Since the NRL stopped play in March, there hasn’t seemed to be one slow news day.
The media machine, starved of actual footy talk, has lapped up stories about dirt bikes, TikToks and referee strikes. Add to that a CEO stepping down, broadcasters publicly berating the game and the news that rugby league will apparently feast on the dying carcass that is rugby union, and there’s certainly is a lot to talk about for a sport that isn’t operating.
So among all this noise and madness it may have been missed by many that NRL interim CEO Andrew Abdo announced that the NRLW will be part of the broadcast negotiations going forward.
“The women’s game is a priority and something we’re all very passionate about. It has been part of the discussions and remains a priority for us,” he said in a statement made to NRL.com.
This is big news for the women’s game here in Australia because while NRL HQ has been churning out announcements about the recommencement of the men’s competition this year and beyond, the women’s game had been largely overlooked, with only a few general announcements about clubs cutting their women’s programs this year.
If the women’s game is part of the overall broadcast deal, that would then alleviate some of the clubs cost concerns as those who run NRLW teams should receive a larger grant.
So for the medium to long term at least, the women’s game is part of the conversation. Now with Andrew Abdo coming out and stating that it is part of the negotiations, it is some vindication that the NRLW, Australian Jillaroos and particularly State of Origin add value to the NRL brand in Australia. The game is armed with the knowledge that a solution for this year can be found – one that puts the best players on display and bolsters the Australian game.
When the Women’s State of Origin kicked off last June at a very packed and very chilly North Sydney Oval, the potential of this fixture going forward was obvious. It was a fantastic evening and it really showed all of us how amazing rugby league can be when everyone buys in and we put all the negativity that is usually associated with this game aside. The broadcast numbers reflected this.
Not only did we see a bumper crowd last year of 10,515 but it was also a ratings bonanza, posting a cumulative total of over 1.6 million viewers, out-rating even the Sydney Swans in the Harbour City that evening. So armed with these figures, the NRL should push hard with the idea of a best-of-three Women’s Origin series this year, particularly if the NRLW may not go ahead this year as myopic clubs look to cut costs.
Not only is it the right thing to do, as it promotes diversity and inclusion in the game and opens up a far greater audience than the game usually enjoys, it is also undoubtedly the smart thing to do.
Commercially this makes sense. The game has millions of viewers so it is attractive to a broadcaster and a large amount of those viewers are young females, a demographic heavily targeted by companies looking to advertise, so the series has huge sponsorship appeal.
The beauty of a series is you can build story lines and narratives around each fixture. Selection dramas, ongoing personal rivalries and injury clouds are the bedrock of the success of State of Origin and hungry fans and media lap it up. The last two Women’s Origin matches were a roaring success even as one-off games with limited build-up and preparation time.
The appeal of Origin and the passion and skill of the players brought fans in their droves both at the game and at home. If you could visualise that over a three-game series after the respective state leagues have finished, it is an ever-so-appealing prospect.
With the possibility of a trans-Tasman travel bubble being floated, this game could be immediately followed by a Test between the Jillaroos and the Kiwi Ferns, adding another layer of intrigue as it sets up a good, old-fashioned selection trial.
The headlines almost write themselves: can the veteran Chelsea Baker have enough nous at the back to pry the number one shirt from Corban McGregor? Will Jessica Sergis’ partner on the wing be mercurial Shakiah Tungai or the ever present Meg Ward? And what fan wouldn’t be gripped by the added incentive of a series win from respective state captains Kezie Apps and Ali Brigginshaw coming with the chance of leading Australia?
While there is still a possibility that the NRLW could go ahead, the idea of a best-of-three Origin series played in both NSW and Queensland followed by a Jillaroos Test is too good an opportunity for the game to overlook.
The fact that this fixture is at worst cost neutral and even possibly a financial boon for the game should have rugby league scheduling this series frantically and heading into the marketplace to find willing sponsors and broadcasters.
Because if there was one drawback from last year’s match, it was that there was only one of them.