In a couple of decades, rugby league might be thanking the current New South Wales opposition leader Michael Daley. He might prove more commercially and culturally beneficial to the game by the end of the century than Laurie Daley was.
For those of you not following state politics, Daley is saying that if his Labor Party comes to power, they won’t rebuild Allianz Stadium once it is knocked down.
The NRL’s response is to suggest that an agreement to play the grand final in Sydney until 2042 will now be voided.
That’s music to my ears. The ’N’ in National Rugby League does not stand for ‘North Of Wollongong’.
A moveable, biddable grand final would be a boom for a game that is not supported in its Australia cradle the way the AFL is in theirs.
The only thing Sydney has done to deserve the grand final until 2042 is to spend $1.8 billion on stadia. If it doesn’t do that, the grand final should go elsewhere.
It’s not the Sydney competition anymore and the fact the Harbour City has eight and a half teams is a weakness, not a strength.
In the current edition of Rugby League World, I did a ‘Time Tunnel’ piece on the 1997 Super League grand final, the only first-class rugby league decider Down Under to be held outside Sydney.
After talking to then-Cronulla CEO Shane Richardson about the lead-up, the players, the game itself, the weather and the seating arrangements for the 58,912 who attended the old ANZ Stadium (in Brisbane, previously known as QEII), I asked him if he though a grand final would ever be held outside Sydney again.
“I think we should,” Shane said. “We’re moving things around now with Origin. Who would have thought Origin would be played in Perth?
“You do deals go get stadiums built. The truth is, great stadiums make great competitions.
“In Sydney, we’ve had **** stadiums and people don’t want to go to **** stadiums. To build (better ones), we’ve had to guarantee grand finals and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that but I think one day we’ll have grand finals all over Australia and all over the world.”
An NRL grand final in Hong Kong is, admittedly, not something we’re likely to see in our lifetimes. But Perth? Melbourne? Brisbane? Absolutely.
Before you say: do I think the Melbourne Cup can be moved from Melbourne? The name’s a problem … but they did hold Rock In Rio … in Portugal. So not insurmountable.
Why not? The Melbourne Cup in Auckland? Yeah.
The AFL grand final too – imagine how much Perth or Adelaide would pay to take it away from Melbourne.
Fly any weekend in the United States and witness the number of travelling sports fans in airports – it’s metaphorical coal for the metaphorical furnace of the country’s weekend economy.
Sports fans stay in hotel rooms and sit in airplane seats when business travellers are at home. Move games and teams around and they bring millions of people with them.
Before we called it “expansion”, back in 1980 when we first started talking about Canberra and Illawarra joining the comp, we referred to “decentralisation”.
That was the buzzword when I was 11 and first getting these strange ideas in my head about the future of sport.
We don’t use that word anymore. The NRL is now “decentralised”. But its biggest event has only gone a few kilometres west.
It’s hanging on, it’s the last bastion, the sacred cow.
Slaughtering that sacred cow is just what rugby league in Australia needs.