Steve Mascord column: Love the off-season #2


It’s a common refrain in Britain that “the Aussies don’t care about international rugby league”.

And in many respects, it is demonstrably true. Great Britain’s proud colours were to be revived this year but the Rugby League Players Association believed there was an agreement for State of Origin stars to have off the southern hemisphere spring.

So the Lions were told to stay home by Australian authorities a Kiwis tour of England was hastily arranged, leaving France (who were to tour New Zealand) out in the cold.

But there are other areas where the English are their own worse enemies when it comes to an integrated calendar – and first amongst these is the crowded fixture calendar.

Make no mistake, the Aussies would like to integrate our sport’s only two full-time professional leagues.

Love The Off-Season understands further extending the World Club Series is a concept that is looked upon favourably by influential administrators Down Under – perhaps with matches in mid-season and the end of the year.

The problem is: while New Zealand’s NRL players are still on an RLPA-enforced break, Leeds and Wakefield are playing on Boxing Day!

The Super League season starts a month earlier than its NRL equivalent and finishes a week later.

The World Club Series as it exists now is a stark reminder of the inequalities – it falls comfortably before the start of the southern hemisphere season but the Super League competition has to be partially paused to accommodate it.

The bottom line, of course, is money.

In Oz, there were optimistic plans to have a 22-week regular season when the new TV deal kicked in – but when the money was on the table from terrestrial broadcaster Nine, the best David Smith could do was knock one week off the current 26.

While Aussie players complain about five-day turnarounds between matches, their Super League brethren have two entire rounds over Easter.

Yet just opening the gates at most professional rugby league clubs costs money – including in Australia, where even the Brisbane Broncos reportedly need 16,000 or more to break even at Suncorp Stadium. Without sponsorship and TV money, our clubs would go broke in five minutes.

Yet we still open our gates far too often, losing money hand over fist, because we cannot do without the TV money. As a result, ticket touts rarely bother with rugby league because most of our matches are nowhere near sold out.

What is the answer?

Recently, we have seen how flexible broadcasters can be when we have the upper hand in negotiations. Fox Sports lost a Saturday fixture, ruining their Super Saturday franchise, when the deal with Nine was done.

But when Fox also lost Premier League soccer, they stumped up to buy back a game a week from Nine as part of a huge satellite TV deal with the NRL.

Surely in Britain we can get the same money out of Sky for less content if the quality of that content is better.

A Champions League-style comp spread over the entire year – as described above – would provide just that.

These could be the matches played in expansion areas, finally creating demand for a much shorter programme of home and away games in teams’ backyards.

Let Blake Solly and Shane Richardson get their thinking caps on and come up with a way that the World Club Series could be played as stand alone pre-season league, with perhaps a couple of rounds at State of Origin time and a final after the respective grand finals.

Don’t tell me Sky would not jump at that, dramatically shortening the domestic season, giving players a rest and as a pleasant side-product, increasing the quality of the spectacle because everyone is not carrying niggling injuries for the entire season.

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