Revamp of the NRL Season

By Daniel Andruczyk

In recent months, as we see every year, all the “experts” come out telling the NRL and everyone else how to improve the game and the competition. It seems like every hack and his dog has an opinion… and this hack I suppose is no better. I usually tend to stay out of these debates, but I have been persuaded by enough people that I should put out my ideas on what I think.

So I will do this, mind you remember that I look at this not just from the perspective of the NRL but rugby league as a whole and will try and show how a revamped NRL will be better for the international game as well. So lets begin.

The Issues

One of the great cry’s of our players is that they have too many games and can suffer from burn out. Due to the physical nature of the sport this actually is a very real risk and one that needs to be looked at. At the moment I think its safe to say that players, administrators and fans agree that the current season is just about at the players limits. So just a recap, there are four weeks of pre season matches, twenty six weeks of regular rounds, four weeks of play offs. This makes a grand total of thirty four (34) weeks that the game is played!

The another issue is the State of Origin and weather it needs to be played as a stand alone match or kept at the mid week spot with the split round. The main argument for it being kept at the mid week spot is TV revenue. Its a massive TV audience puller with millions around the world watching it. But without the NRL to supplement it on the weekend the money would still be less than a full round. The call for it being stand alone is that the standard of the NRL drops because the “Stars” are taken out of their teams and usually is the reserves that are on show. So to avoid it just ditch the NRL games for that weekend, give all the players a rest and have the State of Origin as a stand alone match.

New Franchises. At the moment the NRL is pretty much East coast of Australia, which adds fuel to those in the AFL and even Rugby Union that its all that it will ever be. However there are now many candidates for inclusion into the NRL from all over the place. Perth, Central coast, Central Queensland and even Papua New Guinea. A Pacific Islands team and a second New Zealand team based out of Wellington have also been touted.

The Solution

Teams

First the big debate is how many teams should we have in the NRL. Personally I think there is the money and room for 20 teams. If there are so many applicants wanting in then this surely must mean the money and player stock is there. So what is the solution? Well here are the teams I would have (in bold are the current NRL teams):

  1. Brisbane Broncos
  2. Gold Coast Titans
  3. North Queensland Cowboys
  4. New Zealand Warriors
  5. Sydney City Roosters
  6. South Sydney Rabbithos
  7. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
  8. St George-Illawarra Dragons
  9. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
  10. Wests Tigers
  11. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
  12. Parramatta Eels
  13. Penrith Panthers
  14. Newcastle Knights
  15. Canberra Raiders
  16. Melbourne Storm
  17. Central Coast (Gosford)
  18. Western Australia (Perth)
  19. Central Queensland (Noosa to Rockhampton)
  20. Northern Territory (Darwin)

The four new teams in my opinion are no brainers. Central coast and Central Queensland are two heartland areas of the sport that have strong country and regional competitions as well as good junior bases. In fact many of our top players come from these regions. So why not have them in there? A Newcastle – Gosford Local Derby would be fantastic.

The other two offer the expansion of the game to give the N in NRL that truly National tag. To me Western Australia is a heartland state in Rugby league, most Rugby League fans have forgotten this but in its day back in the 50’s and 60’s Perth was an integral part of tours for nations and matches like WA v France would regularly get over 15k to matches (by those days they were big crowds considering Perth was a small city). The player base is there in the WA comp, the Western Reds already have a team in the better NSW comps and are looking to have a shot in the QLD comps soon, so if anything there would be 20-25 Western Australian Player to supplement the usual player stocks that are dominated by NSW and QLD.

Northern Territory would be a bit of a gamble but one that would pay off ultimately I think. They have shown that support is there packing out Richardson Park with 8000 people for trial matches (which is capacity). They governments there is looking to increase the capacity of Richardson Park to 12,000 I think so this could be a viable option. If not an NT team on its own then they could merge with the Cowboys and form maybe a North Australian Cowboys team. With home matches done similar like Wests Tigers that are split between two home grounds. If this merger would happen then I would look for maybe an Adelaide team and at very worst a second Kiwis team.

Under no circumstances would I have a Papuan New Guinea or Pacific Island team. These would only serve to kill the local comps and bleed the stocks off from their home nations into the Australian and New Zealand National teams. For the sake of international rugby league this has to be avoided.

Note: New Zealand is an interesting one. Many will argue that their inclusion is necessary for the NRL and their development, and maybe it is for the time being. But personally I would rather see them eventually pour more resources into having a good strong Kiwis domestic competition where players can earn a good quid in NZ and boost the ranks there. I think its far more beneficial for New Zealand to do that than to continually drain the local comps. The other advantage I see is then a team in Adelaide can start to be groomed. Otherwise i order to accommodate teams we would need a sort of merger with the Northern Territory and North Queensland, which may be beneficial in itself. I would be very, very weary of killing off any of the traditional Sydney teams.

Competition

Now the critical thing, how many matches to be played in the new look NRL competition? I think we can agree that the current 34 week season is probably just about enough, this does not include the international season which adds another 6 weeks or so. So my proposal is this:

  1. A pre season knock out competition (5 weeks)
  2. week off
  3. NRL comp where all teams play each other once (19 weeks) and then there is a Local Derby/Rivalry round (20 weeks).
  4. Play-offs and finals, this includes the Australia PM XIII v PNG match as it is now (4 weeks).
  5. Origin matches and other internationals (3 weeks).
  6. Week off.
  7. International season (6 weeks)
Pre-season knock out competition

The Knock out competition would take place over 5 weeks with two rounds and then a quarter finals, semi finals and final. It would begin with 32 teams, this would be the 20 NRL teams with the first 16 to get seeding from the previous years table finish in the NRL competition. Then there would be the champions from the QLD Cup, NSW Cup, Bundy Red Cup. So this makes it 23. Then a NSW country and QLD country teams represented. the two finalists from the NZ Bartercard cup NPC competition. So now there is 27 spots. The PNG champions and the champions from the Victorian, Western Australian, South Australian and Northern Territory competitions, rounding it at 32 teams.

What this does is gives other teams a shot at the “big boys”, we always want NZ and PNG to have a better shot and to try and expand the game nationally, then this is the best first step to have. In the first round you have the non-seeded teams with home ground advantage, chances are that these will all be in “expansion areas” anyway so its spreading the word. the second round you take the games on the road like the trials are done now. The quarter finals its the highest seeded teams that get home ground advantage and the semis would be neutral grounds. The Final would be at the SFS or Suncorp or who ever is able to bid for it, there is no reason why the final cannot be moved around from year to year. You would then have a week off for teams to recuperate before the start of the main season, which is what they do anyway, or matches like the Charity Shield can be played.

A possible knock out comp would look something like this:  http://www.rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com/knockout.xls . Its based on last years placing and going on by form the highest seed would say win and move through the rounds.

NRL Competition

This would have 20 teams that are listed above. Each team plays each other once. I really don’t see why there has to be something where every team needs to play each other twice. So 19 weeks would be taken up by this and then to round it off nicely there would be a Derby round. We should really play on the tribalism of rugby league, there are so many great local derbies and rivalries with teams and new ones certainly would develop out of it. So some examples would be:

  • St. George / Cronulla
  • Parramatta / Penrith
  • South Sydney / Sydney City
  • Wests / Manly
  • Canterbury / New Zealand
  • Newcastle / Central Coast
  • Brisbane / Gold Coast
  • North Queensland / Central Queensland
  • Canberra / Melbourne
  • Darwin / Perth
Play-off rounds.

There would be 4 weeks of play offs. Now despite what people say I think the McIntire system is pretty good and provides for fantastic games from the first weekend (but this might be for another blog down the track). So in week 1 I would have the usual 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6, and 4 v 5 matches.

In week two you have the 2 semi-final matches but also I would have the City / Country Origin match this weekend to have that extra game. Maybe the City / Country on Friday night and one semi on the Saturday and the other on the Sunday.

Week 3 are the preliminary finals matches and also the Australian PM XIII v PNG match, this is what we have at the moment and I don’t see why it should change… except … TELEVISE the damn thing!

Week 4 the Grand Final.

State of Origin

The end of the NRL season is where I would have the State of Origin series. Its not conflicting with any of the NRL matches and to make things more interesting you can have a couple Pacific tri nations tournaments, maybe a PNG/Fiji/Cook Island and a Tonga/NZ/Samoa tournaments, these could serve as the qualifiers or warm up matches for these nations to what ever tournaments are served in the  international window.

At the moment I believe that State of Origin is the gorilla in the room that is stomping down on the progress of the sport internationally. Simply by it being in the middle of the season it’s forcing players (who otherwise might choose another nation) to only play for Australia…. only because Origin is there. By starting to give good international options besides SoO we can start to truly get the players that only want to play for Australia or for some other nation.

This way we hopefully will avoid things like Hayne-gate, Jennings-gate and Farrar-gate.

Summary

If the NRL is top expand it needs to truly become something to represent the “N” in its name. It needs to expand to 20 teams where all teams play each other once and the State of Origin is moved to the end of the season bewteen the NRL and internationals. This should be the natural progression. Domstic season – best players to represent the state – the best players to represent the country. This will also provide the no Australian players an opportunity to have their internationals or domestic matches in their own countries thus no player misses out on playing the extra games.

Daniel Andruczyk’s email: info@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
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