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Finals series illustrate the gulf between AFL and NRL

Andrew Costi Roar Rookie

By Andrew Costi, Andrew Costi is a Roar Rookie

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124 Have your say

    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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    The Crowd Says (124)

    • September 14th 2017 @ 6:32am
      peeeko said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      i am surprised we had to wait until thursday for the inevitable comparison article

      first “This, along with the high prices which the NRL charge for tickets, food and drink” – how do you know the AFL doesnt charge comparable prices.

      Also your comparison of referees is erroneous. ref decisions are made after the people decide to attend plus with 30 goals in a game referring decisions are not as vital in AFL and has nothing to do with way crowds accept decisions

      • September 14th 2017 @ 7:10am
        Andrew Costi said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

        Peeeko if you have done research into the topic you would see it is much cheaper to go to the AFL.

        Secondly, with the comparison of the referees they have an effect on the game which impacts why people don’t attend. When Buzz Rothfield a leading journo goes he is not going to another game until the refereeing is fixed you can see an effect that will have on the spectators that read his comments.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 7:59am
          AR said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

          Andrew it’s well-known that AFL finals tickets are usually at least double the price of NRL tickets (certainly for prelim finals).

          And the NRL was reportedly giving out swathes of free tickets to games on the wknd.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 9:48am
            Deir-ba-zor said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

            Double, more like triple.

        • Roar Pro

          September 14th 2017 @ 10:45am
          MrJSquishy said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

          I literally just checked the prices: AFL $35 to $92 each, NRL $15 to $60 each…yeah, the NRL is more expensive alright.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 9:36pm
            Alicesprings said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:36pm | ! Report

            and the tickets scalped online..

        • September 14th 2017 @ 11:44am
          Albo said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

          Please Andrew ! Some” research on the topic” might be appropriate for you also.
          “….the Bunker ruined any chance of Manly winning the game when they awarded Tyrone Peachey a try to put Penrith 16-10 in front.” Have you not seen the split frame vision of the Peachey try that clearly shows his hand was nowhere near the ball ? Proving that the referee made the correct call and the Bunker rightly reviewed it, found no evidence to overturn the decision, and correctly awarded the try. People can over react like the Manly coach & fans through ignorance of the facts, but the ruling has been proven to be correct. As for some sycophantic journalist carrying on with idle threats to boycott attendance because he believes his team got beaten due to referees, the reality is, he will probably be at ANZ Stadium this week to sniff out another lead story to bolster his dubious relevance to the media and the code. The referees are not the cause of lower NRL crowd numbers compared to the AFL.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 6:33pm
          peeeko said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

          it seems fellow comm enters show that you are wrong.
          As for Buzz Rothfield- that man has zero credibility- his team just got knocked out as defending premiers

    • September 14th 2017 @ 7:31am
      Mickyo said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      How much cheaper were the free tickets that were flooded in Sydney for the NRL finals, even at normal finals prices nrl tickets are far cheaper.

      I reckon your research is off the mark.

      I agree that topography in Sydney can be limiting for some fans but my take is that by and large Sydney people care less and less about RL, all pointers including Sydney crowds, tv ratings and grass roots participation are on a downward spiral.

      I think we are at a point where the NRL just can’t hide lack of interest anymore

      • September 14th 2017 @ 7:41am
        Andrew Costi said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:41am | ! Report

        Mickyo the NRL needed to hand out the free tickets as no one was going to attend the games. The NRL dropped their prices in order to get more people through the door.

        Game Participation is a massive issue with the NRL coupled with their crowds Todd Greenberg has a lot to do to turn this around.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 7:49am
          Mickyo said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

          AFL finals tickets have always been more expensive, you stated in your article that high NRL ticket prices was a disincentive for fans, in fact it was is the opposite, they were cheap $15 cheap and according to Dean Ritchie there was something wrong with you if you paid at all.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 10:00am
            clipper said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

            The problem the NRL will now have is that people will hold off, knowing that so many free tickets are on offer.
            You’re absolutely spot on with your summation that Sydney cares less and less about league – the AFL even got bigger pay tv numbers this week – there used to be a time when the NRL got 9/10 of the top spots!

            • September 14th 2017 @ 12:40pm
              Beavis said | September 14th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report


              Less of the triumphalism and more restraint – it was one week and the big RL teams weren’t playing though Carlton, Collinwood and Hawks weren’t playing either. BTW it was Danny Weidler who said you were an ass to pay for first week NRL tickets though there might be few free ones at GWS on Saturday night. All codes charge high prices then give them away to sponsors if the takeup is low but apparently there was confetti flowing in Sydney last week.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 1:05pm
                clipper said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

                Thanks for a reasoned reply, Beavis, I do agree with you that there may be a few GWS tickets going for a song this week. I do consider Parramatta a big league team, like Richmond – finals starved been through difficult years, so the comparison is there.
                The trouble with giving away tickets is that the loyal fans who paid early will be quite peeved off seeing how many were getting freebies and may not be so quick to grab them next time. I will try and restrain myself, but – gee there have been many articles and much talk in Sydney this week of the finals attendance disaster.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 2:38pm
                Mickyo said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

                Agree with both clipper and beavis

              • September 14th 2017 @ 3:34pm
                matth said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

                Clipper, Parra is a big team, but they played in Melbourne, which actually had a decent crowd.

                I a parallel world where Parra, Brisbane and the Cowboys had their respective games at home on the weekend, you would have seen maybe another 50,000+ all up come through the turnstiles. Sydney, particularly away from the west, seems to be the problem.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 3:50pm
                clipper said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

                Agree, matth – which further shows the decline in Sydney. You would have expected, since lack of finals since 2009, that the Parra fans may have made the trip down – think the crowd for Richmond would’ve been huge wherever they went.

    • Roar Guru

      September 14th 2017 @ 7:38am
      Edward Kelly said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      The reffing in the two games is different because the two games have vastly different games. The NRL has forward passes, knock-ons and off-side, all things that have to be judged relative to static and moving objects and reference points. So there will always be debate.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 3:35pm
        matth said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

        Good call. Having said that I have heard some pretty decent ref abuse at AFL games as well.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 4:53pm
          DB said | September 14th 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

          As an AFL fan the ref/umpire abuse is pretty bad. Haven’t gone to an NRL match but would be surprised if it is worse

    • September 14th 2017 @ 7:44am
      Jimmmy said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Only one comment , Tyrone Peachy scored a legitimate try . One view shows clear separation between his hand and the ball. If you can’t get that right then why should I listen to the rest.of the article.

      • Roar Guru

        September 14th 2017 @ 8:22am
        Will Sinclair said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        I believe that you’re 100% correct under the current interpretation of the rules.

        But, to my eye, the way the rules are applied is wrong. Peachey had a chance to catch the ball, he was trying to catch the ball, it hit him in the shoulder/chest and went forward. That’s always been a knock on, and still should be. This concept of being able to “chest” the ball forward and not have it a knock-on is crazy, I reckon.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 8:30am
          Jimmmy said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          Will I have always believed your interpretation is the correct one. Remember the Brett Hodgson try in SOO. ?
          I think it is going to require a rewrite of the rules so off the hands or chest becomes a knock on .
          When a fullback tries to catch a ball and it hits his chest and goes forward it is always called knock on. Rightly so.
          The problem is when it goes upstairs after a try is scored they interpret things by the letter of the law. ( as they must). This is where conflicts often occur. A new rule may be the only answer.

          • Roar Guru

            September 14th 2017 @ 10:16am
            Nat said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

            Watching at Maroochy RSL, I was filthy at that call. Then a blew a fetlock jumping around like a tool when Locky took the intercept to win.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 2:45pm
              Jimmmy said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

              That was the ultimate Karma moment in RL Nat. What a result for the Maroons.

    • Roar Guru

      September 14th 2017 @ 7:56am
      Grobbelaar said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      I’m not really fussed who the big cahuna is , but I reckon if you looked at finals attendances circa 1970, you’d see the same gulf in attendances.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 10:09am
        clipper said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        They had a different finals formula there, so there were only 2 games in the first week.
        NRL had 80k (a better figure than for the 4 games this year!) and VFL had 216k – so the gap has widened, with AFL still selling out, but NRL struggling to get grounds half full.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 10:37am
          Deir-ba-zor said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          An attendance of 216 thousand for the VFL in the first week of the 1970 finals series would have required both games to have been played at the MCG and for them to draw an average of 108000 people to the games. that did not happen.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 10:41am
            Deir-ba-zor said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

            ok, apparently the average attendance was 112 thousand people, so 224 thousand people attended the first week of the 1970 VFL finals series.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 1:06pm
              clipper said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

              Think the MCG had a bigger capacity then.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 9:53pm
              AR said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:53pm | ! Report

              The 1970 GF between Collingwood and Carlton drew a crowd of 121,696 people.

              So it’s possible those numbers are correct.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 8:05am
      concerned supporter said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      But all four NRL games were nail biting, gripping contests.I am firstly a Rugby man, but I was continuosly flicking from the Wallaby test to the NRL.Great theatre.& drama in all 4 games.
      Didn’t watch any AFL games but looking at the scores ,except for one game, the other three were lopsided scores.
      I don’t know ,but doubt that they were as good a spectacle as the NRL.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 8:31am
        Jimmmy said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        That’s what we should be talking more about CS.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 9:49am
        Deir-ba-zor said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        Two of them were utter blowouts, one was Ok and one was excellent.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 10:43am
          RandyM said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          The AFL is full of blowouts. Maybe if the NRL promoted its game more in the southern states it will attract more viewers who are looking for a tight contest.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            Beavis said | September 14th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

            Yes RL has the mortgage on tight contests as Roy masters writes often that NRL refs are choreographing the games to get close results for TV to stop people reaching for the remote. Flanagan was complaining because the majority of calls went to the other team that was behind on the scoreboard throughout the game and esp the decisions went to the Cowboys in last 5 minutes. I think Barrett was complaining because the Peachey mishandling is always a knock on in RL to the naked eye without review so it was bizarre to be a try which was hard to overturn. NRL 360 tried to deflect by suggesting there was separation for the bunker review (true but the bunker didnt have that at the time) but that took away from the odd Sutton on-field decision.

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