A great weekend of trial matches are in the bank, Tigers and Sea Eagles fans are into each other, Dragons fans are in despair, Souths fans are making space for premiership merchandise and everyone’s still laughing at the Broncos. After a barren few months, nature is healing.
Now there are two weeks to get through until the real business gets going. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to look at how teams and the league set themselves up to tackle the job ahead, so for now I’m laying out my 2021 wish list.
Wish 1: A spine for head office
This wish is my annual one, because every year it’s met with crushing disappointment. There’s not much inspiration in the Peter V’landys-Andrew Abdo regime compared to the Peter Beattie-Todd Greenberg version. Rolling over to Channel Nine instead of standing their ground, giving streaming away to Foxtel and Kayo, inventing new rule changes because a random guy on the bus had a thought bubble, expanding the game to Brisbane, being terrified of anything that would grow the game, pandering to the dinosaurs when presented a choice between modernity or chasing a dream about how great things were in the 1980s – or maybe I’m just cynical.
Wish 2: Fewer injuries
The coronavirus-impacted 2020 saw a massive amount of injuries, and it happened in bunches – see Manly, Sydney and Raiders in particular. Already in the trial games this weekend there have been injuries to up and comers like Melbourne’s Harry Grant and New Zealand hooker Wade Egan. Wests Tigers’ Shawn Blore got busted up. Not to mention the list of minor and major injuries coming out of the preseason.
With the introduction of six again penalties for teams inside the ten metres and play the ball instead of scrums for kicks into touch, players might be at even higher risk of injury without opportunities to rest and catch a breath. Rugby league is one of the hardest sports in the world on the body, and I’m wishing that the major injuries are few and far between.
Wish 3: More teams in the hunt
I get it, not every team is a finals team. But in 2020 the gap between the best and the rest was more noticeable than ever and the number of teams you could classify as ‘the best’ shortened too.
The finals last year were done and dusted a long way out from the regular season’s end and it was obvious to all the Knights and Sharks were making up the numbers. The Eels may have finished third, but they’d spent a lot to get there and were run out in straight sets.
The Warriors gave it a crack, the Titans showed some grit and went on a captivating late run, but this was all from a long way back.
Will 2021 be different? I hope so. But right now there are probably six teams you could put a line through for the finals and probably six more you can forget about winning the title.
Is that good for the game? Will people hang around to watch that?
Wish 4: No Rona
Not Curtis Rona, he’s a lovely fella and he hasn’t played in the NRL since 2016. No – I’m wishing for no COVID-19, the coronavirus that has tipped millions of lives upside down. Australia has managed the pandemic incredibly well compared to the rest of the world, and it’s truly remarkable we’ve been able to enjoy sport at all last year and throughout summer.
That doesn’t mean we’re free and clear though. The virus isn’t gone. And with some state premiers seemingly trigger happy to ‘slam’ state borders shut or to require 14 days of quarantine on a whim, there’s always a risk that fixtures might need to be revised or players be kept away from the rest of their squad.
Spare a thought too for the New Zealand Warriors, once more stuck in Australia. And coached by Nathan Brown.
Wish 5: Just one two-point 40-metre field goal
In announcing this incredible new aspect of the game that not one person asked for, ARLC chair Peter V’landys explained it was to suit broadcasters and would “take the element of unpredictability and entertainment a step further”.
Considering the NRL is handing back $53 million in broadcast money from Channel Nine this year and next, I wish to see one – just one – two-point 40-metre field goal, because it’ll be worth $1.325 million per metre to the broadcaster. That’s unpredictable entertainment right there. Channel Nine must be laughing their arses off.
On a personal note, it’s great to be back for another year of rugby league. I’ve missed The Roar and all of you quite a bit, and boy oh boy am I looking forward to writing about the issues of the week and getting further into it in the comment section.
What’s on your wish list for NRL season 2021?