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Opinion

What rugby league should look like post-COVID: Part 1

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Roar Rookie
27th May, 2020
15

After 67 days living in a rugby league-less world, the NRL is finally back.

This over-achievement during such unprecedented times is largely due to our fearless leader, Peter V’landys, also known as the rugba leeg philanthropist – the hero the NRL deserves and needs right now.

He is an unequivocally staunch operator who over the past two months was determined to save the game from extinction, and unapologetically did just that.

Peter V’landys

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Optimism is what every rugby league fan should be feeling right now because at this point the NRL has been saved for the 2020 season, but that is only the beginning.

The greatest game of all needs the greatest operator rugby league has had in decades, and if V’landys is signed long-term as he should be, then he could take advantage of the COVID-19 silver lining: being given an opportunity to alter key aspects of the game from 2021 onward to markedly improve the NRL on and off the field.

Part one of my two-part piece will cover a new-look NRL draw for 2021 and beyond.

Pre-season (February)

Trials
NRL teams organise their trials as usual and play them at venues in country towns, expansion areas or non-traditional markets across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. There is so much more to gain from holding trials in areas that don’t get usual first-grade football.

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NRL Nines
The NRL needs to persist with the club nines tournament, which again should be utilised to spread the game to new or growing markets. Cities like Adelaide, Darwin, or returning to Perth provides invaluable first-hand rugby league experience and knowledge to community clubs.

(James Worsfold/Getty Images)

Ensuring there is a blend of established stars, fringe first-graders and rookies competing in the NRL Nines would allow the tournament to gain traction from a marketing perspective while also providing a better on-field product, and ultimately another valuable revenue stream.

All-Stars Match
The NZ Maori pitted against the Australian Indigenous is a match that has regained relevance on the calendar as both teams have something to play for: passion and pride. The week leading into this game is a celebration of both cultures, with the respect shown on and off the field being a testament to how diverse and inclusive our game is.

Season proper

Regular season: first half (March to May)
The NRL will kick off in the first week of March and play through to the final week of May, completing 13 rounds of the regular season.

During this period, no team will face another team twice. This avoids the embarrassing scenarios of the past where teams have played against one another twice within a month’s period, bringing the integrity of the competition into question. This has to stop.

Ben Hunt (L) of the Dragons celebrates with Zac Lomax (R) after scoring a try

(Matt King/Getty Images)

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Representative window (June)
No club games are played during this period, with the four weeks within the month of June giving State of Origin and the international game stand-alone coverage.

To ensure the availability of every rugby league player, the English Super League would need to align their draw to pause their competition and also allow for the June representative window.

State of Origin could be played over three consecutive Wednesdays. Alternatively, from a more beneficial player welfare standpoint, the series can be played Wednesday-Sunday-Wednesday, giving players ten-day breaks between games.

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For the international scene, Australia would be the only nation unable to participate. But seeing as the game doesn’t revolve around the Kangaroos, this period would allow all other nations to organise Test matches.

Continental competitions in Oceania/Asia, Europe, Americas, and Middle East/Africa can commence as well as multiple international best-of-three series that could mirror State of Origin, specifically New Zealand versus England, Tonga versus Samoa, even Wales versus Jamaica. Ultimately, the representative window allows the international rugby league body to establish a formidable ten-year rolling calendar.

State of Origin and meaningful international tournaments being played during this period would ensure televised games each week that the NRL and Super League has been paused for and generate some much-needed funds for the representative game. Everyone’s a winner.

James Tedesco

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Regular season: second half (July to mid-September)
Round 14 of the NRL season will be played in the first week of July, with Round 24 finalising the regular season in mid-September.

In an ideal world, each team would play against the other in the regular season either once (a 15-round season is too short) or twice (a 30-round season is too long) to ensure fairness, although 16 clubs make it very tricky. And because money talks, the current season length was considered the best option.

Finals (mid-September to mid-October)
The top eight teams in the regular season will battle it out as per the current finals format over a four-week period.

The grand final will be played in the second week of October at a refurbished ANZ Stadium in Sydney to determine the NRL premiers with kick off commencing at the family-friendly Sunday 5.30pm twilight time slot.

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The Super League premiership match will also be aligned with NRL grand final week for the purposes of the upcoming World Club Challenge.

Post-season

World Club Challenge
Moved from its original pre-season time slot, the WCC – which pits the NRL premiers against the Super League premiers – would be played two weeks after their respective grand finals.

The biggest problem with this fixture in its current state is the winning clubs are usually fielding very different line-ups in February to the ones that won them their premiership four months prior.

With the revised date, playing the WCC prior to the November 1 deadline will ensure the same grand final-winning squads are contesting the WCC title, with two weeks after the grand final giving players enough time to recover and prepare.

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Venues could alternate between Australia and England or be neutral altogether. Regardless, selecting a venue well in advance of knowing the grand finalists would build this fixture for fans and ultimately restore prestige to a game that crowns the world champions.

International window (November to December)
With State of Origin wrapped up, the Australian Kangaroos would be available for Tests, participating in their annual match against the Kiwis, an Ashes series involving England, as well as their involvement in the Oceania Cup.

Boyd Cordner

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Continental competitions that began during the June representative window could recommence in the post-season and be finalised by December if need be. Although keep in mind every four-year cycle from 2021 is the pinnacle event of the game, the Rugby League World Cup.

It would be ideal for the NRL to adopt this revised draw as it benefits representative football greatly, and also provides some fairness for clubs in the regular season. Having set periods for different levels of the game provides clarity for broadcasters and sponsors where continuity of certain tournaments and fixtures is apparent, essentially creating further revenue for rugby league as a whole.

The second edition of this two-part article will touch on expansion, reserve grade, representative pathways, grassroots, different versions of league, game-day operations, marketing (national and global), as well as various innovative ideas.

To conclude, a round of applause is in order for our leader in V’landys. I am certain a collective sigh of relief and sense of satisfaction will be heard around the world when the first Steeden is kicked for the 2020 NRL season relaunch.

So on behalf of every rugba leeg fan, I say thank you.

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