The NRL’s ambitious push to emerge from the COVID-19 shutdown has paid off after attracting its biggest television audience for a regular-season game in more than six years.
A combined 1.273 million people tuned in to watch Parramatta pummel Brisbane in the first live Australian sport played since March.
It is understood to be the highest figure since 1.284 million flicked on the box to watch the Broncos lose to the Sydney Roosters in round three back in March 2014.
Almost one million watched on free-to-air broadcaster Channel Nine, including 615,000 across the five major metropolitan areas.
The bulk of that number, not surprisingly, stemmed from Sydney and Brisbane, with fans in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth tuning in via Nine’s secondary channel, Gem.
Foxtel drew an audience of 355,000 for a match broadcast barely an hour after the NRL confirmed a new television deal with both of its network partners.
Currently in the third of a five-year deal, the coronavirus pandemic prompted all parties to re-negotiate the terms of its contract.
Nine informed the stock exchange that it will save more than $56m over the final two-and-a-half years of their current arrangement.
Foxtel extended its partnership with the league until the end of the 2027 season.
The league also earned positive reviews for its radical new six-again rule, which was designed to eliminate the wrestle in the ruck.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart said the new rules had renewed his faith in rugby league.
“I was really losing faith in the game,” Stuart said on Friday.
“I was getting annoyed watching rugby league because I thought there was just too much mess in the actual collision or after the collision.
“The game is still all about collision, you could see that last night.
“The way it was last night … if that’s the theme now, I think you’re going to see a very smart, open game of football. And that’s the product we want.”