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Super League revisited: More 'what ifs'

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5th October, 2020
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This week’s edition focuses on the warring competitions’ fight to recruit clubs and establish themselves.

What if Super League moved to the Central Coast?
Way back in part two of this series, jamesb wrote a scenario in the comments section suggesting North Sydney defecting to Super League as a Central Coast team:

“As for North Sydney, they wanted to relocate to the Central Coast. However looking back on it now, their biggest mistake was not joining Super League. Super League were after a tenth club and it eventually went to the Adelaide Rams. But it could have easily gone to Norths.

Super League might’ve looked after Norths financially in the short term before committing themselves on the coast. Plus Manly were loyal to the ARL thanks to key figures like Ken Arthurson and Bob Fulton. Instead Norths stuck loyal to the ARL.

“When the comp was compromised and the criteria was set out, Norths were in the bottom few. Manly weren’t that much better off either, and that’s when the Northern Eagles came in.

“When you think about it, Norths had a few cards up their sleeve with relocating to the Central Coast and going to Super League. While Manly could’ve been the ones under the gun. In the end, the Bears didn’t play any of their cards and are now in permanent hibernation from the top flight.

“The three Sydney clubs that went to Super League all survived.”

The proposal makes sense; with the Bears being a fairly wealthy foundation club fresh from a preliminary final, they would have represented a coup for the new competition.

Not attracting the Bears, however, should not have been the end of the matter. A Gosford team could have existed not only as an alternative for spectators from the northern suburbs of Sydney, but also Novocastrians.

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The Central Coast Mariners, a name not yet in use, would have been a better alternative than the Hunter side that was created instead, with an untapped market of potential fans, juniors, and sponsors. Even if the Hunter Mariners were still formed, a Central Coast team had more potential than the hastily formed Adelaide Rams.

The Bears. (Photo by Getty Images)

What if Super League approached South Sydney?
Super League managed to convince eight of the 20 ARL clubs to join their rebel competition, with 11 teams rejecting their advances. The odd team out was South Sydney, the only club never to be approached.

At the time, the Rabbitohs were the antithesis of the Super League vision: low crowds, poor on-field, outdated training facilities, short on money, and lacking business nous. But if they defected, the results would have been mutually beneficial.

Souths could have received an income source that would have offered them some parity in the player market, and they might have strengthened their hopes of survival.

Super League could have had a team based in Sydney’s CBD, avoided having to set up one of their expansion clubs, and been able to argue more strongly for their competition’s legitimacy. South Sydney were (and are) are a foundation club who have won more premierships than any other club. This would have required a tweak to the PR approach focusing on modernity, but a worthwhile one.

There are too many hypothetical club movements on either side to enter into, but the fact that Super League didn’t even try to approach the Rabbitohs a massive wasted opportunity.

Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett could have been at Souths earlier. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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What if either competition went to Melbourne?
Yes, yes, the Melbourne Storm were formed at the end of 1997. But what about before then, as a Super League expansion or an ARL relocation?

Super League wanted a national footprint, and Melbourne had maintained credible crowds at representative fixtures, even when the star power was diminished by the war. The teams who stayed loyal to the ARL were predominantly from Sydney, when they had fought to have expanded from that base in the preceding years.

Balmain had even explored moving to the Victorian capital prior to their Sydney Tigers at Parramatta Stadium rebranding. Notwithstanding Melbourne’s Australian rules monopoly, surely clubs with diminishing revenues could at least have tried to make it work.

What if Super League had better free-to-air coverage?
Blame Gary Sweet. Police drama Water Rats was a ratings juggernaut for Channel 9 in its 8:30pm timeslot on Monday night. In 1996, the ARL had to wait until Water Rats finished its season before reintroducing Monday night football.

Super League, as already mentioned, ended up negotiating with Channel 9 to screen their match of the round. They wanted Monday night, but 9 weren’t willing to reschedule Water Rats and insisted on showing Super League at 9:30pm.

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The ensuing protest led to the horrible compromise of ARL’s Friday night game also being shown at 9:30pm.

Super League should have looked to be screened on the vacant Sunday afternoon or live on Thursday night at 7:30. If 9 said no, another network could surely have been able to cover one game per week.

In addition, those without Foxtel would have assumed Super League was a seven-team competition. Adelaide, North Queensland, and Perth were never shown on 9. Hunter Mariners fared little better, shown only once; even then, their clash with Canterbury was the only game played on that split round weekend.

Aside from Perth home games opening up the potential for a live Monday night fixture, showing the same clubs over and over made the product become stale, to the extent that Channel 9’s commentators were instructed to pep up their calls.

I remember Mat Rogers scoring a run of the mill try off a bomb and Ray Warren treating it like the 1980 grand final.

Next week’s final article addresses the What If’s of the early NRL era.

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