The Roar
The Roar


Rumours of the NRL's death are greatly exaggerated

Gerard Sutton. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
27th July, 2018
2030 Reads

The NRL administration’s reaction to the series of errors in last week’s Cronulla versus Canberra clash has been nothing short of farcical.

The touch judge, Rick MacFarlane, has been made the scapegoat for the entire Flaggate episode and has been demoted.

The pocket referee, Gavin Reynolds, will spend some time on the sidelines for missing a forward pass in the same game. Gerard Sutton and Luke Patten, the Bunker operator, look to have escaped any real sanction.

Serious questions need to be asked as to why some officials have been publicly hung out to dry while others saddle up again straight away.

A number of NRL commentators have then gone on to say, and I paraphrase, that the game is dying and the refereeing of these games is partially responsible.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the numbers simply don’t support these assertions. To steal from Mark Twain, news of the NRL’s death has been greatly exaggerated.

The average NRL crowd for 2018, on latest figures, is 15,202, up 1.9% on 2017’s 14,919. We can expect the average to increase as we move closer to semifinal action.

It’s true that there has been a significant fall of close to 1,000 people since 2012, but crowds are no different than what they were in 2015.

Foxtel’s retro round is celebrating the 1980’s and 1990’s. Not once in that period did the average top 15,000.


I’m not saying that there isn’t room for improvement, but what I am saying, though, is that the death of rugby league is not imminent.

We can all relax.

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This is further supported by television ratings. In a time when people are actually switching off their televisions, presumably in favour of other mediums – NRL ratings have held relatively steady.

There was much talk around the poor State of Origin ratings for State of Origin III. In reality, the State of Origin’s three games were three of the four highest watched programs of the year, with the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony preventing a clean sweep.

The game is still watched in numbers because it is a good product. In the 2018 season thus far, the competition leaders have lost five games and the teams at the bottom of the ladder have won four each. The difference between first and eighth is two wins.

Close games are the norm and while I’m not a fan of third-party agreements, it is clear that the salary cap, unless you are a Canterbury Bulldogs fan, works.

Anyone in the top eight can win the premiership this year and that will keep interest high.


Whether the NRL survives due to, or despite, the NRL administration is an interesting question.

The referees are one issue, the drive out of suburban grounds – where tribalism and crowd atmosphere is at its best – is another.

We’ve seen a crisis or two in the NRL before and they do pass. There will be something to come out of Round 20, hopefully, football related.

The NRL is not dying. It’s not even close.