Finals series illustrate the gulf between AFL and NRL

AndrewCosti Roar Rookie

By , AndrewCosti is a Roar Rookie

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    If you attended the games or even turned on the television to watch last weekend’s AFL and NRL finals, you would have noticed that one is the biggest code in Australia and rapidly growing, while the other is now dwindling from its former glory.

    It wasn’t the quality of the football that was the issue, quite the opposite, it came down to two key factors – crowd figures and refereeing.

    On the crowds, the AFL accumulated 235,000 spectators, while the NRL had a meagre 76,000 people attend four finals games.

    The NRL’s small attendance came down in part to scheduling – having Manly and Penrith play on Saturday night after the AFL next door was a strategic blunder. The NRL thought they would get people from the AFL to come next door and watch a final match, however this was not the case.

    The Manly-Penrith game had the lowest attendance of the four finals games, likely down to the use of Allianz Stadium instead of Manly’s home ground of LottoLand. Further illustrating this point, Cronulla also played at Allianz, resulting in the second lowest attendance of the weekend. If the NRL had allowed the defending premiers to play at Shark Park on a Sunday afternoon, it would have easily been a capacity crowd.

    This lack of foresight and appreciation for home grounds costs the NRL and clubs millions. It is also all but removed the advantage of finishing higher on the ladder to play at home.

    Playing at a neutral stadium means fans find it a hassle to travel, particularly if they are from the Northern Beaches, Penrith or the Shire – all a long way from Moore Park. This diminishes attendance and creates an empty atmosphere.

    Contrast this with the AFL, who had capacity stadiums at each of their finals, with amazing, bustling atmospheres. This, along with the high prices which the NRL charge for tickets, food and drink are a financial disincentive for families to attend. Rugby league has always been a battlers’ game, however it’s now drifting away from its roots, much like rugby union.

    Another issue is the refereeing. Putting aside the fact that referees should be thanked for their service, there is a distinct cultural difference between the two codes when it comes to officiating.

    There is an increasing hesitance by NRL referees to blow the whistle in what has now become a game of wrestle. Now, despite having four officials on the field, they come up with the wrong decisions. Furthermore, the NRL has spent millions on a Bunker system that arguably has had a negative effect.

    On the weekend, the Bunker ruined any chance of Manly winning the game when they awarded Tyrone Peachey a try to put Penrith 16-10 in front. In the Storm-Eels game, there was a clear forward pass that the on-field referees missed, however the Bunker can’t rule on that.

    This is the finals – the men on the field give their heart and soul for a win, and they deserve to get the correct calls.

    In the AFL, you don’t see players arguing with the referees – they call it how they see it and let things flow as much as they can. This is why they have a much faster-paced game.

    The AFL serves as the benchmark for sport in Australia, and we could use more of their ideas in the NRL.

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