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Trials on trial - Australian Rugby league News
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globalrugbyleague - Tue, 27 Feb 2007 07:44:00 GMT
Sitting alone in the local RSL last Friday night gave me plenty of time to look around.What I saw as a League fan was deeply moving.

On each side of the stage which Franky Valentyn was performing on while using half a paper coaster to impersonate the Phantom of the Opera, there were two television sets.

Both were showing live sport. One was an end of season game of basketball while the other set box was showing the opening fixture of the AFL’s pre-season NAB Cup. On none of the screens was there any rugby league.

Earlier that afternoon while appearing on the Final Furlong sports program on 2BH in Broken Hill, I posed a question. Should the NRL follow down the same road as the AFL and air either their trial games or establish their own pre-season tournament? The answer I think is yes and yes.

Over the weekend, 7 NRL trial games were played in 3 different states. From the figures available, the second round of pre-season clashes attracted a crowd average of 7996 per game (excluding attendance numbers from 3 games not made available).

The highest turnout was for the Knights-Panthers clash at Richardson Park in Darwin, a regular hot spot for the local Darwin Rugby League competition. The fact that so many locals were determined to get to this clash, regardless of the atrocious wet conditions brought about by fierce storms is something the NRL should be very happy with. But I’m not happy.

All games on the weekend were competitive, resulting in an average winning margin of 12-points (the highest being 18, the lowest 6).

While League fans were only entitled to 1 live pre-season game in the form of the World Club Challenge, Aussie Rules marks were able to watch several matches both on free-to-air and subscription tv. (Bangs head against wall).

They were given Football Choices. League fans should have been given them too.

There is certainly no shortage of potential sponsors for sporting competitions. With the banking industry falling over themselves to sponsor the Cricket and AFL, I can’t see why the NRL couldn’t say to one of the other banking brands “You can have a piece of the pie too.”

Trial games could also be used as trial sponsorships for brand names who’ve never been involved with Rugby League before.

Only recently the Rabbitohs secured Virgin as a sponsor. Prior to this lucrative deal, the airliner had been associated with Rugby Union and Basketball but NOT the greatest game of all.

We need to take our successful code to these corporate strangers to give them a taste of what their missing out on in terms of just how popular our sport is and televised trial games would certainly offer brands a fair ‘try before you buy’ deal. It makes marketing sense.

The current structure of the trial games I think is ridiculous and that’s where television would bring an immediate improvement to the pre-season schedule. Last Saturday, there were 7 games played all on one night. That wouldn’t happen in the regular season.

By tweaking with the off-season timetable, broadcasters can cover more games and fans from other NRL clubs besides Souths and St George-Illawarra don’t have to wait until March to see their club in action.

In it’s current format, the trials are good for the game as a promotional vehicle. They allow bush footy fans the chance to see their favourite NRL stars up close and personal in their hometown.

But as noble as taking the game out to the country is, someone ends up the biggest loser. And it’s usually the season ticket holders in the city who shell out the bucks to support their favourite NRL club week in and out.
The average bloke with a wife and two kids to feed can’t just get in the car and head on down to Lismore or Darwin. But with the trials televised, he still gets his dose of the footy as do the folk who never see NRL games live. It’s a win-win scenario and it’s fair.
Some NRL coaches are still not convinced that playing up to 3 trial games is a good thing. A televised tournament with a big fat cheque at the end for the winning team and the runner-up might change a few minds.

That money could go towards buying a new player, retaining an existing one or buying new training equipment. It is not easy to run a football club by any measure, so every dollar counts. And any money which helps improve an NRL team will surely put a smile on a coaches face.

I’m also a believer that the potential audience reach of television could be used during the trial games for the greater good of the game by assisting those clubs and competitions in the bush who are struggling financially.

At the end of each quarter in every game broadcast, the networks covering the match could put a hotline up on the screen for various League clubs doing it tough right around the country, enabling viewers to ring through and make donations.

The grassroots game is where the NRL clubs take the stars of the future from and I believe it’s time to give back to the bush clubs responsible for producing the talented characters that grace everyone’s favourite NRL team. This is an opportunity too good to pass up.

A few weeks ago, Jeff Wall in his weekly column spoke of “watching the Super 14 Rugby Union matches on Fox – only because there is no rugby league to watch on Saturday night.” Kudos to Jeff for being brave enough to be one of the few loyal rugby league supporters to admit this.

Many League fans will not disclose watching the S14’s during the NRL off-season for fear of being invited to lavish parties north of the Sydney Harbour bridge where people donned in tuxedos yell out “Jolly good” when their team wins a low-scoring, stale game via penalty goals.

Given the farcical situation Union finds itself in at the moment in this country with no Australian teams in the top four and tries being scored becoming a thing of the past, it would not surprise me if some of League’s trial games flogged the Super 14’s in the ratings.

My problem with League fans watching the Super 14’s during the off-season is what if the Union mob one day get their act together and actually improve the playing standard of the game?

Then it may not be that easy to convince some fans to switch over to the NRL during the middle of a vigorous Union competition. League can’t take that risk.

It’s time to switch the trials on. Lights, cameras, action!
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