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On the eve of the 2011 Telstra Premiership season launch, National Rugby League Club Chief Executives have been reminded of the importance of working with the League on “whole of game” issues by a senior executive of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Director of Marketing and Corporate Sales, Mr Craig Benzel, whose club has an 85,000-strong waiting list for season tickets, spoke of one of the keys to the NFL’s success.

“One of the game’s legendary owners, Mr George Hallas, said in the 1920’s that the (then) 12 clubs were the spokes but that the NFL was the rim.

“He said a spoke may always break but the rim is what keeps the game together.”

Mr Benzel talked of the importance of all clubs contributing positively to the brand of the game, the importance of building the game-day experience for fans and the unique experience that comes with a Super Bowl victory.

And while the Packers have a 35-year waiting list for tickets, he highlighted the challenges that the NFL still faces in the tensions that come from looking to maximise both television viewership and attendance.

“It was a chance for the clubs to gain an important insight into a number of issues,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.

“Despite the difference in scale between the two games, there is a surprising commonality in the issues that we both face.

“The relativity between player payments and revenue, membership and the engagement of fans were all common themes.”

The NRL Club Chief Executives today paid tribute to long-serving NRL Chief Operating Officer and former international referee Graham Annesley, who leaves the NRL this Friday.

Mr Annesley was in particular praised for his role in the NRL administration since its inception in 1998.

“Graham’s contribution over that time has been incredibly important to the game’s success,” Mr Gallop said today.

“His dedication, his wisdom, loyalty and his sense of fair play have been respected by all and as much as nobody is completely irreplaceable, it’s safe to say that no one person can replace his contribution across all areas.” 

The NRL’s new Director of Football Operations, Mr Nathan McGuirk, announced that Grand Final winners Mark O’Neill and Bradley Clyde have joined the NRL Football Operations Department, with former Tigers skipper O’Neill taking a key role as Judiciary Secretary and Football Operations Manager and Canberra legend Clyde joining in a part-time role as a member of the Match Review Committee.

Long-standing Football Operations Manager, Mr Shaun Wendt, has been promoted to General Manager of Football, Venues and Broadcaster Relations, incorporating a number of key areas of the NRL including Football related issues, Venues, Broadcaster Relations & Major Event Planning.

“The changes will establish clear areas of responsibility in Football Operations and ensure that we add to the strong level of experience within the Football Operations Department,” Mr McGuirk said.

“Together with the appointments of Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper as referees’ coaches, the changes give clear lines of communication between the clubs and the NRL on all aspects of football operations.

“Mark will also be in a position to liaise directly with players about game-related issues.”

O’Neill and Clyde join Nigel Vagana, Ian Schubert, Mario Fenech, Stuart Raper, Luke Phillips, Peter Louis, Reece Williams, Trent Barrett and David Peachey as former players and coaches working with the NRL in areas ranging from football operations to Welfare and Education and One Community.

The Club Chief Executives today were also taken through NRL/RLPA Welfare and Education opportunities through the year with senior Welfare and Education Manager Paul Heptonstall and Nigel Vagana highlighting an emphasis on career building for life after football, cultural awareness, mental health, alcohol and gambling.

The Welfare and Education team highlighted the increasing contribution of senior players and recently retired players who have trained as mentors to promote and deliver courses in each club.

“We have made a number of important structural changes to Welfare and the senior players under the guidance of Nigel are making a really important contribution,” Mr Gallop said.

Clubs today gave an ongoing commitment to support grass-roots Rugby League communities devastated by Queensland’s floods and cyclone as well as assistance for New Zealand earthquake victims.

“There is an ongoing financial need for junior clubs which we are continuing to address but there is also an enormous emotional need,” NRL Director, Community, Culture and Diversity, Ms Trish Crews, said today.

“Some clubs have seen more than half the families registered with them lose homes.

“The support that clubs and players can give by adopting an area and having players make contact with kids who have had their lives turned upside down really can make a difference.”

The NRL will launch its 2011 season at the Casula Powerhouse at 12:30pm tomorrow.