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NRL won't give AFL a free-kick in western Sydney

Roar Guru
9th November, 2011
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1569 Reads

The NRL certainly haven’t afforded the AFL’s newest franchise Greater Western Sydney any special favours following the release of the 2012 season fixture list with several regional blockbusters going up against Giants home games. And, honestly, you can’t really blame them for doing so.

Indeed, it’s a clear signal of intent from the NRL that it doesn’t want the Giants to build any momentum in western Sydney. NRL fans with a passing interest in attending a Giants game, will be faced with a dilemma on most occasions.

It makes a lot of sense for the NRL to protect their product and not give the AFL an opening by placing some of its best events in western Sydney in direct competition to GWS home games.

However, NRL director of football operations Nathan McGuirk told reporters: ”We’re aware of what other codes are doing, but really, our main focus is what we’re doing. It’s hard for us not to schedule those types of matches because we have so many of them.”

Now, I’m only a casual NRL observer, but I do know Parramatta-Penrith is the biggest local rivalry in Sydney’s west. The NRL has scheduled that clash for Round Four, in direct competition to AFL’s stand-alone Round One opening derby between GWS and Sydney Swans at ANZ Stadium. Coincidence? I think not. It’s part of the war between the codes in the region.

The scheduling of a stand-alone Round One fixture by the AFL is something we haven’t seen before but it’s all about building momentum for the competition’s newest franchise. It is in many ways a gamble by the AFL and the NRL are responding to it with the Parramatta-Penrith fixture. And why wouldn’t they?

The importance of momentum is evident if you look at the A-League this season which began after the other codes concluded and with blockbusters to start the term. Once something is perceived to be popular, people jump on the bandwagon. The NRL quite clearly don’t want to offer the Giants any momentum for this very reason.

It’s worth pointing out, the NRL don’t announce the exact match day and times just yet, but it’ll be interesting to see if they schedule the Parramatta-Penrith clash to go up in direct competition to GWS-Sydney on the Saturday evening.

Whatever the case, the Parramatta-Penrith derby will certainly draw plenty of media attention away from the GWS-Sydney clash in the build-up to the match in that week.

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And looking at the 2012 NRL draw, what is noticeable is that there’s a lot of games in western Sydney early in the season.

Again, I’m only a casual rugby league observer, so I don’t pretend to know the normalities of a NRL fixture draw, but the intent of all four western Sydney teams only travelling outside of Sydney three times in the first five rounds seems clear. It means their fans will have the opportunity to attend most of their clubs’ NRL games and the temptation of some live sporting entertainment in the form of the Giants won’t be as strong.

Also, six GWS home games are on the same weekend as derbies between clubs from Sydney’s west. Again, I don’t blame the NRL for doing this. It makes a lot of sense.

In response, acting Giants CEO Dave Matthews said: ”I think if you asked the people of western Sydney they would say they would prefer events to be spread and not going head to head but the NRL clearly think differently and that’s up to them.”

Indeed it is, and while Matthews may try to paint the NRL in a negative way, you can’t really blame them for protecting their product. They are hardly going to gift-wrap a free kick to the AFL in its own traditional territory.