If Billy Slater is suspended, perhaps he can still have a farewell in a championship decider – but back in front of his adoring home fans.
The NRL has taken the step of announcing a ‘Magic Round’ weekend of footy in Brisbane in Round 10 next year.
With that in mind I thought now is the right time to debut as a writer on this column. I have some long held opinions on how rugby league can be a better spectacle, but for now here are my thoughts on some of what I think would be good ideas in selling and marketing the game.
1. Back to the future
I don’t know if I’m showing my age or not, but can someone drag out of retirement the person or persons responsible for the 1990s Winfield Cup marketing campaign with Tina Turner and Jimmy Barnes. It was simply the best piece of marketing I can think of.
This is what launched the game to new heights and led to an explosion of popularity in the former union stronghold of New Zealand It also led to four bids clambering to join the competition and ultimately being admitted. Okay, well, Tina is 78 years old, but get Barnes back and team him up with Jessica Mauboy. Surely that’s a winner!
2. Anzac Test
Where has this fixture gone? This game has been treated like the unwanted child of rugby league, pushed around the calendar from pillar to post. This needs to be brought back with no equivocation. There is a game between Australia and New Zealand in October. It may be a trans-Tasman fixture. but this is not an Anzac test. This needs to be played on or around the Anzac weekend.
Please let’s not say that weekend is for Anzac round for the clubs. The 16 NRL clubs will be playing the regular season regardless. People will attend or not attend those games regardless, but surely nothing could be better than test match footy.
The NRL says it is committed to growing the international game – well, let them put our money where their mouth is. I think the game should be played on Anzac Day and have the option to add an end-of-season match with each nation hosting a home game and alternating which nation hosts.
In the same vein as a return of the Anzac fixture, you could have a return of the nines tournament, but you would need to broaden the appeal of it as a spectacle. Make it a preseason weekend or a preseason mid-week knockout competition. You would have all the NRL clubs participating along with Intrust Super Cup teams from both sides of the border. Also invite Pacific nations and domestic teams from across the Tasman.
I think it would potentially draw greater interest than merely fielding the same 16 NRL teams and if held across a weekend or two and generate more opportunity for a greater range of supporters to go to, watch and enjoy rugby league – and surely more supporters means more bums on seats and cash in the NRL coffers.
4. Partnership games or rounds
There is or has been a Marvel, an Indigenous, a women of league and a heritage round. So what exactly am I proposing to throw into the mix? This is one game that would be played to headline this initiative: Souths versus Manly.
So what makes this even vaguely interesting or marketable? These two teams are rivals, but what if you added an extra layer of rivalry and spice to it? Here’s the twist: South Sydney will wear the red and black strip of the Bears and the game will be played at North Sydney Oval.
And what about this as another idea: the Roosters can play the Sharks but with the twist that the two opposing sides will be in Wyong and Newton traditional strips and played at Henson Park or Morry Breen Oval?
These are just two examples of what could be done. Why do it? There can be no doubt that the clubs in the NRL have a higher profile and therefore more resources, but they also maintain their profile at the expense of the clubs they have feeder arrangements with. The likes of North Sydney and Newton are foundation clubs which, as Steve Mascord wrote in his piece, “have bankable IP in Australian rugby league and seem held back from leveraging it by the NRL behemoth and the chaotic structures in which they operate”.
Along with Wyong, which has a history dating back to 1910, here is an opportunity to give these clubs some of the reward for the hard graft they do without the glory behind the scenes. This is the chance to directly give back to lower tiers. And what other examples can be developed and what other lower tier and grassroots clubs could stand to benefit from any other similar arrangement?
Well, there it is: just a few ideas I’ve come up with. What would you change? What would you add? There is no doubt there’s a whole world of ideas out there; it is surely a measure of bringing them out into the open.