THE BIG ISSUE: #44

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

THE NRL is to blame for the lopsided games we’ve been seeing on Friday nights recently – but not in the way you might think.

Yes, the League this year forced television stations to pick their games during the summer, up to and including round 20.

Yes, this has led to games like last Friday’s between South Sydney and Wests Tigers which was over by halftime.

But the fault doesn’t lie in scheduling games for 20 rounds (which gives fans more time to plan*), it lies in having an uneven competition.

The rugby league anarchists out there may not agree but it is the governing body’s responsibility to maximise the uncertainty of results, which in turn maximises sponsorship, attendances and broadcast income.

Achieving this without a draft over the past sixteen years has been amazing.

But simply putting the most competitive games on free-to-air TV doesn’t give you a more even competition, it just disguises the fact that you don’t have one.

By programming 20 rounds in advance, the League has exposed the widening gap between teams caused by the sudden rise the salary cap. As we’ve written here before, players who would previously have been forced to leave their clubs are now able to stay and mid-range men are able to hold teams to ransom.

Returning to the previous system of scheduling would treat the symptoms, not the illness.

Cronulla fans cheer when Todd Carney stays. North Queensland supporters hoot when Johnathan Thurston sticks around. No doubt Manly aficionados with clap when Jamie Lyon re-signs. No-one cheers for an even competition but we’ll all lose interest pretty quickly when we don’t have one anymore.

If a star leaves his club, Big Issue will be cheering. Look what Greg Inglis has done for Souths. But there are hardly any left on the open market now. The idea that clubs should hold onto the players they develop and teams should be full of local juniors plays well to the masses but it doesn’t work in the real world.

We have suburbs playing cities and, in one case, a country. We have areas with a century of rugby league history going up against places where the game is comparatively new. We need to artificially prop up some teams and forcibly hold others back in order for our game to flourish.

Uncomfortable? Unfair? Maybe – but true.

Simply putting the cap up and giving marquee players more money is a recipe for disaster. Even if you let Channel Nine pick the game on they show on Friday each Thursday afternoon, we will get to the point where it’s a blowout anyway.

The NRL must commission a report into parity at the end of this season and come up with a list of measures to make sure all of Australia isn’t going to bed at halftime.

· PS: Attendances indicate fans planned ahead to stay home.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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