After two days in charge of the ARLC, Peter V'landys has addressed several of the game's biggest issues as he fronted the media for the first time on Thursday afternoon.
The topics include referees, expansion, relocation, broadcast negotiations, the future of suburban grounds, Brisbane's hopes of securing the grand final and what his appointment means for Israel Folau's hopes of returning to the code.
What is the biggest problem the game faces right now?
Peter V’landys has reiterated the views of many disgruntled fans, by describing the officiating as the biggest problem facing the code right now.
“To be frank, we need to improve our refereeing,” V’landy’s said.
“That’s our single biggest problem at the moment. You can’t have fans walking away thinking they’ve been ripped off, so we need to fix our systems and do whatever we can, that the fan walks away happy and content that they’ve had a fair crack. And not walk away that he’s been ripped off. We’re doing a lot of work at the moment in the refereeing department to do things better.
“We’ve got a number of reports, and they’re pretty harsh reports. They have gone to every length about the refereeing and the judiciary - and in the next few months we’ll make some announcements in that regard. It was great year for rugby league, the only thing that let us down was some of the decisions.”
Should we return to one referee?
V’landys has described himself as a traditionalist, and if he had it his way he would return to the good old days of one referee. However at the moment he doesn’t have the support around him.
“Look, I’m one of seven [commissioners],” he said.
“I have certainly expressed my situation with two referees. And yes, I’m a bit of a traditionalist and maybe the better option is one referee. But at the moment I’m out voted. I’m a servant of the board. Whatever the board wants, I will defend it to kingdom come. At the moment, it’s two referees.”
Will any team be forced into relocation as part of the game’s expansion plans?
There are fears amongst fans that some teams may be forced to relocate, however in his second day in charge V’landys allayed those concerns.
“There will be no team in Sydney or Queensland that will be relocated,” V’landys said.
“If we pursue expansion, it will be a new franchise. Every brand of club in Sydney or Queensland is secure. We are not looking to relocate anyone. We will stress that. I can tell you from around the table there is no team that will be moved or relocated. Totally agree with Peter Beattie and the commission’s decision,” V’landys said.
What is the future of suburban grounds?
V’landys wants to ensure the tribalism of rugby league is maintained and he believes suburban grounds, and their upgrade, is vital to that.
“Everyone knows my love for tribalism and suburban grounds,” V’landys said.
“We want suburban grounds and we want to have the must-haves ... all the things customers want. We will be looking very hard at suburban grounds and how do we fund suburban grounds.”
Where will the money come from to fund suburban ground upgrades?
V’landys has already been deep in discussions with members of government to ensure the upgrade of grounds like Leichhardt Oval, Brookvale Oval and Campbelltown Sportsground.
“There’s been no resistance from government,” V’landys.
“There are buckets of money, and one in particular I’ve had discussions with the treasurer of NSW, in the point of consumption tax. It affects our revenues and one of the real growth area for us has been on wagering and by the introduction of point of consumption tax, it actually affects our pricing power on wagering. So the government has to compensate us for that. I think that compensation can then be used to fix up suburban grounds. That’s one bucket.”
Is there any chance the NRL takes a grand final to Brisbane in the near future?
The NRL recently announced that the grand finals would remain in Sydney while ANZ Stadium is under refurbishment until 2023, however V’landys is still threatening to take the showpiece event interstate if the NSW State Government doesn’t deliver on its promise.
“It’s a possibility,” V’landys said.
“You never say never. We will honour all aspects of our agreement with government We expect government to honour all their parts of their agreement. If they don’t, well there maybe an option to go to Brisbane. I’ll put that on the record here and now.
“When you make an agreement, I’ll lose my right arm to make sure it’s implemented and that I honour my part. I expect the counter party to do the same thing. So if the NSW government doesn’t do the right thing and doesn’t honour the deal with us, then no problems going to Brisbane.”
“They have to build the $2 billion stadiums they have promised us. We support the government but they will have to implement and honour the agreement. If they don’t honour it we have recourse and our recourse is possibly moving the grand final to Brisbane.”
Is there a way back into the NRL for Israel Folau?
V’landys has echoed the views of his predecessor, Peter Beattie, confirming that there is no path to the NRL for Folau after his comments on social media earlier in the year.
“As I said the game is inclusive," V'landys said.
"The comments of Israel are not inclusive. Israel has to understand he is a role model. As a role model, he has a duty. When I was at school and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them. I have no tolerance for people who put other people’s lives into violence or whatever.
"With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it. When you are are at school and you get bashed up because you are different, I don’t think that is a good thing. Rugby league is inclusive. So I am not in any which way reversing or looking at the decision of Israel Folau.”
How important is a second team in Brisbane?
While there is still more work to be done on the footprint of the game, V’landys highlighted the importance of rugby league strengthening its stranglehold in Queensland, and more specifically Brisbane.
“I think Queensland to us is a very important state,” he said.
“If you dominate a market, and you want to maintain that market, you don’t give anyone else an opportunity to go in there and take that market. A second team in Queensland is certainly important but we need to make sure we can financially afford it. We need to make sure there’s a sufficient talent pool of players.”
Is there a conflict of interest for V’landys in his new role?
A lot has been made of V’landys full-time job as Racing NSW chief executive, and whether it is a conflict of interest having him as ARL commissioner. However the man himself insists there is no cause for concern.
“I have never come across a conflict at this point in time,” he said.
“I always try to implement things with the highest integrity and I will continue to do that. My main main role at the NRL is to repay the debt it has done for my life and hopefully another migrant kid that had the same difficulties I had is included in the game.”
"I have been on the commission for 18 months and in that time there has not been a real conflict or a perceived conflict. Nothing has changed. I have gone from being the team member to the captain."
Will the NRL improve on the $2 billion broadcast deal when they begin negotiations for the next rights?
The NRL is gearing up to begin negotiations over their next deal, and despite a common assumption that there may not be the same amount of money on the table, V’landys is confident of improving on the old deal.
“I am very confident, looking at all of the documents I’ve seen in the last few days, of achieving a better result than what we have now,” he said.
“You’re 100 per cent right, the platforms and broadcasters have changed dramatically. You have to look at all elements of our broadcast, what is exclusive, what is not exclusive, what buckets do we have? Do we do in-house production, do we provide our own packages?
“There are a lot of decisions to be made in the next 12 months in relation to broadcast, but we will have it in a package that will maximise the return to the game. To me, that is the most important aspect, to ensure the game stays viable. If you’re not viable, you’re nowhere. It’s critical we continue to get the revenues we’re getting.”
“We’re in a fortunate position because the free to air tv channels really need sport because that’s one of your differentiations with your Stans and your Netflixes, etc, having live sport. Live sport suddenly becomes a very valuable content piece.”
Is enough being done around concussion and what are the game’s concerns?
Despite a lot of fuss being made of potential law suits against the NRL in regards to head injuries and brain trauma, V’landys believes the game is in a safe position and will continue to invest in concussion safety measurements.
“It’s a significant part of our budget,” he said.
“There’s $2 million going into concussion at the moment, in having people on sidelines and in the bunker, medical research and having doctors. It’s not hiding from it. It’s a problem and we have to face it front on. Because it’s a deterrent, there’s no doubt about that, with participation. We have to do everything we can to make our sport safe. I’m not concerned about class actions. One thing I’ve learnt in life is that everyone is different.
“They have different variables in their situation. Some people drink a lot more than I do. Some people take drugs. There’s other factors. Some people have genetical situations with these things. To do a class action is a very difficult one in my view. There are so many factors that affect how your brain operates, other than rugby league.”