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For so many years, I have argued with mates that rugby league is neck-and-neck with AFL. They make the argument about crowd sizes, then I make the point about TV ratings.
For so many years, I have been reluctant to say that AFL is years ahead of the NRL.
Last week I was assured the AFL are 15 years ahead, and they don’t seem to be slowing down.
Last week, the AFL announced that Etihad Stadium and its surrounding precinct will undergo a $225 million revamp, and that a deal has been struck with the Victoria Government to allow for the game to grow exponentially.
There was $241.6 million in upgrades to facilities at suburban venues, including $20 million to redevelop Ikon Park as the home of women’s football.
It also included a $15 million Female Friendly Facilities Fund, $13 million for stage two of the Moorabbin Oval redevelopment and $10 million to improve playing conditions at Casey Fields and Whitten Oval for AFLW.
“These sorts of deals means we have got more money going into the clubs,” AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said.
“And when you do that we can work hard to make the game affordable.”
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Wow. This is a landmark deal which shows just how much can be done when people are able to put their egos aside and do something for the better of the game.
Meanwhile, in 2017, it took the NRL over a year to reach an agreement with the RLPA on the collective bargaining agreement, all the while the NRL couldn’t get a loan of $30 million to pay back the clubs.
And who could forget former chairman of the Australian Rugby league Commission John Grant promising to fund each club up to 130 per cent of their total payments from 2018 onwards, only to backflip on it?
Now, Peter Beattie – the new chairman – can’t even differentiate between Newcastle and a Barcelona jersey.
I know the NRL has just established a women’s competition, but what about other areas of the game? Every team needs to send at least one home game to country towns and keep the game spreading. This will result in a sell-out crowd every time, breeding huge excitement.
From this, introduce more grassroots funding. How are we meant to find the next Johnathan Thurston or Cameron Smith if we don’t endorse them at the fundamental level? We need to grow the game from the bottom up, before kids start going to rugby union, AFL and football.
I plea to the NRL and the clubs bosses to stop fighting and get over your differences, otherwise the race with us and the AFL is over.