The Australian Rugby League Commission will resist calls to overhaul the scheduling of State of Origin, claiming any changes would risk damaging the showpiece event.
Some of the biggest names in the game – including Phil Gould and Craig Bellamy – have called for a rethink on when the marquee games are staged to minimise the effect on the NRL competition.
One of the proposed solutions is to follow the lead of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, playing three stand-alone weekend games across consecutive weeks. Proponents say this would prevent the quality and interest in the club competition waning during the interstate series, while also easing the workload of elite players who back up just days after the interstate encounter. However, powerbrokers at Rugby League Central are mindful that the change would be unacceptable to Fox Sports, which would be bereft of content for almost a month despite spending half a billion for the pay TV rights.
”The NRL widely consulted with our clubs and stakeholders throughout the process of negotiation for the television broadcast deal,” the NRL said. ”The outcome of our five-year agreement was a great one for the game in terms of revenue generated that will fuel the growth of our game and clubs into the future.”
Origin games have been trialled on just about every day of the week since the inception of the concept, but Wednesday nights have been by far the most successful and there are hopes of a new ratings record for this year’s decider. At the start of the season, the NRL planned the schedule – including the sprinkling of byes into the Origin period – with a view to minimising the impact on clubs likely to provide the bulk of NSW and Queensland players.
”The detail of the schedule saw a number of changes that have been implemented throughout the representative season for both welfare of players and reducing the effect of Origin on the competition,” the NRL’s Nathan McGuirk said. ”The State of Origin Series remains the biggest television sporting property and there would be real concerns with any tinkering which could affect the strength of Origin and also the competition in general.”
Former Blues coach Bellamy, whose Melbourne side is one of the most affected by Origin, called for games one and three to be played on a Wednesday and game two on a Sunday. Gould has also raised the issue of having nine weeks of representative football adversely affecting the club competition because ”no one will make the big call to change the competition structure and the schedule”.
The Nine Network’s head of sport, Steve Crawley, is always reluctant to predict new ratings records. However, there are high hopes that it will be another TV bonanza in its traditional Wednesday night spot.
”There’s no doubt the [Labor leadership] ballot affected the lead-in to Origin II but it was still the second-biggest Origin II ever,” he said. ”The ingredients are there. We’ve all learned how important the start of the game is. Let’s wait and see.”
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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.