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Australian rugby league has gone into election mode

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Expert
13th May, 2019
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1112 Reads

We all know the drill with politicians around election time. Suddenly the local school and hospital are promised that much needed funding after a couple of years of fruitless lobbying.

The Wests Tigers desperately-needed Centre of Excellence at Concord became a reality recently after both major parties promised funding if elected on Saturday.

As the NRL CEO, Todd Greenberg is not subject to an election for his position. He has been in the job a touch over three years so perhaps a contract review is around the corner.

With ARLC Chair and former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie working in tandem the NRL has taken on the demeanour of an incumbent government seeking re-election. Beattie had 18 years in politics. Like his contemporaries he is well versed in polishing a turd. Not that there is too many of those to polish at the moment.

A ‘State of the Nation’ media release at the end of April informed the masses that rugby league is doing well.

ARL Commission Chairman Peter Beattie speaks to the media

Peter ‘Block-Rockin’ Beattie was in favour of expansion, then he wasn’t. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Penalties are down after Todd and Head of Football Graham Annesley – who also had a stint as a politician – directed the referees to use the whistle sparingly this season. The rules crackdown of last season was deemed an unsuccessful initiative after being widely criticised by fans and media.

If you don’t agree with the refereeing decision that were made on the weekend, Annesley will provide justification or in some cases admissions ‘they got it wrong’ via an NRL generated video.

After detailing increases in total free-to-air television audiences (four per cent), national total subscription viewership (three per cent), club memberships (three per cent) and total attendances (two per cent) on this time last year, Beattie also mentioned the ‘Footprint Strategy’. I am not sure what exactly the strategy entails but it sounds like it might be impressive.

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Beattie went on to say “In the case of our footprint strategy, I have said before that our fans are at the centre of every decision we make. The next phase will provide an opportunity for us to engage with our key stakeholders to obtain their views and feedback.”

So it appears the NRL want to please the clubs and supporters. It is a shift away from the ‘we need to make decisions for the good of the game and sometimes those decisions will be unpopular’ statements from head office.

Last week the NRL’s own media site announced that suburban grounds in Sydney will be used again in the first week of finals allowing fans to watch their team in what are likely to be sell-outs on their home turf.

The NRL was helped to this decision by the lack of availability of Allianz Stadium and uncertainty of ANZ Stadium, but clearly it will be popular.

The new Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta.

Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

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Fans voted with their feet last season when only 17,000 turned up at ANZ Stadium to the week one finals match between Penrith and the New Zealand Warriors.

Regional teams Newcastle and Canberra will have happy fans if they go deep into the final series after the NRL announced they could play preliminary rounds at home.

And so to Magic Round last weekend, a concept borrowed from our English counterparts and massaged to suit the Australian environment.

The weekend was a success off the field with over 134,000 fans coming through the gates at Suncorp.

While there was a fairly large injury toll, that some have attributed to the consequence of the heavy use of the turf at the Suncorp Stadium, the event was given the thumbs up.

If you want evidence of the current turnaround in media mood towards the NRL have a quick glance at Buzz Rothfield’s Twitter feed over the weekend. Remarkable in its positivity.

My one sticking point before Magic Round was that it could have been held in an area where the NRL were looking to expand rather than going for the safe Brisbane option.

However the Todd Greenberg was on the front foot telling the Sydney Morning Herald that the Magic Round was an “opportunity for us to consider new markets and new fans who haven’t been to a game” once the contract with the Queensland Government expires in 2020.

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Brisbane Broncos

The NRL is calling Magic Round a success, but will it work outside of rugby league heartland?. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Singapore along with Perth, Auckland or Melbourne have been mooted as possible future venues.

NRL rounds in Bathurst, Wagga, Tamworth and the Sunshine Coast have all been well received by regional based supporters. Mudgee will play host next round.

It’s never going to be all plain sailing however and the NRL’s ‘No Fault Stand Down Policy’ continues to be debated and has attracted criticism.

As head of the governing body it was incumbent on Greenberg to make a statement and take a firm stand on the reports of poor player behaviour and player criminal charges that were damaging the reputation of the game. That has been done.

My Roar colleague AJ Mithen told us a couple of weeks ago that rugby league is in a happy place. He was right. Todd and Peter have been reinforcing how happy we should be via a constant stream of communications.

If ABC analyst Antony Green wasn’t so busy with a federal election I might be asking him to get his swing calculator out and apply it to the NRL. My guess is that he would report an upward swing and that Todd’s seat is safe. For the moment anyway.