Parity is priceless for league lovers

Bernie Gurr Columnist

By Bernie Gurr, Bernie Gurr is a Roar Expert


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    The Titans will struggle to contain a Roosters side with several key players returning. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

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    Early on in season 2014, the National Rugby League has achieved substantial parity of playing talent among clubs.

    I have been following rugby league since 1965 and I have never seen a more even competition, where each week all teams have a chance of winning.

    The entire concept of player parity has been championed by the National Football League (NFL). Since 1960, when Pete Rozelle became Commissioner and took the NFL willingly into the television era, one of the fundamental philosophies of the NFL has been the objective of player parity across all teams.

    The belief is that, at the beginning of every season, a healthy league provides hope to fans of all teams that their team can compete each week and possibly make the play-offs.

    To read more of Bernie’s writing outside The Roar, head to his website

    The NFL uses the player draft and the salary cap to attempt to achieve equality of playing talent. It has been said that the NFL Commissioner’s perfect season would be every team emerging with eight wins and eight losses from the 16-game regular season.

    Look at the improvement in the first five rounds of 2014 of certain clubs that did not make the play-offs in 2013. There is no question the Gold Coast Titans, Canberra Raiders, Penrith Panthers, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons are better teams than they were last year. I am not saying they will all make the play-offs this year – although some surely will – but they are definitely providing more hope for their fans.

    I know there are tweaks that can be made to the much-criticised salary cap but, at a macro level, it contributes to a more even competition. The reality is the richer clubs would dominate playing talent if there was not a strictly-enforced cap.

    The other significant factor is the diminished gap in professionalism between the clubs. Even going back to the mid-to-late-1990’s there was a monumental gap between the management abilities and financial positions of the top clubs and the bottom clubs – consider the vastly different circumstances of the Brisbane Broncos and the Western Suburbs Magpies.

    The more money there is in a sport, the more resources are spent in the pursuit of victory. While clubs can become even more professional, there has been a quantum leap forward in professionalism over the last 15 years. There are larger numbers of qualified management and administrative staff, as well as more coaching and training staff. The result is more intelligence in the coaching and preparation of the players.

    This is the real area of improvement across the NRL. While some of the 2014 head coaches are clearly better than others, most are good operators and they have the support of a team of qualified assistant coaches, training staff, and medical and rehabilitation staff.

    The gap has narrowed substantially between the clubs from the perspective of the resources, both coaching staff and training facilities, dedicated to the football programs. All the teams these days are reasonably well prepared, with the level of intelligence and analysis by coaches far greater than past eras.

    With the player talents reasonably even, the difference between winning and losing is very fine these days – significant factors include the mental attitude of a team that week, injuries to key players and the key players themselves. Just look at the impact on Souths when they lose Greg Inglis. That is why the game-changing players deservedly receive a disproportionate share of the salary cap – they win games.

    We have the Gold Coast Titans sitting in first place after five rounds, with a negative for-and-against, while pre-season favourites, the Roosters and Rabbitohs, are in 10th and 12th respectively, with a positive for-and-against – a wacky, unpredictable competition.

    I really like the Wests Tigers’ chances of playing semi-final football, based on the improved physicality of their forwards, their focus on less-risky attack (but still with good ball movement at appropriate times), plus their genuine speed.

    Which team will be your surprise packet to make the 2014 play-offs?

    Bernie Gurr is a former Sydney Roosters player (1978-1983) and Chief Executive Officer (1994-2003), presiding over eight straight playoff appearances, three grand finals and the 2002 NRL Premiership. A lifelong league fan, his first memory is being taken to the 1965 grand final by his grandfather. Prior to CEO role at the Roosters, Bernie was a Senior Executive for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He joins as a regular columnist on The Roar, but to read more of his writing on rugby league check out his website and follow him on Twitter @BernieGurr.

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    The Crowd Says (81)

    • April 9th 2014 @ 7:14am
      Storm Boy said | April 9th 2014 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      Achieved parity by lowering the standard and depth across the clubs. It may be even but it doesn’t mean the standard is very high. Wait until an injury or Origin.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 7:22am
        Kingcowboy said | April 9th 2014 @ 7:22am | ! Report

        So what is your point storm boy? I have watched a number of Qld Cup games this year on top of normal NRL games and i have found the standard to be very high. Sure there are a few bad games thrown in there but I see a lot of depth in the lower grades. Are you just complaining for the sake of it or do you have some facts to back up your statement?

        • April 9th 2014 @ 8:20am
          Storm Boy said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:20am | ! Report

          I can remember as a kid watching the Broncos and Raiders of the mid 1990s. Stacked with topline players. Those teams would smash anything the NRL could put up today.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 8:30am
            Kingcowboy said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:30am | ! Report

            Ok then, lets get rid of the salary cap and just three or four super sides and let all the other sides go broke. Then 10 years down the track you can say that i used to remember when there was this game called Rugby League that used to be played.

            • April 9th 2014 @ 8:41am
              Storm Boy said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:41am | ! Report

              Rugby league was going ok before Super League with no cap wasn’t it? No parity then. That’s why News tried to steal it.

              Just saying that the Friday night game every week was good stuff as it was Broncos and Raiders with the game’s best players. Now its all even but boring.

              If Storm lose Smith they are rubbish, Carney or Dobson at Sharks or Maloney from the Roosters. Tigers with no Farah. No depth.

              • Roar Guru

                April 9th 2014 @ 10:23am
                Mantis said | April 9th 2014 @ 10:23am | ! Report

                I agree. I preferred League pre super league to what it is now.

              • April 9th 2014 @ 11:18am
                Mike from tari said | April 9th 2014 @ 11:18am | ! Report

                The Raiders went broke, the Sharks went broke back then, South Sydney were broke, the Raiders & the Sharks were given loans by the NSW Rugby League to survive , they weren’t forced to offload any players & what did they do when Super League came along, they bit the hand that fed them and went to Super League, Souths never got a loan, never went to Super League & got dumped by the NRL, so don’t tell me how good it was before Super League.

              • Roar Guru

                April 9th 2014 @ 12:24pm
                Chris Kettlewell said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

                That was a different era, when a lot of players played their entire careers for the same club, and those who didn’t it was often for reasons other than because another club came along with a big wad of cash.

                In these days of uber-professionalism and high salaries, competitions without salary caps tend to end up completely dominated, year-in, year-out by the same few teams. Look at most of the European football leagues that have anywhere from 1-2 teams really fighting it out for the title with nobody else a chance, to maybe 4-5 teams in the most competitive leagues. If you want your team to become competitive you have to hope some super rich person will buy your club and put lots of money into buying top players.

                If you took the salary cap away from the NRL now, you’d either have smaller teams all going broke trying to spend money they don’t have to get good players to be competitive, or they simply wouldn’t be competitive, and the competition would become the play thing of just a few specific teams.

                So, from a fan’s point of view, the time before the salary cap was necessary was really nice, because their favourite players would generally remain at the club throughout their careers, not switching all over the place, though, from a player point of view, they’d certainly prefer it now. I remember the player cards from the ’80s, one feature of them was to specify what the player did for a job, as they all needed one since they couldn’t make a living from Rugby League.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 11:37am
            Jeff Cook said | April 9th 2014 @ 11:37am | ! Report

            Storm Boy
            I agree , but please remember Raiders & Broncos where to the most penalised sides for cap rorting.
            Cheek the archives you you don

    • Roar Guru

      April 9th 2014 @ 8:15am
      Myles Stedman said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      I may be biased, but keep an eye on Wests if they make the finals. They’ve already stayed some of the finals mainstays of the past few years, and if they can strengthen up that defence, look for them to have a dignified finals campaign.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 11:42am
        Jimbo Jones said | April 9th 2014 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        Yes the Tigers have played well against a few teams, but I think its a bit too early to talk about the finals for them. The real test will be depth in the forwards (always seems to be a problem for them), but then playing against teams who are up the the match instead of being ambushed as the papers call it.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 2:14pm
        astro said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

        Tedesco out for 9 weeks will hurt them enormously…

    • Roar Guru

      April 9th 2014 @ 8:37am
      peeeko said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      I would also like to see some parity in the draw (parra play roosters twice in the first 6 weeks) and in tv scheduling

      • Roar Guru

        April 9th 2014 @ 2:10pm
        Epiquin said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

        Raiders play Knights twice in the first six weeks too.

      • Columnist

        April 9th 2014 @ 2:22pm
        Bernie Gurr said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

        Hi Peeko,

        The draw is difficult.

        I would like to see 22 rounds instead of 24 to reduce workload on our players and have stand-alone State of origin weekends.

        With 2 conferences of 8 teams each, teams could play in their own conference against other 7 teams on home and away basis (7 games * 2 = 14 games) then play other 8 teams from other conference once = 8 games for a total of 22 games.

        I had previously suggested having a Sydney Conference and a Regional Conference but that would be just to arrange the draw as we would still one competition table, not separate conference competition tables, as proposed recently by Phil Rothfield.



    • April 9th 2014 @ 8:43am
      up in the north said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      There’s still a long way to go yet this season. Cream always rises to the top, so don’t get distracted by all these upsets in the first month.
      As per usual every year it’s how teams come out after origin that will be the real indicator of how the finals run will look.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 8:55am
        Gonads At Large said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        The salary cap is a de-homogeniser. So far this season it seems to be working. If the cream does indeed rise to the top before the end of the season, it will be curdled from over whipping.

    • April 9th 2014 @ 8:54am
      AGO74 said | April 9th 2014 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      The fact Titans lead comp with a negative for and against shows that they have ridden their luck. I suspect that it will be these wins they’ve jagged in first 5 rounds will save them from wooden spoon this year.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 9:54am
        Arnold Krewanty said | April 9th 2014 @ 9:54am | ! Report

        I think you’re being too tough on the Titans.
        Actually the Titans have had two bad games. The disgraceful performance vs.Tigers (the flogging) and the sloppy win vs.s an equally bad Cowboys (Both at home).
        2 of the other 3 wins were on difficult road trips (Canberra & Storm). Titans won both by very good defense and playing for each other.
        Titans have the roster, it’s just that each season they get injuries to key players & fall away.

        • April 9th 2014 @ 12:52pm
          Scrubbit said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          The only good victory titans have had was against the raiders. Their storm victory was controversial(albeit they did play well) cowboys game was AWFUL, sharks game they did everything they could to lose, and tigers game (I don’t really count this one since it was played in 40 degree heat. Pretty much whoever gets momentum first wins those) they played quite bad.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 3:23pm
            Ian said | April 9th 2014 @ 3:23pm | ! Report

            I would question whether the Raiders game was a good victory. It was achieved on the back of being offside all day and laying around in the tackles and being allowed by the referees to do that. That plus totally inept Raiders attack.

            • April 9th 2014 @ 4:50pm
              Scrubbit said | April 9th 2014 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

              Please take it away then lol. I didn’t actually watch that game (tipped raiders as well) just assumed they played well.

              • April 10th 2014 @ 1:56pm
                Arnold kerwanty said | April 10th 2014 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

                My argument is the Titans were not given the points. Their defense won it. The storm game seemed be the first which the own through both defense and attack. Comments saying the referees mistake won the Titans the game did not notice that they let throughout and were deserved victors. Referees make mistakes. It happens.

              • April 10th 2014 @ 6:31pm
                Scrubbit said | April 10th 2014 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

                Your argument is invalid. The sharks literally gave you those points through an intercept pass. Yeah refs make mistakes, and you weren’t leading at the time btw(24 all i recall), but this was a game deciding incorrect decision (in other words it was a controversial victory). I’d put money on it that if the correct call were made Melbourne march upfield and slot the FG. (But then we get into the coulda woulda shoulda maybe what if side. A dark side even I hate to visit) the cowboys were absolutely dreadful and titans should’ve won by 20, but poor offence cost them, and no they didn’t defend very well that game, the cowboys were just THAT bad in attack.

    • April 9th 2014 @ 9:01am
      turbodewd said | April 9th 2014 @ 9:01am | ! Report


      there is one thing where there is zero parity in this league – FTA TV coverage. The Raiders get 1 game per year if they are lucky. Whereas the Eels, who have been bottom 4 for years gets lots of TV games. Is it any wonder Raiders crowds are terrible. We end up with the stupid Foxtel timeslots. The NRL doesnt give 2 hoots and rugby and AFL have better followings here now in my opinion. In 2012 we hosted Cronulla in a a semi and got 24,000 fans. So there are fans here if you serve up a decent contest.

      Im sure Warriors and Cowboys fans have similar gripes.

      The Raiders should boycott Ch9 and its juvenile head wobble Footy Show.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 9:06am
        Storm Boy said | April 9th 2014 @ 9:06am | ! Report

        Makes no sense. How many Brumbies games are on FTA? The AFL doesn’t even have an ACT team.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 9:08am
        Kingcowboy said | April 9th 2014 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Actually Turbo, the Cows request Saturday Night games as it lets the fans from Mackay for example travel to games. It also works out well for the T’Ville economy as it fills the hotels and pubs. I love League, so I am more then happy to fork out the $60 a month for Foxtel. I don’t want to hear the rubbish about people not being able to afford Foxtel either as it now costs the same for a slab of beer and a pack of cigs. I prefer games on Fox but that is me.

        • Roar Pro

          April 9th 2014 @ 10:47am
          Hutchoman said | April 9th 2014 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          I’m glad your flush Kingcowboy, but not all of us can afford $60 a month on Foxtel even if we’re not buying the slabs of beer and cartons of smokes.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 12:10pm
            mushi said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

            It ain’t show friends

          • April 9th 2014 @ 12:57pm
            Scrubbit said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

            60 dollars is less than 3 packets worth of cigs. Hardly a carton.

            It’s actually cheaper than a carton of XXXX ($45) and winfield blue 25s ($20-$23)

        • April 9th 2014 @ 1:26pm
          Dayer said | April 9th 2014 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          I am sick and tired of people who can afford foxtel and say “I don’t want to hear the rubbish about people not being able to afford Foxtel either”

          • April 9th 2014 @ 5:03pm
            Scrubbit said | April 9th 2014 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

            60 a month is cheap as cheap. People on the dole can afford foxtel now.

      • April 9th 2014 @ 10:27am
        James said | April 9th 2014 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        The brumbies got 7,129 the other week and current averaging 12,272 for the season even though they made the grand final last year. for a finals game they got 14,020. clearly the following isn’t that great.

        AFL has three games a year here and can hardly get a crowd. again not a great following.

        Raiders aren’t breaking any records either but they have been terrible for a bulk of the last 15 years with a couple of good patches. If they made the grand final I’d bet some decent coin that they wouldn’t get a low crowd of 7,129 for the following season.

        • April 9th 2014 @ 10:47am
          Boz said | April 9th 2014 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          They have been poor on field, but I think their off field dramas have hurt them more. Dugan, Ferguson, and Carney issues a few years ago, plus the perceived nepotism with David Furner and the Raiders administration. I think there is a fair disconnect with the Raiders team and the Canberra public.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 11:03am
            Storm Boy said | April 9th 2014 @ 11:03am | ! Report

            So how do you explain the Brumbies numbers in freefall then? They haven’t had the off field stuff of the Raiders.

            • April 9th 2014 @ 12:27pm
              Boz said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

              There could be several reasons. I’ll preface my answer by saying I’m no fan of Union either, but like the Raiders, during the Brubmies hey day, they had several big name players, which they don’t have anymore. Players like Gregan who the casual sports fan in QLD and NSW could probably name quite quickly as a Brumbies player. These days I wouldn’t know who was in their team.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 3:28pm
            Ian said | April 9th 2014 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

            I think one problem with the Raiders has been that a lot of the time the last few seasons the team hasn’t bothered to turn up for games, so why would fans pay good money on the chance that the team might or might not decide to resemble something like NRL standard. That, plus the fact that going to a game involves being gouged at every opportunity, parking, tickets, food and drinks etc.

        • April 9th 2014 @ 12:20pm
          ctar said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

          Raiders averaged over 18k in the mid 90s. They also sold out that final a couple of years ago against the Sharks pretty fast.

          It’s true that the Raiders crowds have been the worst in the League simply due to the fact that they have not been a premiership threat since pre- super league days. What a shame that Milford is going at the end of the year. Talk about a crowd pleaser.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 2:02pm
            mick h said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

            they sold a final out against the tigers as well capacity 26,000. rl had at test match there as well and it sold out as well

      • April 9th 2014 @ 11:00am
        AR said | April 9th 2014 @ 11:00am | ! Report


        What are your thoughts on Andrew Bar’s claims (ex-ACT Sports Minister) that in years gone by, crowds for Raiders and Brumbies games were inflated each week…by as much as 2,000 per game?

        He made the point that attendance numbers will be down this year – not because of fewer people going, but because the new ticketing system scans every ticket, rather than counting all the members tickets automatically.

        I personally think Canberra crowds are pretty decent – it’s probably the hardest market in which to accommodate large crowds.

        • April 9th 2014 @ 12:29pm
          planko said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

          Andrew Barr prefers’ men in tight shorts. He prefers the AFL boys.

          • April 9th 2014 @ 12:41pm
            AR said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

            • April 9th 2014 @ 12:51pm
              planko said | April 9th 2014 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

              AR it is planko and ok get all PC on me. I still think you should look at how much the ACT Government pays to get men in tight shorts to play AFL at Manuka. Good value for money my ar*e.


              • April 9th 2014 @ 1:51pm
                AR said | April 9th 2014 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

                So the ACT govt says it getting good value for money.

                What on earth does that have to do the topic at hand?

              • April 9th 2014 @ 2:10pm
                planko said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

                No one here that supports any other code thinks they are getting good value for money. I have written to him. I know others who have as well. What relevance please if I need to spell it out for you please stop typing. Forget whole homo thing but a Sport Minister AFL fan wants AFL in his town and pays overs for it. The Tall dudes in tight shorts are a bonus….

              • April 9th 2014 @ 3:02pm
                AR said | April 9th 2014 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

                I’ll spell it out for you mate:

                – the topic discussion is about parity in the NRL
                – turbo asked about parity in relation to the Riaders’ TV scheduling and how that affects ratings and crowds
                – yesterday, the Minister’s commented about exaggerated crowds for NRL and rugby so I asked turbo about that.

                – …you then brought up some irrelevant point about AFL funding and some homophobic comment about “men in tight shorts”. So mate, if you can’t join the grown up conversation, best stay out of it.

              • April 10th 2014 @ 10:45am
                Misto said | April 10th 2014 @ 10:45am | ! Report

                Planko (well named sir)

                The AFL fans travel from Victoria for the game and stay overnight and spend money in the town – If any Sydney NRL supporters come they usually dont stay the night esp with a Raiderss game on Saturday arvo deliberately set up to destroy the Giants crowd- how does a govt deal with a footy body that does that to the local govt.initiative..

              • April 10th 2014 @ 11:00am
                planko said | April 10th 2014 @ 11:00am | ! Report

                Ok you win mate paying GWS 600k a game is a good investment… No one with a brain agree’s with you. If the AFL want’s to stay the number one sport which BTW the i think it is. It is touch and go but at worst it is a close second with a good local comp. The ACT Government should not have to subsidise it. We are not going to agree I am moving on. Good luck… Speaking of appropriate names you mist my point.

              • April 11th 2014 @ 8:48am
                Misto said | April 11th 2014 @ 8:48am | ! Report

                Your point was they paid too much?

                Its lower than $600K – there are spinoffs form the investment rather than just games, the AFL will spend money in the ACT as well.

                You are perhaps moving on because you have run out of retorts…

                The ACT governemnt has been very friendly to the brumbies and Raiders because they see the benefits – open your eyes…

        • April 9th 2014 @ 2:03pm
          mick h said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

          I never believe what a politician has to say.

        • April 9th 2014 @ 2:53pm
          Storm Boy said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

      • Columnist

        April 9th 2014 @ 2:08pm
        Bernie Gurr said | April 9th 2014 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        I see your point but is always the problem when TV companies pay big bucks for sports content – they want the higher rating teams in the higher rating markets and that is usually the traditional Sydney teams. Maybe we should look at a system whereby teams are guaranteed a minimum number of FTA games and then they can sell to their sponsors on this basis. Cheers. Bernie

      • April 9th 2014 @ 4:25pm
        JezRu said | April 9th 2014 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

        FTA coverage is massive and not only for individual teams. The whole reason the NRL has failed to engage a wider audience in the southern states and WA is because of years of neglect in so far as tv coverage.

        How are you suppose to market you club, entice sponsors or attract players if you have no National coverage?

        Couple of other points of thought;

        1. Perhaps clubs should do a deal with Foxtel so as a club membership includes 12mths of basic+sports package?
        2. In the case of Canberra, they really need an enclosed stadium (I watched a game there once where it was in the minus, terrible conditions for both fans and players)