This week I couldn’t make up my mind whether to write about Magic Weekend or the Kiwis – so I’m going to have a bet each way.
It’s fascinating but still predictable to see Australian fans whinging about an entire round being moved to Suncorp Stadium, even when they’ve presumably known about it for almost a year.
Or maybe it’s true that no-one reads the papers anymore. More likely no-one believes them.
With Sydney being given the grand final until 2042, Brisbane had to be assuaged somehow. It’s Brisbane, remember, that pays for all the games Sydney doesn’t want – principally World Cup and Four Nations finals but also double-headers transferred from suburban grounds that would be no more than half full if the events had stayed there.
The Queensland Government basically foots the bill for there being too many teams in Sydney – repeatedly. They deserve something in return.
Now, there have actually been sellouts in Sydney this year – it’s bloody amazing. But Sydney fans don’t really want or need their favourite rugby league team to play anywhere near them because most of them won’t go watch anyway.
The NRL rates great on TV, its pop culture ‘hotness’ reading seems to be slowly but steadily increasing (this happened in the Tina Turner years and immediately after the Super League War because, let’s face it, it was 40-below during that imbroglio) but – as Warrington owner Simon Moran said at the media conference of the ‘other’ Super League last week – empty seats on TV send a terrible message to those thinking of investing in the game.
Sydney NRL games are therefore prime candidates to be sold off – as is happening incrementally more often every year – Wellington, Orange, Perth, Adelaide, Mackay, Christchurch. It makes perfectly good sense.
Sydney fans don’t need to be able to go to humdrum home-and-away matches because they don’t take the opportunity when it’s presented.
The clubs have glamorous IP which will have more cache in the marketplace when the stands are full at far-flung outposts while the Sydneysiders watching on TV hardly notice the difference.
There’s no need to relocate these teams – just share them around the country, Australasia and the world and get the perfect combination of sky high TV ratings and full stands.
Toronto have said publicly they intend to play as many as six ‘home’ games on the road next year. They plan to be the Harlem Globetrotters of rugby league while their home town is in deep freeze.
Sydney’s NRL clubs would do well to follow their example. Who knows, if one of gets enough devotees in a new area and gets into enough trouble at home, relocation might happen?
One more thing on this: why not bar club football from every city hosting an Origin match for the duration of the series? Take the entire comp out of Sydney and Brisbane (at a minimum) for six weeks. That way the NRL is promoting Origin in other markets, not competing with it.
Another problem solved.
Now, Kiwi league presenter Sam Ackerman said to me a couple of weeks ago on Trackside Radio that we may be entering an era where players make themselves available for big tournaments and not one-off Tests or tours.
Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s decisions suggest he is right but … is this just a Kiwi thing? And even if it is, is it a pointer to the future for the others?
Certainly the urgency with which England’s NRL players are treating Saturday’s game in Denver suggests the problem is a team-culture issue for Michael Maguire to solve – or a case of some players looking at the pay cheque while others don’t.
But remember – until a few years ago, the Australian team was beset by voluntary withdrawals too, until Mal Meninga came in and focused on making these blokes interested again.
Whether or not all players will eventually go the way of the Kiwis who chose club over country, there’s one way to slow the process: Tonga.
Any game that seems in danger because of participant apathy, just put Tonga in that game. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for them.
I’d be signing them up for Denver 2019 as the Kiwis’ replacements now if I was Jason Moore.
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