By STEVE MASCORD
ROB Peter to pay Paul. Give with the left hand and take with the right. Better the devil you know.
Rugby league has always loved clichés and as the Australian authorities belatedly look at rationalising their fixture list and recognising the importance of international football, Bondi Beat is put in mind of these three in particular.
The NRL believes it can attract more than A$2 billion for its next television deal, if it offers networks the same thing it currently peddles.
One problem though: it wants to change what it is flogging. Six weeks of the club season are wrecked by State of Origin, with clubs not having access to their own players and the great flowing rapids of NRL interest slowing to a trickling stream which is not easily replenished when it’s all over. Attendances are a worry.
Players are so concerned about burnout they told Great Britain to stay home in 2015, as any reader of this column would be all too aware.
On the other hand, the Auckland Nines make a fortune and the Rugby League International Federation wants to set up its own equivalent to make money between World Cups.
The World Club Challenge has become the World Club Series. The Four Nations were an unexpected success, with the highest aggregate attendance despite there being no games in Sydney or Auckland.
Samoa have emerged to such an extent that the “Pacific Test” on the representative weekend next year is likely to be a double-header.
State of Origin continues to be a universe unto itself, smashing television, sponsorship and attendance records. In 2015, it returns to Melbourne.
But the club season, and the endless churn of programming over 30 weeks, pays the bills. Rugby league is art; broadcasting is commerce. And if the season is going to be shortened to make space for new offshoots of our game to grow, then it won’t be worth A$4 billion anymore.
So the NRL needs to make what games are on offer more lucrative. They have a very specific formula for how much the rights are worth – and these figures are based on audience size and the asking price of advertising.
Some of the ideas for making the existing NRL matches more valuable, so we can make as much money from fewer of them, have been around for a while.
One has been to insert a 30 second pause before line dropouts are taken, giving us another advert. Another is to revert to the mid-week cup format of four-quarter football (Ian Heads’ excellent new book The Night The Music Died outlines how the 1974 Western Division side made the most of the extra two breaks).
These ideas have been around for a while.
Colleague Phil Rothfield of the Daily Telegraph recently uncovered a couple of other kites flow inside the Competitions Committee room. One was making each quarter go for 25 minutes, lengthening the entire TV programme as well as the opportunity to insert commercials.
Another would be the use of eight interchange players.
Most rugby league fans want the Australians to take international football seriously, and to expand their competition.
But is fiddling with the rules a) at all or b) to the extent detailed above a price worth paying? Tell me on Twitter at @BondiBeat what your choice would be if it was between the NRL remaining isolated and a more progressive outlook, but with big rule changes.
American Football tailored itself for television and the NFL became the biggest club competition the world has ever seen. Personally, I think four quarters is a no-brainer. It gives us more revenue, it has been successfully trialled before and its impact on the fabric of the game is, while significant, still acceptable.
A 30 second break at every break in play eliminates one of the biggest advantages we have over our rivals – continuity. A 30 second break at line dropouts gives tiring defences too much time to regroup and meddles too much.
Extra interchanges make us too much like basketball and the NFL and further erodes the element of fatigue and therefore bravery. I’m against it.
But I’m willing to accept that maybe the NRL can take a constructive leadership role in the evolution of our rules. It’s quite possible they can’t, and their actions will be mainly destructive, but I still have an open mind.
Tell me what you think.
THE Rugby League International Federation search for a CEO is becoming a little farcical.
After being turned down by former IRB chief Mike Miller, it’s my understanding they’ve also failed in a bid for premiership-winning South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson.
Richardson may be looking for a new challenge after being the first club chief in Premiership history to win titles at two clubs but the RLIF could not get their act together in time to convince him it was a good idea to take up the post.
Bondi Beat is hearing mutterings of financial complications in the bid to set up a fulltime office. It’s all very sad – and the NRL has clearly decided to do its own thing in the Pacific by pairing development programmes with foreign aid from the Australian government.
The RLIF has lost its tax-exempt status and wants it back
AS usual, it’s been a poor off-season for the game when it comes to player misbehaviour.
South Sydney’s Kirisome Auva’a was banned for nine months after the court finally dealt with his domestic abuse allegations, Greg Bird was charged with urinating on a police car (which he denies) on the first day of his honeymoon, and John Hopoate’s son Jamil was jailed for a serious assault.
That’s just off the top of my head.
The NRL continues to be criticised for inconsistently dealing with the these offences – but they are all different. I’m not sure what the answer is.
TERRY Campese is one of my favourite players and I’ll be cheering him to make a big impression at the KC Lightstream Stadium.
You know what’s sad? That he missed last year’s World Cup for Italy, for whom he could have made a massive impression, to prepare for a season which finished in him being nudged towards the door in Canberra.
Last year I predicted Matt Bowen to be a sensation in Super League and it took a while for him to warm up – so I’ll be more circumspect in my predictions regarding Campo.
But he will be one of the most talented handful of players in the competition in 2015. The only question is whether injury allows him to show it.
Please check out my podcast, White Line Fever, by searching that title on itunes.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD