30pm | ! Report

            It’s not just nine. Two words: Steve Roach.

    • July 9th 2017 @ 7:19am
      Justin Kearney said | July 9th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      Agree with all of this except i would go with one ref and no bunker.

    • July 9th 2017 @ 7:38am
      Cam from Brisbane said | July 9th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      Agree with you there mate.

      I feel it is the little things that can help the game grow.

      Kick off times – need to be the same each weekend, if the kick off time is say 8.05pm for a Friday, the NRL nees to enforce this with the broadcasters. 9 im looking at you.

      Games at stadiums like ANZ, why not just make kids under 16 free. Tickets should be no more than $20. Allow fans on to the ground after the game has ended, so kids can kick a ball around.

      Crowds outside Sydney seem to be pretty good this year.

      • July 9th 2017 @ 10:50pm
        Your kidding said | July 9th 2017 @ 10:50pm | ! Report

        ANZ pretty much pays clubs to play there. How much longer they’ll continue to be so generous to struggling NRL clubs I’m not so sure. But I don’t think ANZ will make tickets cheaper.

        • July 11th 2017 @ 8:24am
          Crosscoder said | July 11th 2017 @ 8:24am | ! Report

          ANZ needs attendee input.The less game played there the more chance it becomes a white elephant to them Govt.
          Think their bean counters would have assessed paying NRL to clubs X amount to play there ,is financially better than having no one.
          Reconfigure the bloated area to a rectangular 75,000 seat stadium, with decent covered better scheduling and the crowds will increase.And will increase further if the Souths,Bulldogs wirth decent followings perform better on the field.SAnd they won’t have to pay clubs to play there.

      • July 10th 2017 @ 9:03pm
        Raugeee said | July 10th 2017 @ 9:03pm | ! Report

        Why play at ANZ at all. RL is meant for intimate to medium size grounds. I really feel for fans and members of clubs who have home games there. Cold winter nights. 20,000 and it still seems empty. I would even play SOO at SFS – everyone could spill out and continue the fun at the local venues. Lang Park is a perfect ground, fortunately for Queensland. Sydney fans deserve so much better.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 9th 2017 @ 7:54am
      Dave_S said | July 9th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      Seriously Simon, you’re a former sports advisor to the GREENS? – no offence meant, I just think that’s funny, like being an architecture advisor to the NRL ☺

      Bunker, bunker, bunker… Always a tough one. Firstly “innocent until proven guilty” is the criminal standard of proof, far more appropriate to apply the civil law standard: balance of probabilities.

      What you’re really talking about is like judicial appeals courts – do we want the bunker looking only for truly unreasonable errors of fact (not seeing what actually occurred) or do we want them re-deciding the matter (like the AAT) as if they are the on field ref?

      There seems to be a hybrid approach, which I don’t thinks works too well, but putting limits on time, slo-mos etc will only make for worse decisions.

      Nothing will be perfect, but I reckon the ref needs to be fully in charge of the process including of all the things the bunker does – ref to make a preliminary decision (I have a try) telling the bunker EXACTLY what to look at (eg was Oates in front of the kicker at the kick? Did he ground it cleanly? ), ask for a report from the bunker ONLY on that issue(s) (Oates was in line with the kicker, fair grounding) and then the ref affirms or changes the decision.

      Then everyone shuts the he11 up and gets on with it.

      Stadium does make a big difference. Being in Brisbane I’m spoilt with Suncorp and the Gabba. Otherwise I’m not sure I’d bother to go games at all.

      • July 9th 2017 @ 7:59am
        Jimmmy said | July 9th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        I think the Sports consultant to the Greens is hilarious. It’s like being a style consultant to Clive Palmer!
        Senator Hanson Young ‘ Get em back the ten ‘ ‘ Go the Doggies’ .

    • Roar Guru

      July 9th 2017 @ 7:56am
      eagleJack said | July 9th 2017 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Enjoyable read Simon and welcome to the Roar.

      Agree with most points but on the draw we are never going to have 34 Rounds (when you add byes) so everyone can play each other twice. The reasons are obvious (player fatigue, Origin, Tests, only 52 weeks in a year). You say the NRL are the only professional football code that does this. I also watch the AFL, Super Rugby and NFL. They are in the same boat. And probably far less equitable than the NRL (particularly Super Rugby and the NFL).

      The only way we’d ever get a perfect home and away season would be to cut teams. And I can’t see that happening. If anything we are most likely going to expand, and the draw will become less equitable.

      But at the end of the day do we ever not see the best teams up the top? Is there any year where a great team misses the finals as they had a bad draw? I can’t think of one.

      • July 9th 2017 @ 8:04am
        Jimmmy said | July 9th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        Yeah EJ. No codes have the old home and away system any more . I can live with it . If you are good enough you make the finals. If not you don’t.

      • July 9th 2017 @ 8:14am
        jamesb said | July 9th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        With regards to the draw, a “fairest” way in the future could be when the NRL expands to 18 teams and a possible reduction in playing games from 24 to 22. That would equate to playing only five teams twice.

        • July 10th 2017 @ 9:11pm
          Raugeee said | July 10th 2017 @ 9:11pm | ! Report

          I came up with a theory a few years back. Split the comp into two 8 club zones. Teams play each other home & away in their respective zones. They then play 4 home and 4 away games with the 8 teams in the other zone. That’s 14 games + 8 games = 22. Leaves more time for byes during Origin etc. Local derbies will always be 2 games per year. Not perfect – e.g is the split Sydney v The rest (incl Penrith)? I reckon it’s worth some thought.

    • July 9th 2017 @ 7:58am
      Gavin said | July 9th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      The only concern with limiting the bunker and limiting slow motion is that the public can still review this as often as they like, and this is where the problem lies. If you’re going to spend time and money, they’ve got to get it right.

      • July 9th 2017 @ 1:45pm
        Chris Wright said | July 9th 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        Captains challenge.
        This does two key things.
        1- reduces the number of times the bunker becomes involved.
        2- Takes the pressure of the Officials and puts it back on the teams/coaches as to when and what they use them for

        Challenge system;
        – On field ref makes the call like in the old days on everything and has no say in sending something up to the bunker
        – Teams get 3 challenges per game that can be used to challenge ANY decision but only at a dead ball situation
        – Exception to this if team is claiming a no try decision and that challenge can be made as soon as the tackle is completed
        – If decision is reversed challenging team does not lose a challenge

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