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Who are NRL HQ's least to most favourite teams?

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Expert
13th February, 2019
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When juxtaposed against the NRL’s release of each club’s relative third-party sponsorship amounts, the deregistration of Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe and the accompanying massive fine of the club last year shows just how deep the divide is between the NRLs haves and have-nots.

Sure, by the letter of the law, if Pascoe did the deal he is said to have done in regard to Robbie Farah, the NRL is probably justified in handing out a punishment.

However, the reality is that there is such clear inequality in the current system that if you are one of the unfashionable clubs without rich suitors lining up to ‘sponsor’ your star players – whether it be via registered third-party deals or ‘other’ channels – then you probably have to bend the rules if you are going to be any chance of being competitive.

It seems Justin got busted.

» Every NRL squad

I guess as the European part of this society was founded by many people who were banished here for stealing the food they needed to survive while the well-to-do were living high on the hog, consigning Pascoe to metaphorical transportation in a prison hulk for a deal he made for a player no-one else even wanted is probably appropriate.

Before the start of last season, I pointed out that the Roosters and Storm had been handed the most blatantly favourable draw and that it needed to be redone if the NRL was at all interested in fairness.

But it wasn’t redone.

Unsurprisingly, the Roosters and the Storm ended up contesting the 2018 grand final.

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Joe Stimson of the Storm is tackled during the 2018 NRL Grand Final.

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

In fact those two clubs have featured in 15 grand finals in the last two decades.

Given these facts, kicking the crap out of the Wests Tigers club while they are clearly down really highlights how little the merged club matters in the grand scheme of things to those running the game.

The Wests Tigers have just had their coach poached, have incredible difficulties attracting and retaining players and haven’t made the finals in seven years, and now the NRL has heavily fined them and banned their CEO for a deal they made to get a player well past his prime.

Compare that to the total lack of action that the NRL took against the Broncos following the Andrew Gee affair.

Then Broncos football manager Andrew Gee used $300,000 from Broncos Leagues Club coffers for something. Gee was also a director of the leagues club. Yet somehow the NRL managed to take absolutely no action against the Broncos.

All that happened was that Gee resigned and refused to answer any questions. Apparently they couldn’t compel him. This seemingly stopped the NRL in their tracks.

Apparently no-one else at the Broncos was involved at all, so the matter was dropped.

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I guess the NRL did get a tad miffed when Gee sat in the box with Wayne Bennett last season. They may even have sent the Broncos one of their terrifying ‘concerning act’ letters – the sort they sent to Kevin Proctor after he attacked Jordan Rapana.

In regard to the NRL’s lack of action against the Broncos on this issue, Roy Masters had this to say: “…this does not satisfy clubs like the Storm, Bulldogs, Titans, Warriors and Raiders who have lost premierships, points, players and payments from sponsors, as well as paid massive fines, as a result of salary cap breaches (some still contested).”

Now add to that list the Wests Tigers.

I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel – to paraphrase George Orwell’s Animal Farm – that some clubs are more equal than others when it comes to the treatment meted out by those in charge of the game.

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With that in mind I thought I’d examine who I reckon are the least to most important teams to those in charge at NRL HQ.

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The untouchables

Gold Coast Titans
Who the hell cares about the Titans? I mean really? Who actually gives a crap? No-one, that’s who.

The fourth iteration in the region so far in 30 years, they are the longest-lived to date but probably only because the almighty broadcast deal demands eight games most weekends. If it didn’t, they would surely have been allowed to go the same way as the Seagulls, Chargers and Giants – into oblivion with very few mourners.

Their small crowds and even smaller TV ratings – while being neighbours to the biggest club in regards to both those attributes – mean that they can attract bugger all of anything they need to have any chance of success and are just making up the numbers.

Newcastle Knights
Another side that almost went out backwards recently, the Knights are a proud and well-supported club. However, the NRL reflects their views on the Novocastrians by regularly giving them bugger all free-to-air games – that’s in spite of them averaging 15,000 crowds – all but crippling their ability to attract lucrative shirt sponsorship.

With the exception of a preliminary final blip a few years back, they’ve routinely just been making up the numbers and forced to explore disastrous funding models to attempt competitiveness.

Canberra Raiders
The only reason the NRL would rank the team from the Canberra/Queanbeyan/Goulburn/Yass region above the Knights and Titans is that you don’t have to worry about the Raiders’ finances. However, those pesky people keep expecting things like a fair share of free-to-air games and are always complaining about the inherent deficiencies in the salary cap system.

Further, they clearly have a culture problem down there – and don’t give me that rubbish about it being because the players they often have to take a punt on in order to attempt competitiveness have often been kicked out of other places.

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The unloved

Wests Tigers
See above. A club clearly down and struggling, so let’s sink the boot in! However, they do get a fair few free-to-air games, it must be said, possibly for the same reasons that the Christians got lots of gigs at the colosseum though.

New Zealand Warriors
It’s a great idea having a New Zealand club in the competition because the time zone thing means you can easily shove them in the Australian daytime and early evening scheduling with none of the usual free-to-air complaints the unwashed clubs make. However, who really cares about them?

I guess they are consistently inconsistent so they mostly don’t rob Australian clubs of finals positions.

The problem children

Parramatta Eels
The NRL putting a new administration in place at the Eels showed that they eventually realised they needed to at least feign some concern in regard to the perennial rolling dysfunction that has personified Parramatta for over three decades. Like the Wests Tigers, they get lots of free-to-air games but no real assistance to help them get off their knees.

It has been 34 years since they won a premiership, the longest drought of the current NRL clubs.

Parramatta Eels

(AAP Image/Craig Golding)

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Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
In all fairness to the NRL, it would be much easier to be supportive of the Sharks if they weren’t always delinquent. Drugs (performance enhancing), drugs (party), poor behaviour (off-field), poor behaviour (on-field), salary cap issues et cetera.

Somehow their players received a slap on the wrist for the same peptides that saw the Essendon Bombers players sit out a year. The Millwall of the NRL.

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
The NRL’s only club on the north shore is a bit of a basket case right now. A dilapidated stadium and facilities. A reduced salary cap due to being caught rorting the same, as well as a fair bit of coaching turmoil to boot, are just some of their issues.

The boardroom usually seems to resemble a battlefield as well. In their favour they’ve got Daly Cherry-Evans, the Trbojevic brothers and some of the greatest one-eyed supporters in the game. However, there ain’t much love from NRL HQ right now.

Always welcome at the BBQ

North Queensland Cowboys
It seems like an age since the mob from Townsville were a problem child. Now regular finalists with some superstars in their ranks, NRL HQ will be hoping that the retirement of Johnathan Thurston doesn’t see them revert to the bad old days, but for now the Cowboys aren’t a problem.

Johnathan Thurston

Johnathan Thurston. (Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

St George Illawarra Dragons
They’ve got some issues, admittedly, but they have good crowds at the grounds and good viewing numbers. On top of that the Red V is a tradition that NRL HQ likes having around, even if it has been a bit sullied by those Wollongong types.

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Penrith Panthers
Say what you will about the Panthers, but they’ve got their finances sorted. They are the biggest thing in that region of the world too. They look like they are close to some on-field success as well, while their off-field issues seem to have calmed right down of late.

They’re the sort of club NRL HQ like having around.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
The Dogs may be struggling right now, but they are an inherently strong club with masses of hardcore, rusted-on fans and the great Dean Pay at the helm. They’ll be back as a force sooner rather than later and in the meantime they’ll be getting plenty of free-to-air games.

South Sydney Rabbitohs
While the Cardinal and Myrtle were dumped from the NRL way back at the turn of the century, it seems they actually do have quite the rusted-on supporter base who turn up at the ground and turn on the telly to watch. The NRL is happy to give them lots of free-to-air games.

The golden children

Melbourne Storm
The Storm dynasty under Craig Bellamy, Cam Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk was – albeit salary cap-rorting assisted – irrepressible. No-one puts baby in the corner, especially when they are perennial finalists and regular grand finalists – except when banned from doing so of course – so they’ll always get lots of free-to-air games.

Their third-party sponsorship deals are off the charts too. The NRL may turn away from the Storm at some stage, but it won’t be this season.

Cameron Smith

Camerona Smith (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

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Sydney Roosters
A small supporter base and miserable home crowds haven’t stopped the Roosters getting superb draws and lots of free-to-air games. Perennial finalists, their third-party sponsorship deals are apparently on par with the Canberra Raiders.

As Uncle Nick says, they just manage the salary cap better than the other clubs, which is well demonstrated by them recruiting the likes of James Tedesco, Angus Crichton and Cooper Cronk while keeping the bulk of their existing list together.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Brisbane Broncos
When a one-team town is in a town of over two million people packed full of rugby league fans, it is no surprise they have the biggest crowds and biggest TV ratings. Other codes in that position – for example, the AFL in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth – have put additional teams in those markets with great success.

But not the NRL in Brisbane. There’s been lots of talk for years of a second Brisbane side, but don’t expect NRL HQ to do any such thing unless a gun is held to their collective heads. The Broncos reign supreme.

It’s probably about time that a team with that amount of advantage won another premiership though.

The undisputed favourites

The Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues
These two sides are without doubt the two most important teams to NRL HQ. The annual series is the cash cow that makes the whole operation work. All must bow down to State of Origin and all do.

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