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State of Origin scheduling is isolating millions of fans

Paul Gallen won't feature in State of Origin Game 2. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Roar Pro
3rd June, 2016
28
1162 Reads

Match-fixing allegations, salary cap rorts, players carrying pills, players associating with known criminals, coaches angry with the bunker, players angry with the bunker and the bunker, well, they are bunkering down.

Welcome to the NRL. The writers of Home and Away couldn’t conceive such convoluted plot lines. Yet here we are, again.

Considering the above, I wouldn’t have thought the NRL was in such rude health they could afford to disregard a market the size of Sydney. Yet that is effectively what they are doing to New Zealand league fans with the scheduling times for State of Origin matches.

Not only do the games appear to be scheduled later and later, but also the time to kick-off seems to be getting longer and longer too. It’s almost like it has been referred to the bunker for a decision.

Origin started well after 10pm on Wednesday night. The debate raging round the water coolers in work places the next day wasn’t about Sam Thaiday’s virginity comment or the disallowed try to Josh Morris. Discussion centred on who actually stayed up to watch the match.

It seems unusual that the NRL and broadcasters should take such a dismissive approach to the Kiwi audience.

Rugby league in New Zealand has to compete with rugby union. Currently, the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises have been simply superb, playing an exhilarating brand of flowing 15-man rugby that hits like a truck and takes off like a sports car. Think Mad Max meets Bathurst.

Compare this with the Warriors, New Zealand’s lone club in the NRL competition and easily the most consistently inconsistent team to play since they were invited to join. In terms of competing with results, it is the equivalent of bringing a plastic spoon to a bazooka fight.

Then we have the All Blacks. Consecutive World Cup winners, winners of the Laureus Sports awards and in their last 80 Tests have lost only six times. Impressive stuff.

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It’s unfair to compare the Kiwis against that record as they play so few Tests and have little time allocated to prepare. International rugby league is not only the little brother to union; it is at best a pimply petulant teen, refusing to play with others as rugby league globally continues to lag behind other codes.

The NRL marketing machine (when not in damage control) bombards us with images of high-velocity collisions, players bleeding, crying, and elated. A maroon and blue battlefield, the eternal conflict of warring celestials. We are told it is the pinnacle of rugby league.

In a rugby-mad country, teeming with young natural talent, this is the perfect opportunity to compete with the All Blacks and grow the fan-base.

So where is the love? Why schedule Origin out of reach of a potential audience of 4.4 million viewers?

While the Warriors have been simply dreadful this year, they continue to draw healthy crowds and sell more merchandise than almost any other club. This as much as anything else shows the passion of New Zealand league fans. They deserve more.

The increasing ‘Kiwification’ of the NRL playing stocks suggests there is plenty of natural talent on our shores. Not everyone can make the All Blacks. Surely then it is in the NRL’s best interest to promote rugby league, their product, through all available means?

It makes no sense. It seems self-defeating. Or is this just another Home and Away plot line from an organisation determined to shoot itself in the foot with every step?

Wednesday’s Origin match finished around midnight in New Zealand. Only the most loyal of fans stayed up to watch it live. Those fans that made the effort have already been won over. It is those who decided it was too late that the NRL should be targeting. To do this, they need to play the match at a reasonable time across both sides of the Tasman.

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The Melbourne Cup is one of the biggest horse races in the world. People with no other horse racing interest run sweepstakes and the nation stops to watch the race. The biggest betting day of the year. This is an example of thinking big: Australia on a screen to millions.

I know Origin is an all-Australian affair, mate against mate, state against state. Fair enough too. But in the best interests of growing the game, and for the massive numbers of hugely passionate league fans in New Zealand, surely there is room for compromise?

If Thaiday felt Origin 1 was like losing his virginity, for many Kiwis in New Zealand it felt like the one that got away.