By Paul Crawley, Daily Telegraph
NEED further proof how hypocritical the NRL really is?
This weekend we have a club round that has been absolutely butchered by next Wednesday’s State of Origin dead rubber.
On Thursday night we have third-placed Melbourne, missing six Origin players, taking on first-placed St George Illawarra, who are without five players.
No Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, Will Chambers, Felise Kaufusi, Josh Addo-Carr or Tim Glasby for the Storm.
No Ben Hunt, Jack De Belin, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims or Paul Vaughan for the Dragons.
On Friday, fourth-placed Penrith will be without James Maloney, Nathan Cleary and Tyrone Peachey taking on a near-full-strength Warriors, who sit fifth on the NRL ladder but have no Origin casualties.
Yet we haven’t heard one blow-up about it from any of the clubs.
Now remember how the same clubs were screaming in protest about the recent Denver Test.
I’m not for one minute calling for future Origin dead rubbers to be scrapped. But for the life of me, I can’t understand how the people who were bitching about the Denver Test could be so narrow minded to think next Wednesday’s game is more justifiable than promoting international development.
And while the NRL this week rolled out plans to stage next year’s second Origin in Perth, still there is no commitment to what the mid-year international calendar holds for other nations over the next 12 months.
You talk about looking after you own backyard, and only your own backyard.
John Quayle said it best in the 1980s when arguably the game’s greatest ever administrator was debating the merits of expansion: “If you build a fence around it, you will never get out of your own backyard.”
That was when Quayle was trying to educate Sydney-centric clubs why the game in Australia needed to expand.
But 30 years on, Quayle’s statement was followed recently by Wayne Bennett’s dire warning for the game’s future after the backlash of the Denver Test.
Bennett said upon returning after coaching England to its historic win over New Zealand at Mile High Stadium: “If we don’t have a global sport, we won’t have league in 15 years’ time. It will be a little game of league played in two states.”
The thing is, as this weekend’s round 17 highlights perfectly, the NRL is short-changing everyone with its current schedule.
We allow an NRL club round to be torn apart by an Origin dead rubber, yet we cry foul when the Poms and the Kiwis have the audacity to want to promote an international Test to a new audience.
As Bennett said: “America is a huge country … even if we get one per cent of the US population interested, that’s huge.”
But the game’s progress is constantly cannibalised by self-interest and insular attitudes, most often coming from Australia.
Trent Robinson also came out on NRL 360 this week and said it was time for the NRL and the Rugby League International Federation to work together to complement all levels of the game.
Robinson’s personal view was that the NRL season could be reduced with a period set aside for Origin and a bigger focus on more end-of-the-season Tests.
While there is no perfect solution, what Bennett and Robinson agree on is the way it works now just doesn’t work.
So why not get the game’s best visionaries to work together to come up with a plan to fix it?
They can’t wait another five years for it to be looked at.
This year, TV ratings for the Origin opener nationally were the lowest since Game I, 2008, while the game in Sydney was the lowest-rating Game II since 2006.
Overall, it was also the lowest average audience for the first two games since 2006. That dates all the way back to the start of Queensland’s dynasty.
This has to be a huge concern for everyone involved.
And what makes those statistics even more frightening is the fact that you now have players such as Andrew Fifita and Tevita Pangai turning their backs on playing Origin so they can commit to Tonga.
Seriously, what would we lose by setting aside a period to expand the mid-season representative calendar, giving other nations opportunity to grow and improve — and, yes, make money?
Thinking aloud, you could even stage a mid-year Tri-Series involving England, New Zealand and Tonga to bring up revenue lost for cutting back on NRL rounds.
Yes, NRL clubs might have to take a haircut. But the international game would grow because of it, and clubs could save money on contracts because the players would earn more playing internationals.
And would you rather see Tonga play New Zealand, or the Storm take on the Dragons minus their Origin stars?
Never has there been more appeal and interest in international rugby league.
In 2025 the United States is going to host the World Cup. Yet we still find every reason to try and squash the game going back to America next year, although the NRL wants to take a round one game to the United States in 2019.
You have to shake your head at the double standards.
For all the knocks you hear about rugby union as a spectacle, give them credit for getting it right when it comes to promoting their international game as the pinnacle of their sport.
If rugby league ever wants to get the game outside the backyard Quayle was talking about all those years ago, now is the time to strike.
Otherwise, as Bennett has warned, the game will ultimately pay for its greed.