Most complex draw nearing completion
The final pieces of the puzzle are being moved into position but NRL head of football Todd Greenberg has assured rugby league fans that the most complex draw in the game's history will be worth the wait.
The late concession by Channel Nine to consider live telecasts of Sunday afternoon football combined with stadium juggling acts around the Cricket World Cup as well as continued use of Thursday night football and associated turnaround times has made the 2015 NRL season draw a labyrinthine maze to navigate.
Negotiations between the NRL, Channel Nine and Fox Sports for the provision of live Sunday afternoon football broadcasts remain ongoing and despite the NRL's best efforts to meet the contractual obligations to the broadcasters, requests by all 16 NRL clubs, scheduling around State of Origin and delivering a fixed draw for fans, Greenberg knows that when the time comes the final draw won't please everybody.
"I can tell you one thing, we're going to have people who are disappointed that they didn't get certain things but this is not a popularity contest," Greenberg told NRL.com.
"We're trying to make a draw that's fundamentally contractual for the broadcasters and great for the fans while also looking at player welfare. All of those competing interests sometimes make it difficult to get a perfect outcome.
"We'll never get a perfect outcome whilst all clubs don't play each other twice; this is an inexact science that is difficult to manage.
"This is only my second draw but certainly some people within the organisation who have done many draws over more than a decade would say that it is becoming more complex year by year.
"We're getting a draw out in December and the season only finished in October; there will still be three months for people to make their plans for next year so I think there'll be ample opportunity for fans. Be patient, we're nearly there."
As the rugby league world waits for the draw to be given its final seal of approval, Greenberg stressed the need to consider the major stakeholders and their place in constructing a draw that aims to meet a number of key criteria.
"When we did the new broadcast deal it gave the opportunity for the broadcasters, being Fox Sports and Channel Nine, to make their selections towards the back-end of October so they can assess the season themselves, who played in the Grand Final and the Finals Series to make sure their selections reflect the performances of those teams. Really the draw can't start until the start of November," Greenberg explained.
"We don't actually do a draw, we put a schedule of matches together based on their nominations and to be fair, they've paid a significant commercial privilege to make those decisions so we need to go through that and work through that process very collectively while always overlaying the provisions in the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the players, which means you can't have less than a five-day turnaround. On top of all those complexities is putting State of Origin in the middle of it all. This is not a simple exercise."
As speculation mounts that the season will commence with a blockbuster between the defending premiers South Sydney and Brisbane on Thursday, March 5, Greenberg did confirm that the number of Thursday night games in 2015 will very much mirror what fans saw in 2014.
"There won't be more, there'll be the same number, what we're working through is where we place them," Greenberg said. "There'll be some up the front and there'll be some up the back.
"The shape of the season won't be significantly different, the structure of the season, where State of Origin sits, where representative football sits, all those things will be very much in place where we had them in 2014. It's making sure we place the big games where they need to be played, managing player workload and managing the byes around Origin to the best of our ability."