My proposed next article on what the NRL would look like now if it started out of Brisbane has been put on hold to address the issue that everyone seems to be talking about in NRL circles right now.
The scheduling of the State of Origin.
It seems that almost anyone involved with the game has an opinion on what needs to be done to fix the Origin scheduling, and the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the current set up is not the way to go. Except for the TV networks of course, the people who really run the game.
In my opinion, if we are going to fix the State of Origin scheduling, we need to fix the entire competition’s scheduling. From pre-season to the internationals, there’s always room for improvement.
Here is my overall fix. (disclaimer, there are going to be many flaws here. I’m literally thinking about this all for the first time right now just to prove how little thought it takes to find some improvements. Just deal with it)
So currently we have an NRL season that starts in the second weekend of March and ends in the first weekend of October. That’s a total of 31 weekends to fit in a 26 round season (where each team only plays 24 matches), a finals series, a State of Origin series and any other representative fixtures that may be played.
I’m happy to keep the season at 31 weeks and still fit all of that in, and I’ll do my best to make the proposal reasonable for the TV networks that really run the game. I’ll also base all of my proposals on this current year’s calendar so that it can be directly compared to how this season has run.
My first proposal is to scrap the Anzac Test. It is a complete waste of time that nobody is interested in, it comes at an inopportune time for Australia to have an international and we already have other Rugby League traditions that can be and are played on Anzac Day.
My second proposal is that we keep the City v Country game, but it is not seen as a legitimate origin selection trial. It is to be played by those people that have NOT made Origin selection. I’ll expand on this when I get to it.
With that out of the way, my initial proposal is that we play the first 12 rounds of the competition completely uninterrupted.
The end of Round 12 would come on Monday the 27th of May. It is the halfway point of the season (as each team only actually plays 24 matches a season, this new season would only have 24 rounds) and gives sides a full half season to get their act together, build combinations, see what is working and what isn’t working etc. On this day BOTH the NSW and QLD State of Origin teams are to be named and they’ll head off to camp the next day.
On Tuesday the 28th of May the “mid-season transfer window” would open (MSTW). During the MSTW, players and teams are able to come to agreements to release players to play elsewhere and players can have their contracts registered with their new teams etc. This whole players-moving-mid-season thing is not what I’d like to see, but given that it is inevitable and is commonly used in sports all around the globe, it’s about time we got with the world sporting program and just embraced it and put some restrictions around it so that it can be done fairly and sensibly.
The weekend starting Friday the 31st of May would be our representative weekend.
It would start on the Friday night with a City v Country match to be played in a countryish town that is a little less remote and a little more populated than some of the towns we have been playing it at lately. I’m talking between Newcastle and Coffs Harbour sized places. NSW seems intent on going with these “emerging origin” squads to try and earmark potential NSW players, and I think that should be the purpose of this game as opposed to the fraudulent origin selection trial that it is supposed to be now. The starting sides are to be picked by the NSW Coach and selectors, with the 4 man benches to be selected by the respective City and Country coaches. This is the Channel Nine Friday Night game.
The Saturday (1st of June) would consist of representative matches between emerging nations. Start with Samoa v Tonga like the match from earlier this year (preferably without the pitch invasions) and we could go with Fiji v Papua New Guinea for another match. The two winners then play off against each other the following Saturday (8th June) to decide the Emerging Nations Cup™. The Saturday would also have an under 20’s state of origin match and a NSW Cup v QLD Cup representative match. These games would all be covered by Fox Sports and starting with a match at Midday, there could easily be 4 matches covered in a Super Saturday marathon. As this is during the MSTW it would give astute teams a chance to scout some of the top junior talent as well as those players on the fringe of first grade that might be looking for an opportunity to get some first grade football and make some offers to improve their team in the back end of the season.*
The Sunday afternoon blockbuster would be England v NZ in NZ. England has more and more players playing in the NRL meaning that there are less travel issues for the side and it gives both England and NZ a deserved and more meaningful international match to play. As it currently stands the Kangaroos have won the last 12 Anzac Tests. NZ and Australia both get nothing out of it. NZ v England would be a closer fought match as a one off and the Australians are better off playing in Origin as it is a higher quality game. Everyone wins. This would be Channel Nine’s Sunday Afternoon game.
Origin is to be kept on a Wednesday. This is the one part of Origin that isn’t broken. It rates well, the crowds show up, and it’s been tried on other nights but has come back to the Wednesday for a reason. But all three matches are to be played on consecutive Wednesdays.
Origin one would be played on Wednesday the 5th of June (3 days after the Eng v NZ game), Origin two on Wednesday the 12th of June and Origin three on Wednesday the 19th of June.
The MSTW would close on Friday the 14th of June ensuring there are no player distractions from any Origin decider and making sure that all teams are settled at least a week before the second half of the competition kicks off.
Round 13 of the NRL would then kick off on Friday the 21st of June, just 2 days after the final Origin. Some teams would be hampered by players backing up (or not backing up) but it’s only one week and nobody is completely ruled out like they are when taken away to camp in the lead up to Origin currently.
Round 24 would finish on Sunday the 8th of September (no Monday game) which is the same as this season. The teams all get a 3 weekend break in the middle of the season. Origin players don’t, but that’s no different to now. The TV networks (who really run the game) have to make do with no games for 2 weekends, but the momentum built during origin, as well as the higher interest generated in round 13 after the break** compared to the way everyone loses interest during the arduous 8 week Origin period now would come out as a net win for them.
I’m happy to leave the 4 week finals system as it is (though I’m sure I’ll find a fault in it if Souths get knocked out before the Grand Final this year) and the title is decided on Sunday the 6th of October.
We then need to ramp up the end of season internationals. The RLIF needs to be far more proactive (what do they actually do besides give out the Golden Boot award?) in organising internationals in the off season. We need tiers for these national teams to play in and ways for them to move up into higher tiers or drop down to lower ones. Something similar to how the Davis Cup works in Tennis could work or in a perfect world, the system I’m going to put below. But ultimately, there needs to be internationals played for 5 weeks at the end of each season on different levels to allow smaller nations to improve and move up the ladder.
Currently the international teams can be broken into 5 tiers.
Top Tier (Australia, NZ, England)
Second Tier (France, Wales, PNG)
Emerging Nations (Fiji, Samoa, Ireland, Tonga, Scotland)
Developing Nations (USA, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Lebanon, Cook Islands, Germany, Canada)
The Rest (Norway, Malta, Jamaica, Ukraine, South Africa, Latvia, Czech Republic, Denmark)
These are all based on the current international points system, so if you disagree, take it up with the RLIF.
For the Top Tier – first 3 weeks a round robin, week 4 a final, week 5 the bottom team plays off against the top team from the tier below with the result deciding promotion/relegation
For the Second Tier – first 3 weeks a round robin, week 4 a final, week 5 the winner plays the lowest place team from the tier above with the result deciding promotion/relegation, the loser plays the top team from the tier below with the result deciding promotion/relegation
Emerging Nations – A knockout competition that splits in both directions so that after 4 weeks we have an order of first to last in this tier. That is that all the winners of the first round advance, but all the losers also have to play each other as well. Top team plays bottom team from tier above with the result deciding promotion/relegation. Bottom team plays the top team from the tier below with the result deciding promotion/relegation.
Developing Nations – As above
The Rest – Just a straight knockout competition with the winner playing the bottom placed team from the tier above and the result deciding promotion/relegation.
Nobody cares about international Rugby League because NOBODY cares about international Rugby League. Not even the people that are supposed to. If more effort is put into it, we’ll all get more out of it.
I would start the internationals after a week off after the Grand Final, so 5 weeks from the weekend starting Saturday 19th of October through until Saturday the 16th of November for the few nations that play the full 5 weeks.
Those said internationals can then still have their 4 weeks of annual leave that they have earned and be back at Pre Season Training on Monday the 16th of December.
That’s my proposal. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Is it exhaustive? Definitely.
Can you do better? Probably.
Let me know your ideas.
*I’m well aware that there would have to be an entire system put in place to account for how clubs/players are able to switch teams and how their contracts work etc, but I really don’t have the time or space to do that here, and it is so far from being a reality it’s just not worth it.
**Have no doubts that this is exactly what would happen. There was a massive bump in viewers and attendances after just one weekend without NRL matches this year. Factor in the interest from teams having new players and this is a no brainer.