Thursday, January 19, 2017

What the NRL needs in 2017.

Season 2017 of the National Rugby League comes at a time of great uncertainty around the game’s future direction and evolution.

The League, and indeed code at-large, finds itself at a vital-point on its own road and within its immediate domestic sporting environment.

Last year ended amidst a range of almost comical corporate and public relations dilemmas, making no season in the last decade more important than this one.

With the ‘scandal count’ rising by the day to open another adventurous roller-coaster year for the sport that literally never seems to sleep, the pen-pushers at League Central need to get it together.

ARLC Chairman John Grant & NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.

Despite entering the final year of the Australian Rugby League Commission’s self-proclaimed five-year plan, the league is yet to finalize a Collective Bargaining Agreement with its players for beyond this season.

It’s also hard to believe that they only just sorted their financial agreement with the clubs’ late last year, in what can only be described as stupefying circumstances.

It’s easy to sit back from a distance and raise serious questions about what the figureheads and people in control of the ARLC have been planning, but rather than digest their actions, Sport/Life/Australia will instead provide a selection of things the NRL needs over the next 12 months.

1.    Scandal Free Season
Already appears blown considering some of the craziness that has already occurred in the 19 days of 2017, but not since 2008/9 has there been more scandals in the game.

However, if you look after that period which occurred around eight years ago, the game really got itself together; going without any major scandal for an incredible phase where the sport really thrived. Re: Jarryd Hayne propelling the Eels to the Grand Final, St. George claiming their first title in 30 years, and even Todd Carney turning his life around and claiming a Dally M Medal.

Ok, so you’ve got me on Melbourne’s salary cap scandal, but outside of that, it was a real time where the players and game appeared to clean-up its act. So why can’t they do it again?

2.    Future Plan
As cited earlier, the NRL is coming to the end of the ARLC’s five-year plan and results are not where they should be. Administration has failed to live up to its goals of achieving average crowds of 20,000, fan satisfaction measured at record levels, and members grown to over 400,000.

While there are many aspects and reasons to consider the current results, they have simply not been achieved, placing those running the game at fault. First up, trophy-hugging ARLC Chairman John Grant.

The NRL needs to decide where it is going, what it wants to look like in 10-years’ time, and who will be playing and watching the game. Expansion has been put on the back-burner for over a decade and it is surely time to capitalise on both existing and potential markets.

Brisbane and Perth are both primed and ready, and its time to make it happen. The state leagues are setting themselves up as true reserve-grade competitions and two new teams can surely be created with introductory support.

Perth's NIB Stadium is ready-made for Rugby League.

3.    Acknowledging Competitors
Has anyone else noticed the amount of god-damn bloody AFL posts in New South Wales’ country and regional areas? Rugby League has sat back and rested on its laurels for far too long. And it is because of dwindling participation figures the boffin-heads at League Central are now ready to divert significant cash back into the grass-roots of the game.

The A-League has seriously marked its footprint in Australian sport and after being around for over a decade, it is making in-roads with broader Australian sports’ fans. Yes, you can claim the Central Coast Mariners can’t pull a crowd over 5,000, but football is playing a long-term strategy and it’s in the city markets where it’s solidified its place.

Even the female leagues of both football, cricket, AFL and netball have now become competition for the family-dollar. It’s hard to argue that the ANZ Championship netball competition hasn’t experienced more growth than rugby league over the past four years.

4.    A Great Playing Year
What seems to pull rugby league back together again after all the uppercuts it gives itself, is the phenomenal on-field plays and performances that are delivered year-after-year. The athleticism of the players has exploded, and after some minor tweaks to the rules, the style of play has come full-circle, with attack now back on the agenda of NRL coaches.

In the past two years the league has been blessed to have two new, first-time premiers, both of whom won in fantastic fashion. With a World Cup coming up later this year, another blockbuster Origin series which will likely be the last of the Queensland greats, and a season shaping up with some genuine hot-prospect teams, the NRL should be licking its lips.

If they finally get their shit together, season 2017 could just well become one of the most successful and important seasons on record.

The Sharks hoisted it in 2016, who will lift the Provan-Summons trophy in 2017?