The official answers from the NRL on the game's most pressing questions.
State of Origin football held on stand-alone weekends. Is it a good idea?
In recent weeks, there has again been discussion around scheduling Origin on stand-alone weekends.
Whilst the issue always sparks debate, it is important to note that the stand-alone concept has been tried and that it is not without its own challenges.
The immediate point to address is that scheduling Origin on stand-alone weekends would see the existing thirty week Telstra Premiership season (including finals) lengthened by three weeks. This will inevitably have further ramifications for international games.
Feedback received from players over the years is that their preference is to maximise the ‘free time’ between the finish of one season’s activities and the start of the next. The idea of more matches in a condensed season is seen by senior players as being preferable to a longer season with fewer matches and also less time ‘between seasons’. The issue for the players is the level of intensity that they need to maintain both physically and mentally when competitions are still running.
Clubs on the other hand can’t afford to support the idea of reducing the length of the club competition to accommodate stand-alone weekends in the existing year. Home games are key drivers of club revenue and it is the clubs who generate the income to contract the players.
Stand-alone weeks also shorten the Origin build-up from 10 days to six days, taking away one of the unique aspects to the preparation of an Origin team. The 10-day build up introduced in the early eighties first by Queensland and then NSW sets Origin apart from regular matches; it gives competing players extra time without football to ensure they can overcome small injuries, to focus on the game and to be fresher for an Origin contest that stands apart from all other games in the year. It is in short a part of a tradition that has made Origin matches so successful.
The other key factor is the effect on the NRL competition. The current system of multiple byes and stand-downs ensures that the competition retains some continuity and that those clubs that aren’t affected by Origin are largely able to keep playing.
In 2001, the year the NRL did try Origin on stand-alone weekends, there was a significant level of complaint over the lack of football during those weekends. Interestingly the crowds for Sydney Origin and for the club games the week after were below expectations and did not suggest that stand-alone Origin created increased demand. The television ratings equally did not show any lift around stand-alone Origin, nor did the general media coverage increase.
Origin in a mid-week format has proven to be incredibly successful over the years, in fact it is in its current format the most successful annual representative series of any code and continues to set new standards in excitement.
It also ensures that the Telstra Premiership continues throughout the season, competing successfully against other entertainment and sporting alternatives.
In saying that, there is no doubt that Origin scheduling is one of those issues that deserves regular review and, as it is included within existing broadcast agreements, the next serious opportunity to have that discussion will be when the next television rights negotiation takes place.